Not even 20 years ago, Ostrava, the third-largest Czech city, was known as the “Czech Republic’s Iron Heart,” especially for this huge industrial plant born in 1830 and now transformed into a playground of science, technology, and art.
The plant had an ironworks, a coal colliery, and six coke furnaces, and was the only one in Europe that processed iron from start to finish in one location, only because the site was so massive. In 1828, the archbishop Rudolph Johann of Habsburg organized the construction of the site’s first puddling furnace for producing rails for a new built line from Vienna to Galicia. Iron production started in 1832 in blast furnaces fuelled with coke as early as 1836. A rolling mill for rails was completed in 1847, a Bessemer steel plant in 1866, and a tube mill in 1883. All the plants were powered by coal from Hlubina colliery since 1843. During the following years the variety of products grew continuously, and were producted also boilers, steam engines, mining and rolling mill equipment, and construction parts for bridges. In the late 19th century, the Dolnì Vítkovice became the only supplier of armour plates for the Austrian-Hungarian Navy. In 1938 the industry employed 18,860 people, a total that grew up until 33,477 in 1944. It was closed in 1998, after 162 years of activity, when it shut down production for good, but despite this, was preserved as a site of industrial heritage and still today visitors can walk between the huge structures that once produced most of Czech Republic’s iron.
The historical tours explain how the iron was produced, what it was like to work here closely with furnaces that reached 2,700˚F, and it’s also possible take an elevator until the very top of the Furnace No. 6 to see the whole complex from above. The setting is like something out of a dystopian science fiction movie, with huge industrial machinery rusting everywhere you look, and here Science and Technology Centre hosts exhibitions on everything from mathematics to nanotechnology. Now the ex industrial area is the Small World of Technology, a Jules Verne-themed industry museum, and the gas holder has been transformed into 1,500-seat auditorium. Here take place concerts and film screenings, other industrial buildings host art exhibitions and shows, while ski races have been staged using the rusted machinery as obstacles. Now the Lower Vítkovice has become the cultural heart of Ostrava and lot of people walking or picnicking on the grassy grounds beneath the huge tanks and furnaces.