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Walloons in the Karkonosze

The Karkonosze is one of the mineralogically richest European regions. Medieval metal ores and gems prospectors knew it and as the first humans dared to enter into these contemporary wild mountains. The pioneers came from the Belgian and French borderland and were called the Walloons. They were highly regarded medieval specialists of acquiring such natural resources as gold and gems. They were a closed group of professionals respecting by others for their unique abilities. They worked mainly as mineral searchers, supervisors of excavating sites and supporters on mining issues. In the middle of the XII century Géza II, King of Hungary, decided to establish gold mines. In order to do that, he invited the Walloon prospectors, who set off for Transylvania. As a result, some of them settled in the Harz Mountains and the Saxon Ore Mountains. During further wandering, the Western Sudetes and local natural resources aroused the Walloons’ interest.

Exploring the given area, the Walloons left directed signs and pieces of information known only to themselves. They engraved them on trees, rocks or stones. They had various forms: from stars, the sun, the moon, head, open hand, man, fork, cross, pick, hammer and arrows to numbers and letters. Many of them went missing, but some have survived to this day. The Walloon signs marked directions and places. One may say that they were the precursors of modern trail blazing.

The Walloons’ main residence was Stara Wieś Szklarska located in the valley over the Szklarski Potok and its tributaries, being a part of Szklarska Poręba Dolna. This settlement was probably formed at the turn of the XIII and XIV centuries and was associated with glass steelworks. The settlement was built around the steel mills and possessed a wooden pilgrimage chapel first mentioned in 1488.

The Walloons used to describe the locations of valuable rocks and minerals in so called lists (Polish “spiski”) or books. They were little, partly ciphered and handwritten notes and instructions in Latin or German, oftentimes interlarded by the Czech expressions. The Walloon books contained numerous allusions and terms understandable only by the author and limited number of the initiated. One of the best known are “The Trutnovo Walloon book” of 1466 and “The Walloon book” of 1456. They can be easily regarded as the first Karkonosze guides.

The next metal ore and gem prospectors, who were continuously coming into the Karkonosze from other parts of Europe – mainly from Italy, by the historians are called the Walloons. The Walloon history is presented in an educational way by the modern Sudeckie Bractwo Walońskie in Szklarska Poręba.

Fig. 1 One of the gems acquiring by the Walloons was the amethyst
Fig. 2 The sapphire is a mineral described in the Walloon books
Fig. 3 Gold grains panned from the Sudeten streams
Fig. 4 The Walloon sign on the rock (The Walloon Stone in Przesieka)
Fig. 5 One of the Karkonosze medieval drifts
Fig. 6 Drawing showing the Walloons searching for gold (according to Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica, 1550)
Fig. 7 A member of the contemporary Sudeckie Bractwo Walońskie
Fig. 8 The modern Walloon lists