See relics of Europe’s industrial past reimagined as amusement parks

Human activities have scarred the landscape in ways that could take decades or even centuries to repair, but some have found promise in the destruction.

By Maya Wei-Haas
Published 30 Nov 2022, 17:01 GMT
Crowds dance at Ferropolis, a former open pit coal mine near the city of Gräfenhainichen in ...
Crowds dance at Ferropolis, a former open pit coal mine near the city of Gräfenhainichen in Germany that was turned into an open air museum and concert venue. Towering over the crowds illuminated in crimson is Gemini, an old coal excavator that's no longer in use. This is just one example of an industrial site reimagined for public use.

Hundreds of feet under Transylvania lurks a gaping hole where undulating layers of black, white, and grey wind along rocky subterranean walls. Millions of years ago, a sprawling sea once blanketed the region of Romania where this cavern now lies. But the water has long since dried up, leaving behind the mineral that gives the cave walls their stripes: salt.

This saline secret was a boon for the region and was mined for hundreds of years, starting as early as 1075. As miners extracted the mineral, they dug the magnificent cavern, expanding it until the mine, known as Salina Turda, closed in 1932. Now, the subterranean space has a fresh purpose, delighting visitors as an underground amusement park.

To the left of this image is part of the Ping Pong stage where artists take turns performing on both sides of the platform while throngs of people dance to the rhythms of techno music inside Ferropolis. In the background stands the lightest excavator, Misquito.
Photograph by Luca Locatelli

This is just one example of an industrial site reimagined for public use. National Geographic photographer Luca Locatelli became enchanted by these sites while documenting the so-called "circular economy," a vision of the future where little is wasted and reuse reigns. "Land is a finite resource," he says.

The scars from industrial activities take decades or more to remediate—and some sites, like Salina Turda, are irreparably changed—making repurposing a vital way to conserve Earth’s limited resources.

Look down into the Theresa Mine, located in the Transylvania region of Romania, where tourists can enjoy boat rides across the quiet dark waters on the floor of the subterranean chamber as sound echoes throughout. The structure in the center was built as part of the mine's reimagining as a tourist attraction.
Photograph by Luca Locatelli
View from the bottom the Theresa Mine. In the background stands the elevator that dips into the Rudolf mine.
Photograph by Luca Locatelli
Tourists glide across the lake at the bottom of the Theresa Mine in one of the small boats available for use.
Photograph by Luca Locatelli
A view in the middle of the light art inside the Rudolf mine, revealing part of a ferris wheel, mini golf course, and the giant elevator that takes visitors into the cavern's depths.
Photograph by Luca Locatelli

In some cases, repurposing also gives new use to contaminated landscapes and draws attention to the environmental risks of many industrial activities. For example, Locatelli also photographed Ferropolis, an old open pit coal mine near the city of Gräfenhainichen in Germany. Though the grounds have been cleaned and capped in concrete, the fingerprints of the coal industry are undeniable.

In Locatelli’s images, visitors dance under coloured lights, surrounding the monstrous machines once used to reap our planet’s resources. Now the towering mining equipment stands like sentinels among the crowds, a reminder of the site's history and hope for a greener future.

Luca Locatelli is an environmental photographer and filmmaker focused on the relations between people, science and technology, and the environment. This story is part of an immersive exhibition created for the Museum of Photography Gallerie d'Italia Torino-Intesa San Paolo in partnership with the Ellen McArthur Foundation.

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