The town of Banská Štiavnica and the technical monuments in its vicinity represent a unique symbiosis of the technical landscape and the urban environment resulting from its mineral wealth and the consequent prosperity that this engendered.

Banská Štiavnica is the oldest mining town in Slovakia; its town seal of 1275 is the earliest known bearing a mining emblem. It lies on the steep slopes of the Glanzenberg and Paradajz mountains. The ore deposits were probably already being exploited in the late Bronze Age, and again in the Iron Age. They were certainly being worked in the Great Moravian period (9th century AD), and this activity continued in the Middle Ages: a document of 1156 refers to it as the 'land of miners', when miners from the Tirol settled in the area. Banská Štiavnica was granted town and mining privileges by Adalbert IV in the first half of the 13th century.

The 15th century saw the beginning of a time of immense prosperity for the area: defences were built round the town, the parish church was rebuilt and fortified, and many new residences were built. These were originally detached structures, but in the 16th century they were either converted into Renaissance 'palaces' or combined to form rows or terraces. Trinity Square, at the heart of the town, was a planned development of this period. However, a slow decline began at the end of the 15th century because of problems of water in the mines and a slump in precious-metal prices, exacerbated by political strife.

Nonetheless, technological progress continued, and in 1627 Banská Štiavnica saw the first use of gunpowder in mining, an important breakthrough. Paradoxically, this contributed to the economic decline by rapidly exhausting the surface ore deposits. However, much important work in the field of the application of water power in deep mining and ancillary processes was carried out, particularly in the 18th century: this included the invention of a dam-and-weir system for ore dressing that quickly became used throughout the world. During this period, which saw an upturn in mining profitability and Banská Štiavnica becoming the most important centre for precious-metal mining in the Habsburg Empire, many leading engineers and metallurgists from all over Europe were working in the town.

Banská Štiavnica was also a European centre of mining education from the late 16th century; the Mining Academy founded in 1762-64 was the principal one in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With the cessation of mining operations at the end of the 19th century, the town retained this pre-eminence in education until the Academy was transferred to Sopron (and later Miskolc) in Hungary after the First World War.

The historic centre of the town is a compact unit that has developed in an organic manner. Among the major monuments, dating from the High Gothic to Baroque and later periods, are the Renaissance Old and New Castles, built to resist the Turkish invaders, Town Hall (16th-18th centuries), churches of St Catherine (late Gothic), the Blessed Virgin Mary (neoclassical), and Blackfriars, dome of the Evangelical Church, buildings of the Mining Academy (1892-1912), and the Baroque Calvary complex on Scharfenberg hill. The town is rich in burgher houses, the earliest dating back to the 15th century.

The whole surrounding area contains important remains of early mining and metallurgical operations. There are no fewer than 30 reservoirs, the oldest of which, Velkà Vodarenska, was built before 1510. There is an elaborate series of dams, the longest 774.7 m long and collecting channels.

Remains of mining operations include the Voznickà drainage gallery, at 1.65 km the longest in the world when it was completed in 1878. The Bieber drainage gallery, begun in the 14th century, is the oldest known, and the earliest references to the Weiden and Terezia shafts date from 1519 and 1571 respectively. There are also several large opencast ore pits. The shaft building and machine room of the Mayer shaft (begun in 1805) still survive. The silver-lead smelting plant, originating in the first half of the 17th century and modernized in 1872, is still extant, as is one of the buildings of the first factory in the world for producing machine-made wire cable. The mining museum contains many items of equipment from the area.

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