From mines to mining park

RegioStars 2010 FinalistThe Almadén Mining Park is an educational, cultural and tourist site that was built to preserve the vast mining and industrial heritage of the world’s largest mercury mines, forced to shut down in 2003. It was created to reverse the environmental damage of 2 000 years of extraction activities, and to promote historical and scientific knowledge about the local mining industry amongst the public. The Mining Park has already developed into an important tourist site in the area.

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The furnace of the former mercury mines, now part of the Almadén Mining Park. Copyright: European Commission The furnace of the former mercury mines, now part of the Almadén Mining Park. Copyright: European Commission

“The park has already attracted over 52 000 visitors, who have gained a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the rich mining heritage.”
Eduardo Martinez Lopez, project manager

For about 2 000 years, the Almadén mines were the world’s biggest mercury supplier, providing an estimated one-third of all the mercury used by mankind. Instead of allowing the site to sit empty and continue to harm the environment, it was decided to undertake a major restoration and create a heritage park that paid homage to the importance of the former mines. At their height, the mines supported a population of 13 000 people and employed 2 000 workers.

An ambitious undertaking

The project entailed an enormous environmental clean-up of the former mines, where a waste heap had accumulated over two centuries to reach a volume of 3.5 million tonnes covering a surface of 10 hectares. The heritage site has preserved and restored many of the historic buildings. These include the San Rafael Mining Hospital built in 1755-73; the Carlos IV Gate from which oxen carriages and mules transported mercury from Almadén to Seville for Mexican silver production; and the mercury warehouse, which has been turned into a Mercury Museum.

Preservation and restoration

In 2003, the Almadén Mines were forced to close as a result of new EU restrictions on mercury.

Faced with this scenario, the Minas de Almadén y Arrayanes SA (Mayasa) – a publicly owned limited liability company with headquarters in Madrid and Almadén – decided on two complementary actions. These were the environmental restoration of the area, undoubtedly the most important ever undertaken by the company, as well as preservation of the mines’ industrial and cultural heritage.

A wide network of partners was involved in all phases of the project, which included the preservation and restoration of historic buildings; preservation of historic documents dating back to the 19th century and maps going back to the 18th century; and securing the health and safety of workers and visitors. Towards that end, there is a health and safety manual for the park and an emergency ventilation system using the San Miguel mine shaft in case of an emergency; there are also six emergency exits connected to alarm systems.  Mercury levels are regularly checked at different sites in the Mining Park, and exposed workers are subject to preventive medical controls including specific tests for mercury levels.

An agreement between Mayasa and the City of Almadén signed in October 2005 seeks to promote further social, industrial and touristic projects at the mining park. Similarly, a January 2008 agreement between the regional government of Castilla-La Mancha and the city of Almadén aims to set up new business projects in the area in order to compensate for the effects of labour and industrial decline resulting from the cessation of mining activities.

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