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Prepare to stand in mid-air above a vertical mineshaft

This May, a glass floor at the Cobalt Mines in Modum will allow spectators to float above the blue abyss.

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Right now, the traditional Cobalt Mines of the Blaafarveværket museum in Modum is in the process of installing a somewhat less traditional attraction:

A glass floor on top of a long, vertical mineshaft.

“Standing on the clear glass, you will get the sense of having a 20 metre drop beneath you, and nothing else”, says Tone Sinding Steinsvik, the museum director.

“At the bottom of the shaft, you’ll see the original wood floor. You will also have a chance to take in all the hallways leading off to the sides, where rock and ore were transported.”

In its prime, the mine was Norway’s largest business. Originally founded in 1772 by King Christian VII, who ruled Denmark and Norway, the mine employed 2,000 people in the 1800s, all labouring to extract and refine cobalt ore.

Whereas cobalt today is an important component in the lithium ion batteries that power laptops and smart phones, the ore had a different function back then – the colour blue.

“80 percent of the world production of blue colouring took place here. Back then, cobalt was necessary for producing blue glass and not least porcelain, which still requires cobalt in our time. And porcelain was a big deal in Europe back then. Every royal house had better own their own porcelain factory”, Steinsvik says.

Steinsvik and her husband founded the museum, which turns 50 next year. Today, the facility sees between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors during the three busy summer months it is open every year.

Amongst the attractions on offer are guided tours through the mines and nature walks through idyllic surroundings, along old water pipes from the heyday of the mines – as well as over Haugfossen, the waterfall that according to Steinsvik holds the honour of having been portrayed in more paintings than any other Norwegian waterfall.

In addition to mining history and nature walks, the museum also offers home cooked meals and art exhibitions by, amongst others, famed Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen.

As for the mines, they stayed in operation for 120 years. Ten million tonnes of rock were extracted, of which only 0.02 percent was cobalt.

“It was the world’s clearest and cleanest blue cobalt colour, due to the minerals found here”, Steinsvik says.

One of the stories told through her museum is the shift towards modern mining, as the operation moved into the mountain.

“To spare the miners a lot of work and accidents, the mining chief dug transportation tunnels into the mountain and made vertical shafts for moving rock and ore downwards.”

It is in one of these shafts, the Edvard Sjakt, the glass floor will now be installed, 400 metres into the mountain.

“We’ve secured the rock and cleaned the shaft, so it’s ready. The glass floor will be mounted on a beam, with wires from the roof stabilizing it, giving off the impression that it’s floating. This is the first time that has been done in an environment like this.”

And for those struggling with a fear of heights, Steinsvik has some words of comfort:

“If you don’t feel like stepping out onto the floor, it’s fine to stand in the entryway and just look down instead.”

If all goes to plan, the glass floor will be ready at the end of Easter, opening to visitors along with the rest of the museum in May.

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