At the time the “Gold Fever” attracted many Europeans to the American continent, in Međimurje – a mild and green region in north Croatia, gold prospecting and panning went on for six centuries without any publicity or great issue.
The peaceful peasants from Međimurje went round the sandbanks of the rivers Drava and Mura, and on their sandy shores panned for gold and sold it to merchants. This was quite profitable work along with their agricultural work.
The “jewellers” from Međimurje, as they were called, transferred this craft from generation to generation and back in 1939 even 240 people sailed on the Drava in search of the valuable nuggets. But in time their number decreased,and today Matija Horvatis the only live gold prospector in Europe. He was born in the little village of Donji Vidovec where most of the inhabitants were once gold prospectors. Having inherited the family work, just like most of the locals, in the thirties of the past century he joined with Dragutin Horvat and they set off on the capricious Međimurje rivers in search for gold with two wooden boards, a sieve, shovel and wooden pails. Even though the duo did not get rich, they did earn a living from gold prospecting and agriculture, and in the most successful day of their career they found 17 grams of gold. Their daily average was one gram for which it was necessary to pan 10 thousand gold grains. But the gold hidden in the sandbanks of the Drava is one of the naturally purest in the world – 24 carat gold and the price is around 240 kunas per gram.
This being hard workers is proved by the fact that several weeks of panning on the turbid waters of the Drava are needed for one bead of pure gold. Once cleaned, the grains are placed in a vessel where mercury is added. Once the mercury gathers all the gold from the sand, the mixture is placed in a linen cloth and tied with a cord in order to squeeze half of the mercury. A bead is made from the rest of the mixture and placed on a brick surrounded by embers. Thus the remaining mercury burns out and 100 percent pure gold remains behind.
Life with gold
- In 1776, Empress Maria Theresa signed a charter whereby the inhabitants of Donji Vidovac in Međimurje were given concession for prospecting gold on the banks of the Drava, Sava and Mura rivers at a width of three metres.
- DragutinHorvat died two years ago at the age of 89, the oldest gold prospector in Međimurje. Already as a child he used to go down the Drava with the jewellers on their ten-day routes. He prospected for gold until the last days of his life.
- Back in the twenties of the past century research and digging lasted for three years in Međimurje not only along the banks of the Mura and Drava, but also on the surrounding grounds. The research was done by American engineers and after three years they came to the conclusion that there was not enough gold to afford exploitation.