Roșia Montană Mining Landscape

World Monuments Watch
Roșia Montană, Romania

2016 World Monuments Watch

The rich gold deposits of Transylvania’s Apuseni Mountains have been known—and mined—since pre-Roman antiquity. After the Province of Dacia became part of the Roman Empire, laborers toiled to carve straight, orderly galleries using fire and simple tools like hammers and chisels. The result was one of the most extensive networks of mining galleries anywhere in the Roman Empire. Over centuries of exploitation, which expanded again in the eighteenth century under Habsburg rule, this underground network grew larger and larger, with the digging of new galleries, chambers, shafts, and drainage channels. Above ground, roads, railways, and water channels and reservoirs complete the picture of a mining landscape developed over a period of more than two millennia. The landscape centers on the town of Roșia Montană, a small settlement intimately associated with this history. The town is made up of traditional buildings dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and has been home to a multi-ethnic and religiously diverse community. Roșia Montană was mined on an industrial scale between 1970 and 2006, but the landscape retained its integrity.

Until recently, the surviving landscape was threatened with almost complete destruction by plans to resume and expand open-pit mining. A joint venture between the Romanian state and a foreign mining company would use cyanide to extract gold from what would become the largest open-pit gold mine in Europe. Four mountain peaks surrounding the town of Roșia Montană would be removed, destroying almost all archaeological evidence in the process. For many years, this plan was opposed by national and international institutions and professional associations, including ICOMOS, Europa Nostra, the Romanian Academy, and many others. In the fall of 2013, large protests against the project rocked Bucharest and other Romanian cities, motivated by a concern for its environmental impact. Both houses of the Romanian parliament rejected a draft law that would fast-track the project, offering a temporary reprieve for Roșia Montană.

Even though the threat of destruction has been averted—for now—the challenges for Roșia Montană and its residents are not over. A large number of properties had been purchased by the Roșia Montană Gold Corporation, and many of them now lie vacant and deteriorating. A house adoption program that supports homeowners in Roșia Montană is in its infancy but it will help residents who want to repair their properties using traditional materials and techniques. To facilitate the mining project, land use regulations were changed, and these will now need to be reversed, to allow for the development of more sustainable forms of economic activity, including organic agriculture, eco-tourism, and cultural tourism—which are currently prohibited. The 2016 World Monuments Watch calls for a coordinated effort and new investment to promote sustainable development at Roșia Montană, and for continuing the process of valorizing its rich heritage.

Watch Day

Watch Day was celebrated in August 2016, as part of the Roșia Montană Heritage Week. The first of its kind, the heritage week included workshops and demonstrations on the care and maintenance of vernacular architecture, guided tours of the historic churches in Roșia Montană, and a public conference about the decades of advocacy efforts for the site. Participants were introduced both to the cultural landscape of Roșia Montană, to its values or the threats it faces, and to potential solutions, starting from small scale community projects. Watch Day was celebrated at the conclusion of the week-long program, gathering residents and visitors in an exchange of ideas about heritage protection and the benefits of the Watch as an effective tool for raising awareness.

Since the Watch

In December 2015, the Romanian Ministry of Culture put an end to the proposed mining project by classifying the town of Roșia Montană and its surroundings as a Category A historic monument. In February 2016, the Ministry announced that the site would be added to the country’s Tentative List of sites to be considered for the UNESCO World Heritage inscription. It was officially inscribed on Romania’s Tentative List in October 2016. In January 2017, the nomination dossier for World Heritage inscription was submitted for consideration, an important step to protecting the site. 

Last updated: February 2017.

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