Kohtla Mining Park – Kohtla-Nõmme, Estonia - Atlas Obscura

Kohtla Mining Park

Kohtla-Nõmme, Estonia

This old Estonian mine has been kept like a sprawling time capsule of the local shale industry. 


When a thriving oil shale mine in northern Estonia began to fall into decline, instead of abandoning the site or tearing it down, these proud miners turned it into the Kohtla Mining Park, a theme park of sorts where the country’s history of industry is celebrated by allowing people to enter the mines. 

The Kohtla mine was opened in 1937, seeing workers entering the tunnels and sorting the burnable shale stone by hand. They also quarried the rock above ground at the same time as the men toiled underneath. This two-pronged approach turned the mine into a booming venture and the facilities were upgraded and expanded over the years until there was a large processing facility above ground.

Unfortunately business eventually slowed until the mine was forced to close in 2001. Even though the mine had to stop production, the equipment located on the site and the proud legacy of the people who had worked the stone remained wonderfully intact. Where most mines would have been left to rust and rot into a haunting ruin, the Kohtla tunnels were reopened just eight months later as a museum and historic site.

Today, visitors can come to the historic mine and tour the silent tunnels. All of the old equipment can still be found on the grounds as though the workers simply walked off the job minutes earlier. There is also a multi-million dollar visitors center that helps explain the significance of the oil shale industry as well as the impotance of mining in general. It’s not often that one can get an such an inside view of the life of a miner.

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