From Amélie's dream to mine site rehabilitation
A little over a century ago, Amélie Zurcher, who owned a farm in Cernay, dreamt that "something was hidden underground" that would make her rich.
In 1904, the soils were tested. But though she was expecting to find coal, she discovered instead a sylvinite deposit (a potash ore). Industrial mining of the ore began in 1910 and the main objective was to make fertilizers.
And that’s how the golden age of potash mines in Alsace began, lasting until 2002 when the last mines, Amélie I and Amélie II, were closed.
Groups were founded to safeguard the Joseph Else, Rodolphe and Théodore pitheads. With the help of the authorities, the Potash Route was created in 2017.
From 1948 to 1950, the height of potash mining, the mines employed nearly 14,000 people at 24 wells.
Pitheads - witnessing miners’ daily lives
The Potash Route is an 18-km circuit that spans four towns and some emblematic sites: 4 remarkable pitheads and five sites of interest.
The Joseph-Else pithead in Wittelsheim, listed as a site of historic interest, is made up of two wells and headframes, a winding machine and adjoining buildings. Visiting the site with a former miner is an emotional experience, especially in the "hall of the hanged", the miners’ old cloakroom.
In Staffelfelden, the Marie-Louise pithead was rehabilitated into a business park and the Cité Rossalmend still houses some 700 homes built by the MDPA (Potash Mines of Alsace).
At the Rodolphe pithead in Pulversheim, the oldest potassium mining machine is still in working order, while the Théodore pithead in Wittenheim houses a memorial site for victims of the mine.
An exceptional cultural heritage
Amélie I, a tribute of course to Amélie Zurcher, is the oldest well. It was created in 1910.
Ensisheim II, the deepest well went 1,033 m below ground, more than three times the height of the Eiffel Tower! In the bowels of this well, the average temperature would rise above 50°C. It’s easy to imagine how gruelling the work must have been.
The tallest headframe in France was located in Staffelfelden. Measuring ¾ of the height of the Tower of Europe in Mulhouse, it stands 74m high.
In Wittenheim, a memorial lists the names of more than 800 workers who died in mining accidents.
A landscape shaped by potash mining
In the potassium mining areas, the many slag heaps testify to the intense mining activity that once reigned there. Composed of backfill, they rise to great heights dotting the hilly landscape.
Headframes are easily spotted from afar, many of them still standing, including the metal one at the Theodore pithead.
And finally, discover the “mine houses” in the villages of the potassium mining region with their characteristic alignment.
A guided or independent tour?
The Tourist Office offers guided tours in high season: a 1-day "Adventure of potash in Alsace" or a half-day "Discovering the potash of Alsace”. Don’t hesitate to contact us!
If you choose to visit the Potash Route independently, download the route on your Smartphone using the Cirkwi app.
Former miners associations regularly open their doors to explain about the history of potash mining to as many people as possible. They will enjoy talking to you about their profession.
You will need a vehicle to travel the Potash Route since it’s located north of Mulhouse and stretches over 18 km.Discover the Potash Route on your computer.