The lead and zinc mine of Litija, popularly known as Sitarjevec, lies on one of Slovenia’s largest ore deposits. Litija itself is probably Slovenia’s oldest mining town. Mining operations here date back to the time of the Celts, who settled here to mine lead. Later, the Romans also established large-scale mining operations.

Mining in Litija had been abandoned and resumed several times in the past. The combined length of the tunnels exceeds forty kilometres. In 1965, the mine was closed for the last time due to depleted ore reserves. Efforts are now underway to reopen the mine for tourists.

Litija’s ore deposits belong to the hydrothermal class and were formed in carbonaceous layers. With over sixty different minerals that formed in four stages of mineralisation, this is a very rich and complex paragenesis.

The most widely known minerals from Sitarjevec are cinnabar, cerussite and baryte. All of them are counted among Slovenia’s important geological treasures and thus part of movable cultural heritage.

Hematite and jasper ore from the Sitarjevec mine

Hematite-jasper ore in the world of precious stones

The Slovenian Museum of Natural History houses a collection of ores and minerals from the Sitarjevec mine. It comprises crystals of quartz, baryte, cerussite, cinnabar and pyromorphite. One ore in particular, the hybrid ore of hematite and jasper, garnered a lot of attention a few years ago, when it was discovered that it could be polished and used as semi-precious stone in jewellery and for decorative items.

Fresh samples of hematite-jasper ore from the abandoned mine were donated by the Municipality of Litija for the VirtualMine project. They were roughly cut by the Civil Engineering Institute and then sent to the Higher Vocational School in Sežana, which is the only school in Slovenia that offers a study programme for precious stone grinding. Its students then cut a series of jewellery and cabochons, which are displayed here.

As stated before, what makes this ore interesting are the thin alternating layers of red jasper and grey hematite, as well as the manner in which the hematite layers themselves are structured: their granularity varies quite significantly and that makes the pieces extraordinarily attractive. Besides the hemispherical cabochons, the students also ground miniature sculptures such as mushrooms and acorns, and geometric bodies such as spheres, cuboids and pyramids.

The pieces were produced by students Izabela Furlan, Jaka Modic, Andraž Švara and Jani Turk under the mentorship of dr. Miha Jeršek.

The exhibition of precious hematite-jasper stones is a collaborative effort between the Slovenian Museum of Natural History, the Srečko Kosovel Higher Vocational School, the Civil Engineering Institute and the Municipality of Litija. It is on display in the Sitarjevec mine.

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