UNESCO World Heritage Site #208: Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen

UNESCO World Heritage Site #208: Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen
UNESCO World Heritage Site #208: Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen

From the World Heritage inscription:

The technological and other structures of the Zollverein XII Coal Mine Industrial Complex are representative of a crucial period in the development of traditional heavy industries in Europe, when sympathetic and positive use was made of architectural designs of outstanding quality. Zollverein is an exceptional industrial monument by virtue of the fact that its buildings are outstanding examples of the application of the design concepts of the Modern Movement in architecture in a wholly industrial context.

Consolidation of the Zollverein mining claim area was completed in December 1847, when it was the northernmost mine in the region. It belongs to the Gelsenkirchen anticline, in which the coal seams are deeply stratified. Mining began in the mid-19th century at a depth of some 120 m and finished at 1,200 m. By the end of mining the underground roadways extended over 120 km; they were accessed by 12 shafts, opened up progressively between 1847 and 1932. When Zollverein XII was opened, the earlier shafts were used solely for the movement of men and supplies; all the extracted coal was handled by the new shaft until the mine closed in 1986. The methods of mining evolved as technology developed from hand picks to mechanized coal cutting. The coals being extracted at Zollverein were especially suitable for coking. Consequently, the first stack-type coke-ovens were built there in 1857. The coking plant expanded considerably over the decades that followed.

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen

Few people will travel to visit an abandoned industrial facility, yet I must confess that I enjoy visiting such sites almost more than I do visiting Roman ruins. Every industrial world heritage site I’ve visited has exceeded my expectations.

The Zollverein coal mine in Essen is a massive facility. Out of operation for more than 20 years now, the complex was a complete mining and coking facility which employed over 8,000 people at its peak. It was one of the largest coal mining facilities in the industrial Ruhr Valley.

Almost all of the buildings have been left intact even though most of them have found new uses as office spaces and museums. Even the museums have been build around the old machinery which remain in place where they once operated. One museum is dedicated to the history of the Ruhr Valley and another is the Red Dot Museum of contemporary design.

I recommend also visiting the coking plant which is the most industrial looking and larger of the facilities.

The grounds of the complex are open to the public for walking or biking. There are guided tours available in German and English which meet in the largest building up the extremely long escalator. Expect to spend anywhere from 1-3 hours at Zollverein, depending on the tour you take. There are many hidden nooks and rooms that can be seen on part of a tour that are not otherwise available to the public.

Overview

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen

The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was inscribed in 2001 as a mines and secular structure. This site in Essen is known for playing a pivotal role in the development of heavy industries in Europe. The industrial complex is also known for its use of innovative architecture.

The mining at the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen started in the middle of the 19th century. It is located in the village of Katernberg. Due to its proximity to railways that serve a route to Cologne, it was crucial to the growth of the industrial complex.

About Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen

The Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Germany. It was inscribed during the 25th session. The first coal mine in the region was founded in 1847. However, the mining activities did not start until 1851 and went on until December 1986. The site is composed of two parts: 1) Zollverein Coal Mine and 2) Zollverein Coking Plant. These two components that make up Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen are considered as one of Europe’s largest.

From 1847 to 1890, Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen was founded by Franz Haniel, who is a Duisburg-born industrialist. He needed coke (which is a type of fuel made from coal) for steel production. There were test drillings performed at Katernberg region, which produced positive results for having a rich layer of coal. He founded the company to explore the natural resources in the area and divided ownership among his family and the landowners of the Zollverein territory.

Shaft 1 started shrinking by 1847 wherein they managed to dig 130 meters beneath the surface to find a mineral coal layer. In 1851, the first official mining activities were started on the site. In 1852, Shaft 2 was opened and was used simultaneously with Shaft 1. These two shafts made use of visually identical stone towers. They also used a similar machine house. This concept was innovative at that time although it is currently adapted by many coal mines today.

Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen

From 1890 to early 1900s, the mine was heavily extended as there was great demand for coal, iron and steel production in the region. A few more shafts were opened as part of the mining operation’s extension. However, the operation suffered a few mine accidents involving fire damps caused by ventilation problems. Additional shafts were opened to resolve this particular problem. For the next few years after that, more renovations and expansions were done. By the World War I, the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen has managed to produce 2.5 million tons of coal.

By 1993 onwards, the Verbundbergwerk Nordstern-Zollverein produced 3.2 million tons of coal. However, it did not prove profitable enough as this coal mine decided to shut down operations. Hence, the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen was the only remaining active coal mine in the region at this time.

Even when this site, as with most sites dealing with heavy industries, it suffered period of decay after it was closed down. Nonetheless, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage for its huge contribution to the coal mine industry in Essen for many decades.


View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Germany.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Staying in the Rim Cabins of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

When I called the reservations line to ask about cabin availability at Palo Duro Canyon, the lady on the other end of the line chuckled a bit.  She told me that they are often booked months in advance, and finding something last minute wasn’t guaranteed.  We were lucky and got a last minute cancelation.

The problem lies with supply and demand.  There are only three rim cabins at Palo Duro Canyon, and it is a very popular destination!  Located in the Panhandle of Texas very near the city of Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon is second in size only to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

I have a confession.  I’ve never felt as conflicted as I do writing this post.  I loved our stay, but we were lucky to get the cabin.  What if I publicize how great they are and can’t find an opening in the future?  I definitely plan to go back.

The rim cabins were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s out of stone quarried nearby.  The CCC workers, young men, and veterans of WWI unable to find work in the height of the Depression, came to this area in the middle of the Dust Bowl.  They created what would become Palo Duro Canyon State Park.  They built the road into the canyon, six cabins total, and other improvements.  Knowing how cold the winter nights and how hot the summer days are in the Panhandle, I have immense respect for these men and appreciation for what they achieved.

While making phone reservations, I wasn’t able to pick our particular cabin – just the pricing category.  It was still a surprise when we arrived at the Ranger Station.  Drumroll… we were staying in the Goodnight Cabin!

goodnight cabin palo duro canyon state park
A fence separates the cabin from the road and other cabins, giving privacy but not obstructing the canyon view.

Knowing the age of the Goodnight Cabin, I was surprised by what I found when I got there.  The hard work and fine craftsmanship of the CCC were very evident.  Although 80 years old, the cabin was very sturdy.  You could tell the cabin had recently been refurbished, but that original features had been preserved.  The original hand-carved ceiling beams were exposed and gave the cabin a beautiful rustic charm. It was cozy, but it was very clean and the linens were quality.  The children loved the full-sized bunk beds!

goodnight cabin palo duro canyon state park texas
The full sized bunk beds. The bathroom and shower were between the two bedrooms.

You may remember we were at the Grand Canyon only three weeks earlier, so it was interesting to compare the lodging to Palo Duro.   The cost nightly was $110.  Similar accommodations would be FAR more expensive at the Grand Canyon – and they would likely be booked years and years in advance.

While Palo Duro doesn’t have the food facilities (especially in the evening) that the Grand Canyon has,  we were able to get a great burger at the Trading Post in the park for lunch and we brought a cooler with our dinner.  The cabin included a microwave and a minifridge.   If the temperatures had been a little warmer the picnic table on the back porch would have been a fantastic place to eat and take in the view.

There was also a fireplace inside and a grill outside, but they were off limits because of a fire ban.  It is my understanding that this fire ban is very common.  While you can call ahead and see if the ban is still in effect, you shouldn’t bank on being able to use the fireplace and grill.

We had a clear view of the sunset from our porch.  The stars were amazing over the canyon at night!  If your children are city kids, like ours, they will probably be surprised by how many stars are actually visible.  The sunrise was a bit obstructed, but I took a couple minutes to walk past the cabins to watch it on the morning we were there.  Very worth it!

palo duro canyon state park lighthouse cabin texas
The master bedroom in the Goodnight Cabin.

Of course like every stay, there were a few drawbacks to the experience.  The heater, while effective, was a wall unit and very loud.  I would assume it would be the same in the summer when it was attempting to cool the cabin in the hot Texas sun.  Like I mentioned, the evenings were cold and a fire in the fireplace would have been nice – but precluded by the fire ban, which also did not allow us to use the grill.  There were no doors separating the bedrooms.  While not a problem for us, this could be a disadvantage if you aren’t as close to your family as we are.  Also, there are only four occupants allowed, so it is not an option for you if you have a larger family than that.  However, the cons were nothing near dealbreakers for us, and we will return to the canyon for another stay in the cabins.

For more on Palo Duro Canyon State Park, see the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

To check availability or reserve a Palo Duro Cabin (rim or limited use) contact the Texas Parks Office at (512) 389-8900.

To find out more about the history of the CCC and their work in Texas Parks, visit the site The Looks of Nature.

palo duro canyon texas state park
Sunrise view over the canyon from the back porch of the Goodnight Cabin.