History, mining

History, mining

The Secrets of the Salt Mine from Praid

            In the eastern part of Transylvania, on Szekler’s Land there is a region- the only one- that was named after its mineral resources: the Szekler Salt-Region. The collective name, Salt Region was first used in 1659 in the network of the following localities: Sóvárad, Sovata, Illyésmező, Parajd, Sófalva, Atyha, Siklód, Szolokma and Korond. Here, in this wonderful little region is situated the salt yard, one of the biggest places in Europe where salt can be found. The huge salt mass, which is 1.2 times 1.4 km in diameter, is slightly elliptic and it has its roots at an astonishing depth – 2.7 km.

            The salt yard  from Praid holds more kinds of geological, historical, mineral and therapeutic secrets. The very first secret lies in the formation of salt in Transylvania. The range of Korond-Praid-Sovata-Görgény is the trace of salt uprush (the “salt zone”), and the salt yard from Praid rises from it like an immense mushroom. The formation of the salt in Transylvania - and the pleat from Praid it includes – can be traced back to the geological age of Lower-Baden (Middle-Miocene age), 20-22 million years ago. The sediments of the following geological ages deposited on the condensed salt layers and under their pressure the salt moved to the edges of the Transylvanian Basin. The movement of the salt was furthered by the fact that its specific weight is smaller than that of its environment, and it uprushed on the line of  the existing ruptures forming diaper pleats and a huge salt strata. The salt treasure of Praid hides an amount of salt that can be extracted in hundreds of years and it is one of the bottomless treasure troves in Transylvania.

            In Transylvania the history of salt mining traces back to Roman times. The outcropped “salt-cuts” that had been left by the retreating Romans, were first exploited by the Avers then by the Bulgarians. One of the commander-in-chiefs of the conquering Hungarians (Töhötöm) was informed by his spies that they were “digging” salt in Transylvania. After 1003 the ships of Saint Stephan were already transporting salt on the River Maros.

            The ancient community of wealth and equality of rights of the Szeklers significantly influenced their salt- mining and commerce. One of the elements of the freedom of the Szeklers (libertas) is that they can make use of their natural resources for their benefit, fact that lead to their free “salt-right” too. This is the key to the secret of the history of the salt from Praid, because during the years the Szekler’s salt mining was characterized by limitations and returning of their free salt- rights.

            We can encounter the first reported written reference to the extraction of salt in the charter that Andrew II gave to the German knighthood from Barczaság in 1222. In this document he allowed them to keep six ships on the Maros and six on the Olt transporters of salt downstream and of other goods upstream. The next reference to the salt mine from the Salt Region dates from 1405, when king Sigismund of Luxembourg banned the landlords to open salt mines on their own lands. In 1463 King Mátyás reinforced the Szeklers’ right of free salt mining and commerce. The salt from Salt Region had been the common propriety of the Szeklers’ nation from the beginning and that is why every Szekler household could get salt for free, but only until 1562. This was the year when, after defeating the Szeklers’ rebellion János Zsigmond (John Sigismund) II occupied the salt mine from Praid for the royal chamber. Among the conditions of choosing prices in Transylvania there was the respect for the Szeklers’ ancient freedom and their free salt right. These princes were Gábor Báthori (1603), István Bocskai (1605), Gábor Bethlen (1613) György Rákóczi I (1631). The Szeklers gained their free salt right only for the time of the war of independence lead by Ferenc Rákóczi II.

            In Praid underground mining began in 1762 when they opened the bell (“high cap”) shaped József (Joseph) mine, under the leadership of the Austrian mine officer Johann Frendl. The extracted salt was drawn to the surface by four horses in buff leather but in 1765 they could still see extractions on the surface. The year 1787 is the beginning of systematic mining, when the salt mine in Praid became the propriety of the Viennese Treasury. According to Balázs Orbán the whole region of the Szeklers and Saxons was using salt from Praid. In 1864 they opened the trapezoid shaped Parallel- mine simultaneously with widening the Nándor- mine. In 1898 they began exploiting the Erzsébet (Elisabeth)- search site in the northwestern part of the salt back.

            After the First World War (1920) the Romanian polity reorganized the medieval methods of salt mining in Transylvania and Maramures. In 1945 they introduced extraction by explosions, therefore Hungarian salt mining, that had such a great tradition, became only a historic memory for good. Between 1947 and 1949 they opened the mine which keeps the memory of the great Szekler rebel György Dózsa alive, but until 1954 they were exploiting the Parallel – mine too. In 1972 they began the opening of a new mine section in the northeast of Sóhát (Salt Back) but they gave up work because of bad quality show signs.

            In 1978 they established new depth levels with unique chamber - measurements in our country (12m high, 20 m wide and 200 m long) under the old mine chambers. Later, in 1991 they began working on the Telegdy- mine section in the northeast. Here the measurements of the chambers were: 16m wide and 8 m high. The quadratic stanchions have a cross-section of 14 m times 14 m.

            As far as the therapeutic effect of the salt mine from Praid is concerned, here the climato- and speleotherapy began in the 1960s in the old chambers of the enlarged György Dózsa- mine. Having the results from the Polish Wieliczka as a starting-point the mine manager, Károly Telegdy and Dr. Árpád Veres physician tried the underground treatment of chronic respiratory illnesses. Since 1980 they have equipped the therapy section for visitors at the +402m level and a depth of 120m from the surface of the ground. From the entrance of the mine a 1250 m long underground bus road leads to the speleo- and climatotherapic salt chambers. The large mine chambers are provided with electricity and constant aeration. There is also a playground, an ecumenical chapel, a buffet, many seats and table tennis that make the obligatory four hours daily stay more varied. Physiotherapy lead by a specialist, badminton, renting toys for children, a little historic museum, photo exhibitions and countless works of art make this special underground world more homelike. Physical safety is ensured by a constantly present medical supervision, moral comfort is provided by the underground ecumenical chapel that was dedicated to “Nepomuki Szent János” (Saint John from Nepomuk) in 1993.

            The Salt Region possesses significant scenic beauties and several geological rarities. One of these rarities is the Salt Strait and the Salt Back that has been declared a natural reservation on an area of 60 acres. The Salt Strait is in fact the valley where the Korond stream breaks through the salt range that once connected Sóhát (“Salt Back”) and the Gyilkos (Killer)- side. This way a smaller hill was detached (the Kisholló “Small Crow”). Another geological sight is the Csigadomb (“Snail Hill”) or Rakodó-hegy (“Loading Mountain”) in Korond and its aragonite rock. It lies at the southern edge of the Basin of Praid, right next to the road towards Korond. Other sights of Sóvidék (“Salt Region”) are: the fortress of Rapsonné (Mrs. Rapson), the Medvetó (Lake Bear) from Sovata, the Likaskő (Punched Stone) from Korond and numerous mineral- and salty -water springs.

            The salt from Praid has been called “Szekler salt” since the XV century, that provided the Transylvanian region and its people with a name, a right (the salt right), work and living possibilities for long centuries. Last but not least it provides the taste and soul of famous Szekler and Transylvanian foods. The huge salt region from Praid has a last carefully kept secret: the magic of timelessness. The one who unravels this – will gain eternity – might be petrified.

                                                                                                   

Compiled by Horváth István, Translated by Gizella