Switzerland is well known for its incredibly beautiful cities, mountains, lakes, ski resorts, and chocolate. The natural setting between the Swiss Alps, snow peak glaciers, and incredible lakes has also enriched it with various minerals and natural resources.
The mining industry in Switzerland has little importance to the country's economy. Half a century ago, mineral mining in the nation came to an end. Instead, refining metals such as aluminum, steel, and most gold has gotten the attention. Every four of the five gold refineries in the world are in Switzerland, and almost 80% of the world's gold passes through these.
If you are interested in the gold mining history of Switzerland, we have gathered the most interesting facts in this article.
Gold Mining in Roman and Pre-Roman Era Switzerland
Though Swiss gold mining history is not as glorious as its gold refining and banking records, it does have a gold mining past in the form of river panning and a few gold mines from Roman and pre-Roman times.
The natives Swiss 'Helvetians' knew of gold along the banks of streams and rivers in the Southeastern Swiss Alps. There is little evidence of organized gold mining in the area, but they did pan for gold along streams. A similar style of panning continued in western Switzerland during the period of Roman domination of the area.
Two northern cantons of Aargau and Thurgau have many popular spots where gold panning was and still is carried out. Another popular destination is Napfbergland, near the city of Bern in central Switzerland is the center of gold panning for hobbyists. It is a beautiful hilly area, where nascent Aare River streams run down the mountain and bring precious gold to the Swiss Mittelland.
Commercial Scale Gold Mining in Modern Switzerland
Sessa Gold Mine in the Malcanton district of Switzerland is one noteworthy gold mine. The region's first known mining attempts date back to 1785. However, experts believed the site was in operation well before the 1st century. Until 1952, Switzerland was mining gold and silver from the Sessa mine. The ore was dug out from 2-kilometer-long tunnels carved at five levels. Depleting ore, high costs, and low gold prices forced the company to close down the mine.†
The Lake Maggiore to Lake Lugano zone in Malcanton is also significant for its iron, silver, gold, and lead resources mined in the 18th century. They made Malcanton the richest mining canton of Switzerland.
Sessa mine was off-limits to the general public until 2015. However, in 2018, the government carried out an extensive restoration project and opened a 375-meter long tunnel known as "Leonilde" for visitors. It has become a major tourist attraction, which offers visitors an unrivaled opportunity to learn about the history of gold mining in Switzerland.
The second major gold mine in Switzerland was the Gondo gold mine in the Cantone of Valais. This mine also dates back to Roman times; later, the German emperors also operated the site. In the 1660s, the famous Stockalper family from Simplon took over the Gondo mine and ran it until 1691. According to records, the mine was highly productive in its heydays, and more than 500 miners worked on the site at the peak time. Gondo Mines stopped operating after it went bankrupt in 1987. Today tour companies and recreational gold prospectors can visit the site. There is a 40-minute hike through the beautiful Stockalper trail to reach the Gondo mine.
A smaller gold mine also existed in the Ticino Cantone; the mining operation here was not significant compared to the sites in Valais and Aargau. This mine was located close to the border to Italy in Southern Switzerland.
Future of Gold Mining in Switzerland
Recent geological surveys have confirmed the presence of significant gold ore under the pine forest in eastern Switzerland. The Canton of GraubŁnden gets special attention for its potential for new gold mines.
In 2010, a Canadian mining firm sought approval to develop a new gold mine in GraubŁnden's Medel Valley. The proposed mine would have been the first new gold mine in Switzerland since the closure of the Sessa mine. The site had an estimated $43.5 million worth of gold deposits. However, residents held in arms against new mines, fearing irreversible damage to the fragile forest and centuries-old historical sites. A referendum was held in 2012 asking residents if they agree with gold mining in the area, and a massive majority of 70% said no to mining in the valley.
As of 2021, Switzerland doesn't have any gold mines under operation, but if initial surveys are anything to go by, Swiss gold resources are substantial. Thus, there is huge potential for the gold mining industry in Switzerland, which might come to fruition in the future. Until then, Switzerland holds the title of the 'biggest gold refiner' in the world.