UNESCO Global Geopark Inselsberg-Drei Gleichen

Pangaea: On the trail of the supercontinent in the middle of Thuringia

The UNESCO Global Geopark Thuringia Inselsberg - Drei Gleichen encompasses parts of two different landscape areas from the Thuringian Forest and the Thuringian Basin. The name of the Geopark refers to its highest elevation, the Großer Inselsberg, 916.5 m above sea level, and a trio of medieval castles in the Thuringian Basin, which are also called "Drei Gleichen". The region is characterized by an enormous geological diversity and bears testimony to impressive geological developments, from the supercontinent Pangaea to today's landscape. A number of themed trails, tourist caves and tourist mines as well as other tourist sights invite visitors to explore the UNESCO Global Geopark.

The Geopark is a compact area in the middle of Thuringia, and Germany. It is also a small part of the former supercontinent Pangaea and is located at the seam of the former continents Old Red and Gondwana. A great variety of rocks and fossils can be found both in the low mountains of the Thuringian Forest, especially in the Inselsberg region, and in the relatively flat, in parts hilly, landscape in the Drei Gleichen area. As a result, the formation of Pangaea in the Carboniferous era and its disintegration in the Jurassic era can be easily traced. This is why the Geopark logo features the outline of the supercontinent.

More than 300 million years ago, the northern Old Red continent collided with the southern Gondwana. A giant continent surrounded by the sea was formed, which the German researcher Alfred Wegener named, in 1920, Pangaea which translates to "all-embracing earth". It was the last supercontinent in Earth's history, from which all of today's continents emerged. For millions of years, Pangaea was in constant motion - mountains developed, volcanoes raged and created furrows in the land, lakes and seas arose and vanished. Life from the water began to adapt to life on land and continued to evolve.

Since 2008, the Thuringian Geopark Inselsberg - Drei Gleichen has been a National Geopark. One of its highlights is the ancient tetrapod fossil site at Bromacker between Georgenthal and Tambach-Dietharz. This site of early terrestrial vertebrates (terrestrial tetrapods) from the Lower Permian epoch about 290 million years ago, is an internationally important geosite. It is also a designated national geosite. The trace fossils together with the body fossils of these so-called primeval saurians have been uniquely preserved here. With its numerous, well preserved primeval saurian skeletons, the site gives a view into the diverse life on the supercontinent Pangaea.

The Badlands in the Thuringian Castle Country Drei Gleichen, also designated as a National Geosite, can be explored via clearly signposted and informative GeoRoutes. The three castle hills of Wachsenburg, Burg Gleichen and Mühlburg are built from the colorful rocks of the Upper Triassic about 220 million years ago. Red and green-grey clay and marl stones occur on the southern slopes almost devoid of vegetation, and define the landscape below the castles, which are within view of each other.

In the six tourist caves and tourist mines of the Geopark, guests get insight into a fascinating geological and mining history, over a millennium old, of the Thuringian Forest and the management of the finite natural resources of the region. Fluorspar and barite as well as various iron, manganese and non-ferrous metal ores were mined here. Around 1990, underground mining in the Thuringian Forest came to a complete halt.

A contribution to sustainable development

Some spectacular finds have been made in the Geopark over the last 200 years, thanks to the work of geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists and numerous people with an interest in natural sciences. Guests can experience their work and findings by immersing themselves in various stages of the earth's history and other thematic worlds on 17 thematic GeoRoutes as well as in the GeoInfocenters. In this way, connections to the present-day landscape, the animal and plant world, the climate or even the cultural history of the region are also conveyed. Certified Geopark guides also offer hikes tailored to specific target groups. The guided tours also raise awareness for sustainable nature and resource conservation.

The UNESCO Global Geopark is tackling the challenges of global change with education for all, which plays a special role in the Geopark's daily work. In its implementation of the sustainable development goal (SDG 4) "Equitable and quality education", for example, the local population will be encouraged to participate in interdisciplinary research projects in the Geopark. An important aim of the Geopark is to bring the important Bromacker tetrapod fossil site to a wider audience.

After a long break in excavations, international research was resumed in 2020 through a joint project with the Museum for Natural History - Leibniz Institute for Evolutionary and Biodiversity Research, the Friedenstein Gotha Castle Foundation and the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. The aim of the cooperation is to combine research and knowledge transfer in order for the public to gain insight into the fascinating early evolution of land vertebrates. New ways of communicating science will be used to enable interested individuals from a wide range of target groups to participate in research and to engage in conversation with the researchers. For this purpose, state-of-the-art, multimedia educational offerings are being developed that will allow visitors to experience life on Pangaea 290 million years ago. For example, live preparations and live CT scans of fossils, the development of a Bromacker Lab(oratorium) and an informative visitor platform at the excavation site are planned. In the course of the project, citizen scientists will have the opportunity to participate in research tasks. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

International partnerships

Keeping to its motto - "The supercontinent Pangaea - the all-embracing earth" - the Thuringian UNESCO Global Geopark would like to contribute with its activities to the strengthening of the global community and to the dismantling of borders between people of this world. With this goal in mind, the Geopark is involved in the national and international network of Geoparks, also in order to jointly contribute to solving the important social challenges of global change.

To this end, the Geopark has entered into a long-term cooperation with the UNESCO Global Geopark "Ore of the Alps" in Austria and the National GeoPark Porphyry Land in Saxony since 2011. Within the framework of this partnership, joint guidelines were developed to generate sustainable use of local raw materials over several life cycles, aiding the development of a raw material expertise.

Another international cooperation was established in 2021 with the UNESCO Global Geopark "Chelmos Vouraikos" in Greece. The two Geoparks will collaborate on scientific research into the kilometer-long karst cave systems, which occur in both Geoparks. Working groups from both Geoparks want to develop a project with 3D representations of different cave systems. This will enable the pursuit of scientific goals and also make digital tours possible.

Illustration Geoparks