Freiberg, founded in 1168, was the first large mining town in the Erzgebirge. In the following centuries, the discovery of further ore deposits across the entire Erzgebirge led to the emergence of a landscape of mining settlements and towns unique in the world. By the 17th century, more than 30 mining towns had been founded in the Saxon Erzgebirge and more than 20 towns in the Bohemian Erzgebirge. Early mining towns such as Freiberg and Krupka (Graupen) were initially built without planning and with little order. From the 16th century, planning played an increasingly important role in the founding of towns and, in some cases, was based on Renaissance ideals of town planning, as in Marienberg or Horní Blatná (Platten) with their chequerboard layouts.
Today, numerous architecturally significant religious and secular buildings in the large and small mining settlements, such as churches, town halls, palaces and the houses of mine officials and workers, are a testimony to the formative influence of mining and the accompanying prosperity. The more recent coal and uranium ore mining periods of the 19th and 20th centuries have also left behind a large number of characteristic residential, social and administrative buildings that are protected monuments today.