Until recently, the Schneeberg mountain was of vital importance for the area in and around Ridnaun
(Ridanna) and Sterzing (Vipiteno). For centuries, the mountain was mined for ore. Initially, this was laboriously achieved by hand using simple tools and a great deal of physical effort and, in more modern times, with heavy machines and cutting-edge technology.
The mining industry was the most important economic sector in the entire region and reached its climax around the year 1500. It is believed that at this time, almost 1000 miners worked in 70 tunnels in the search for galena containing silver.
Starting from the 19th century, mostly sphalerite was mined. Starting in 1870, the miner's village of St. Martin, situated at 2,355 metres a.s.l., developed into a larger town. Europa's highest settlement once had administrative and factory buildings as well as residential homes, an inn, a church, and even a hospital. In addition to this, an elementary school, a band, a theatre club and a 'Schützenkompanie', or group of riflemen, were created. However, the settlement was located in rather inhospitable surroundings and at this height above sea level the cold season lasts for around 9 months. It was also difficult and expensive to bring supplies and life in such an isolated place often led to conflicts. In the 1960s, the high-altitude settlement was abandoned as workers moved downhill to Maiern in the Ridnaun valley. Until the mining ceased and the mines themselves were turned into a exhibition centre, St. Martin was abandoned to decay, plundering and deterioration. In spite of this, a few homes and factories have been preserved until this day.
The miner's village of St. Martin can be reached only on foot.
From the Ridnaun valley, starting from the regional mining museum
, it is possible to walk 1,300 metres uphill to the Schneebergscharte (or Schneeberg 'col'), and then 350 metres downhill towards St. Martin (about 4 hours on foot). From July to mid-October, the museum shuttle bus runs from Maiern to the ruins of the 'Poschhaus' mountain hut, slightly reducing the walking distance.
Another starting point is the Schneeberg bridge in the Passeier valley (approx. 690 m a.s.l. and 2 hours on foot).
Have fun searching for traces of what was once Europe's highest settlement!