If only Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, had experienced it: the historical importance of the former imperial city and the rich mining history of the Upper Harz extends far beyond the region, Germany and even Europe.
In 1992, the Historic Town of Goslar and Rammelsberg were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with the World Heritage status expanded to include the Upper Harz Water Regale in 2010. Our historic sites thus stand alongside famous monuments such as the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Acropolis of Athens and the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Discover the traces of one of Europe’s oldest mining regions in the Harz – in an area measuring over 220 square kilometres! Important buildings, from the simple Bergmannshaus (Miners’ Cottage) and Kaiserpfalz (Imperial Palace) to Kloster Walkenried (Walkenried Abbey), amaze visitors. Kilometres of tunnel systems and the world’s largest pre-industrial energy supply system – the Upper Harz Water Management System, with over 100 ponds – have left an impressive mark on the Harz landscape. The exhibition mines and museums found here essentially make this entire region a unique store of knowledge covering 3,000 years of mining culture.
The World Heritage Foundation based in Goslar is responsible for developing and sharing this UNESCO World Heritage. A further World Heritage Site has been designated in the Harz since 2015: the ‘UNESCO Global Geopark Harz ● Braunschweiger Land ● Ostfalen’. The Geopark sheds light on the Earth’s history and shows visitors surprising links between geology, legends and history in show caves, mines, museums and at geopoints in the landscape.
An unspoilt gem to the present day: the Historic Town of Goslar
Not everyone knows that the palace in Goslar was literally very close to Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor’s heart. After he died in the Harz during a hunting trip in 1056, his heart, among other things, was removed and buried in his favourite palace, Goslar, while his body was taken to Speyer, Henry decreed this while he was alive. And now, more than 900 years later, the ruler’s heart still rests in the former imperial city at the northern edge of the Harz. Starting in the early 11th century, Goslar developed into one of the most important places in the empire. Conrad II, Holy Roman Emperor, Henry’s father, came here soon after being elected as King of Germany and laid the foundation stone for the current Kaiserpfalz (Imperial Palace).
Henry III had the imperial house, which remains to this day, completed. With a length of 54 metres and a depth of 18 metres, it was an architectural masterpiece and the largest secular building of its time. The chronicler Lampert called Goslar Palace the ‘most famous residence of the empire’. Goslar remained the central location of rulership for Conrad’s grandson, Emperor Henry IV, as well. It is said that Henry IV was staying with his court in Goslar when he received a letter from the Pope demanding that Henry subjugate himself. The smoldering dispute regarding investiture escalated and its culmination, the Walk to Canossa, is legendary to this day.
The image of Emperor Henry IV also adorns the Goslarer Kaiserring, an internationally renowned award for the visual arts, which has been presented in the Imperial Palace each year since 1975. The list of award winners includes famous names such as Gerhard Richter and Willem de Kooning, Ólafur Elíasson and Rebecca Horn. The first winner of the Kaiserring has been immortalised nearby – Henry Moore chose the garden of the Imperial Palace as the site for his sculpture ‘Goslar Warrior’.
Walking through medieval times!
In the vicinity of the Imperial Palace, a merchants’ settlement developed into a large and wealthy civil town. In the 12th century, Goslar’s old town reached its current size. Thanks to its town houses, the intersection of seven churches, strong town fortifications and the complex including the imperial house and the collegiate church (which no longer exists), Goslar made such a significant impression on its contemporaries that it was also called the ‘Rome of the North’.
Those who visit Goslar today might feel that they have taken a journey back in time to the Middle Ages. The route into the town leads past the impressive Breite Tor (Wide Gate). Goslar’s power and wealth can be seen at the historic marketplace, the showpiece of the self-confident town. The uneven spires of St. Cosmas and Damian market church tower into the sky behind the monumental structure of the town hall with its Huldigungssaal (Hall of Homage). The statues of eight German emperors on the facade of the historic ‘Kaiserworth’ guildhall observe the hustle and bustle on the marketplace, where there is always something going on. Around the streets and narrow alleys of the historic town, half-timbered buildings with magnificent decorative carvings are witnesses of past times. One of the most beautiful of these buildings, the Brusttuch, shows the ‘Butterhanne’, Goslar’s secret heraldic figure: a woman who cheekily points her naked bottom towards the devil! In reality, an eagle has been the official heraldic animal since the 14th century…
The Rammelsberg – a visit to the underworld
The foundation for the mining region’s significance lay under the surface of the mighty mountains of the Harz, which loom to the south of the imperial town and represent Germany’s most northerly low mountain range. The mountain of the greatest historical significance in the Harz is – no, not the Brocken! – the Rammelsberg. Geological finds point to ore production as early as the Bronze Age. Ore extraction only ended in 1988, after well over a thousand years of uninterrupted mining history. Over the course of the centuries, the fearless miners acquired 30 million tonnes of metalliferous rock from the mountain. Goslar has the silver, lead, copper, and zinc obtained from this to thank for its prosperity.
Today, it is no longer miners, but rather visitors from around the world who enter the Rammelsberg. Besides the mines above ground, which are visible from afar, visitors can marvel at centuries-old tunnels. The oldest of these, the Rathstiefste tunnel, was carved into the rock as early as the 12th century. The Roeder tunnel, named after its creator Oberbergrat Georg Christoph Roeder, is also over 200 years old. Here, the visitor follows the path of the water through the mountain – through pipes, via mighty wooden water wheels to the pumps and drainage tunnels.
The Upper Harz Water Management System – fighting water with water
Water is an important matter in mining – this is not only true of the Rammelsberg. The entire Upper Harz was one of the most important mountainous regions in Europe from the 16th to the 19th century.
Over the decades, digging continued deeper and deeper into the mountain – until the Harz mines were among the deepest in the world: shafts with depths of up to 300 metres were cut as early as 1700, a depth of 600 metres was reached around 1830. Yet the miners faced the same challenge in all of the pits: water penetration significantly hampered mining from a depth of just a few metres. The deeper the miners dug into the mountain, the more energy they needed to pump the mine water out. And so, a complex system to collect, redirect and store the surface water developed alongside the mine: the Upper Harz Water Management System.
The world’s largest and most important pond and mine system has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2010. It comprises 107 reservoirs, 310 kilometres of ditches and 31 kilometres of underground watercourses – the world’s largest energy system of the pre-industrial age. To date, the Harzwasserwerke operates and maintains 63 reservoirs, 70 kilometres of ditches and 21 kilometres of watercourses. These are easily accessible to visitors with a total of 22 theme-based WasserWanderWegen, or water trails. You can therefore make your way around on your own – or immerse yourself in the unique world of experiences at the Upper Harz Water Management System as part of guided tours for two hours, half a day or a full day.
- Harz Mountains Tourist Board – Experience World Heritage as a tourist in the Goslar Region
- Mines of Rammelsberg Foundation, Historic Town of Goslar and Upper Harz water management system – Unesco World Heritage
- Upper Harz Mining Museum – Guided Tours of The Upper Harz Water Management System
- Ore mines of Rammelsberg, Historic Town of Goslar, Upper Harz Water Management System
- Goslar Marketing – guided tours in the Historic Town of Goslar
- Tour portal – hike through Unesco World Heritage yourself
- Viewfinder Harz – Stories from the Unesco World Heritage Site in the Harz