Chapter 15: Journey to the Hungarian mountain towns

Joachim von Sternberg: Reise nach den ungarischen Bergstädten Schemnitz, Neusol, Schmölnitz, dem Karpathengebirg und Pest im Jahre 1807. (Wien 1808).

published April 2019

The favorite book of Mariann Juha

Mariann Juha worked in the Iron Library for two weeks as a scholar-in-residence studying literature relating to mining history. Her project "Mining Traditions. The Intangible Legacy of Mining" deals with the question of what links the populations of Europe's former mining centers. The starting point for her research is the former silver-mining town Banská Štiavnica (Schemnitz in German). During her research she came across her favorite book, a fascinating travelogue.

The reader

Mariann Juha

... is a Senior Researcher at the Technical University in Deggendorf. She is currently working on the digitization of museums and possible applications for culture apps.

She is passionate about museums, especially objects that tell a story. Prior to her engagement at the Deggendorf Municipal Museum, she worked at the German Historical Museum in Berlin, the German Museum in Munich, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest.

She completed her doctorate at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich on the history of mineralogy in the 18th century.

She lives with her family in Munich.

I would love to play a role in this journal:

This book needs a sequel:
Daša Drndić: April u Berlinu

The books on my nightstand:
Péter Esterházy: Harmonia Caelestis
Ljudmila Jewgenjewna Ulizkaja: Daniel Stein

The book

Joachim von Sternberg: Reise nach den ungarischen Bergstädten Schemnitz, Neusol, Schmölnitz, dem Karpathengebirg und Pest im Jahre 1807 (Journey to the Hungarian Mining Towns Schemnitz, Neusol, Schmölnitz, the Carpathians and Pest in 1807). Vienna 1808.

Joachim von Sternberg (1755-1808) was the son of Count Johann Nepomuk Sternberg (1713-1798). Originating from Bohemia, he was known as a natural historian, metallurgist and pioneer of ballooning. He enjoyed good – and even international – connections with contemporary men of science through his membership in the Society of Natural History Friends in Berlin and the Botanical Society in Regensburg. Unfortunately, I couldn't find out very much about his personal history. So I was all the more pleased when I came across his travel journal in the Iron Library.

In addition to travels in which one sought fresh adventures and experiences in foreign parts, a new trend that began in the 18th century was becoming increasingly important in Europe: "mineralogical travels". Travelers visited European mines in order to describe the mines and – if possible or if permitted – to report on new methods of mining the minerals. Not of least importance were the descriptions the travelers made of the collections they had visited on their journeys. A very popular subject of these "travelogues" at that time were the mining centers in historical Hungary, which were unknown to the wider public and therefore considered exotic but nevertheless safe.

Sternberg began his journey on 4 June 1807. Along the way he made note of the most important sites, the major historical events, the geographic and geological features, the mining centers, the smelters, and the key personalities in the places he visited. The precise facts and figures on mining and smelting in his travel description are few and far between. One need only look at where the book was published – Vienna – to realize that the contents must have been subject to strict imperial censorship.

Why did he choose precisely those mining towns listed in the title of his book? Schemnitz, Neusohl, and Kremnitz (Banská Štiavnica, Banská Bystrica, and Kremnica in Slovakia) were the three main silver, copper, and gold mining centers in Lower Hungary. Schmölnitz (Smolník, Slovakia), a mining town in Upper Hungary, was the site in 1786 of one of the first metallurgy conferences, at which the famous mineralogist and Freemason Ignaz von Born (1742-1791) was also present. Sternberg probably included more information on contemporary mining in his manuscript than was ultimately published.

He ended his journey in Pest, where he greatly enlarged his network (the censors probably didn't care about the information he gained there). Sternberg visited the library and coin collection of Count Franz von Széchényi (1754-1820), the natural history cabinet, the laboratory of Professor Jakab Jozsef Winterl (Jacob Joseph Winterl, 1739-1809), as well as the observatory and university printing house in Buda (or Ofen as it was then known in German). The book provides an interesting insight into the Kingdom of Hungary at the dawn of the industrial age.