The Kohtla mine was located in Ida-Virumaa, in the Kohtla-Järve region, which is a well-known mining area in Estonia. While the first written records of burning stone date back to 1777, mining began in the area in 1916 and in Kohtla twenty years later.
In 1931, the British-owned New Consolidated Gold Fields Ldt., a large company that owned gold mines in Australia, began operations in Kohtla. An 17-square-kilometer underground oil shale mine was established in 1937 to supply oil shale to the oil mills of a large British company. Over the years, six production buildings were built on the territory: an oil factory, a milling building, a laboratory, a power plant, a workshop and a storage room.
The special feature of the Kohtla mine was the simultaneous underground and surface mining, as well as the unique sorting complex added in 1957, where until its the closure mostly women worked. At the same time, the pieces of stone that were discarded were not small at all, but often up to 15–20 kilos. So the mountains that rise in Kohtla are largely the handiwork of women.
Underground physical heavy and especially dangerous mining work remained with men. The underground mining shafts ran from a depth of 8 meters up to the depth of 37 meters, depending on the course of the oil shale layers. A lot of work was done by hand before it was replaced by powerful machines that can still be seen on site today. You can also see and try driving wagons in the mine today, with which workers were transported to their workplaces, up to 10 kilometers underground.
Kohtla Mine is one of the oldest and longest-operating oil shale mines in Estonia. During the Soviet era, it became a kind of enclave in Ida-Virumaa, as the Kohtla mine was the only one in the USSR where the working language was Estonian and the leaders were Estonians.
The golden days of the mine date back to the 1970s. The record year was 1976, when more than 1.5 million tons of oil shale were mined in the Kohtla mine, which was still only 5% of the total production of the oil shale region at that time. In total, nearly 50 million tons of oil shale were mined in the Kohtla mine in 64 years – more precisely, 48,329,542 tons, as painted on the last wagon, which can still be explored on site.
The mine operated until April 1, 2001, when it was closed and Kohtla Mining Park started operating. The current Estonian Mining Museum is one of the largest tourist attractions in the region and offers the opportunity to explore underground kilometers of oil shale mining, get acquainted with both older and modern technology, oil shale production and energy as well as enjoy the charming industrial landscape in various ways.