A stately hotel graces the entrance of Jáchymov, a small town that’s had a rich mining history since the mid-16th century. The mines, mainly iron and silver, reached peak productivity by the beginning of the 20th century, when the town was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their waste materials provided a curious property, which helped chemists and physicists in other parts of Europe make outstanding discoveries.
After Hans Maria Klaproth extracted uraninite (then called pitchblende) from silver mining waste, its fluorescent properties were used for the color industry. Soon, the medical properties of radium also became well known, and a booming medical market of radiotherapies emerged
Jáchymov (then called Joachimsthal) became one of the epicenters of this biomedical trend, and the Hotel Radium Palace, which was built in 1912 and replaced a smaller spa, became the world’s first radium spa. The hotel is considered to be the birthplace of radiobalneology, which led to a race among spas for the most radioactive spring water.
Several private medical cabinets, hospitals, spas and cosmetic salons in the neighborhood tried to exploit the curing and beautifying power of the radioactive elements. Later, the noble gas radon, which naturally occurs in the local thermal springs, was marketed as a wonder cure when applied in bathing and drinking medical treatments. Marie Sklodowska-Curie herself visited the town in 1925, when the spa industry had reached its peak and became a place of medical mass tourism.
After World War II, the town’s radium spa and color industry crumbled, and a dark chapter in the history of the town started as Communist labor camps were created to force prisoners to work its mines. The Radium Palace was renovated and revived in the ‘90s, and today it’s open to visitors.