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Arne Carlsen is the last man standing in the depths of the historical Olav’s Mine in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Røros. “This is an utterly beautiful place to contemplate about life,” says the 57-year-old janitor.
Text: Morten Andre Samdal
Minerals are flashing shades of blue and green onto the stone walls. Narrow and steep stairs disappear into the abyss of history. More than 60 metres underground, old mining equipment still resides along the tracks.
“The environment is really unique, and it’s inspiring to work down here. My job is to make sure it’s safe for people to experience how it was to live and work down here”, says Arne Carlsen.
He’s the janitor maintaining the caves that cover an area as big as 21 football fields.
The mine was shut down in 1972, but people can still come and experience the calmness and the echo of old working traditions in the Olav’s Mine, 13 kilometres outside the centre of Røros.
“There are seven water pumps that need to be looked after, because they are very important to get the huge amount of water out of here. If not, it would have been flooded a long time ago.”
25,000 litres of water from the ground runs through these pumps every hour. The oldest pump is more than 50 years old, but still going strong. “Occasionally I have to oil the machinery”, says Carlsen, who also worked in the mines during the summers as a youngster.
At one time, almost every man in town worked in the mines.
Røros was metaphorically built on copper and the atmospheric Olav’s Mine is truly a special place. Through almost 400 years, the 40 pluss mines around the town of Røros have extracted about 110,000 tons of pure copper. These findings have built an economical basis for the development of a rich culture in the region.
In 1980, the mining town of Røros was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
333 years of mining and urban agriculture had created a totally unique city on the mountain plains.
The mining town has preserved much of its original character with its street layout from the 1600s and the wooden houses from the 1700s and 1800s.
In 2010, the World Heritage site was expanded to include the surrounding area, which is called the Circumference.
The basis for doing so was the important testimony that the Circumference provides us about how mining operations transpired as well as how the inhabitants have adapted to the mountain terrain, local nature, and cold climate.
In 2015, Røros was awarded the prize for the best “cultural county” in Norway. “It is because of places like the Olav’s Mine that this town could transform into one of Trøndelag’s most important areas”, says Solfrid Augensen at The Røros Museum.
The mining and farming activities within the town’s boundaries created an atmospheric mountain settlement. What makes the town truly special is that people still live and work in traditional buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Like most mining towns from that time, the town centre is made up of two straight parallel streets, making it compact and easy to explore.
“Today, Røros is more known for it’s excellent food, beautiful church, and fantastic architecture. But we must not forget what made all this possible: the miners”, says Augensen.
Røros Mining Town, established in 1646, is one of seven places in Norway that has found its way to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Røros is the place where even Norwegians themselves are eager tourists.
The town is built entirely of wood and is interlinked with a cultural landscape that shows – in an outstanding and almost complete manner – how mining operations, transportation, and the way of life had to be adapted to the requirements of the natural environment.
That is, the mountain plains, the cold climate, the remote location without roads and with marginal growth conditions for forests and agriculture.
On this basis a unique culture developed that has partly disappeared, yet an outstanding testimony of its existence has been preserved. This spellbinding old town gives you historical buildings and courtyards, as well as majestic slag heaps that tower over the landscape offering unrivalled views.
“The main attraction in Røros is the little town itself, where you are completely surrounded by history and tradition. Release your imagination as you explore the town and the mines, and you will find yourself transported to another era.”
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