Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Forgotten Mining Industry Of Mallorca

It was in July 1976. Onofre Serra and Nadal Perelló were working on a finca in Sineu. They were drilling for water. When they had gone down some 60 metres, they found some pieces of rock that were rather strange. They took them to the local silversmith. They had found gold. Possibly.

The finca's owner was somewhat sceptical. Nevertheless, and as news of the discovery spread, he put up a warning sign for trespassers beware. Various "experts" were consulted. A one-time gold digger in Venezuela, who then lived in Sa Pobla, reckoned it was gold. Official confirmation was sought, so some samples were sent off to Madrid. And then ... . Well, that seems to have been it. This story comes from a news report of the time. There don't appear to be further reports. If there was gold in Sineu, one suspects we would have heard a great deal more about it.

It is a story that is interesting for different reasons. One, obviously, is that it might have inspired the Mallorcan gold rush. It didn't. A second has to do with legend. On the finca there is a narrow cave entrance. So the legend has it, a Moorish king who was fighting against the Christians buried his treasure there.

The third reason is because of what might have occurred had there really been gold. A gold rush yes, but in the form of mining. And in the second half of the 1970s, mining could have done with the boost: it had all but died out.

The town hall in Alcudia has recently amended its catalogue of local heritage. Under this amendment, it has raised to the highest level of protection the town's mining heritage. These are the mines of Son Fe on the outskirts of the town as one enters it from the motorway. They are afforded this protection by the town hall and they are also the only mines to be classified as protected industrial heritage by the Council of Mallorca. This, despite the fact that there are various examples of former mines, such as in Alaro and Binissalem.

The story of mining in Mallorca is one that gets very little exposure. Yet mining was once an important industry. Though some forms of mining would have been practised over many centuries, the first record that has been uncovered of its official existence comes from August 1837. It refers to a reduction - yes a reduction - in tax for a mine in Lloseta. It, as with other mines, was given a name. "Barbara" was its title. There were to be others, such as "Verdad" (truth) in Son Fe, Alcudia, or "El Eden" in Maria de la Salut.

The real explosion in the island's mining was not to occur until a landmark national law was passed in 1868. After several years of wholly bungled lawmaking, they finally approved legislation that made clear - once and for all - that anything which was mined belonged to the state and not to the crown. This opened the way to all sorts of approvals for mineworking, and not only in Mallorca.

The following fifty years represented the real boom time for the island's mining. There was then a period of twenty years when few new mines were opened or requested. With the arrival of the Franco regime and the system of self-sufficient, autarky economy, there was more growth, only for mining to eventually become a thing of the past.

Most of the mining was for lignite carbon - brown coal. Though this has low heat content, it was to come in useful for powering electricity plants. The largest mining company was Lignitos S.A. In the early 1920s it was acquired by Gas y Electricidad S.A., better known as GESA. When a policy decision was taken by GESA to reduce a dependence on oil, the coal came in very handy. Other mining was principally for iron, copper and lead.

By comparison with other parts of Spain, Asturias for example, Mallorca never attained any real reputation for its coal mining: the coal was only ever used for the islands' own purposes. And this lack of reputation seems to partly explain why this one-time industry and the old mines fail to receive any great attention. But here was an industry which could, as an example, employ twelve miners and produce almost 1,500 tons of lignite carbon a year: these were the 1931 figures for the Son Fe "Virgen del Puig" mine, the remains of which now look like an abandoned old concrete hut.

This might not have been a lot of workers and it might not have been a huge output, but when all the various mines were put together, this was once a significant industry.


Son Fe Mick said...

Could do with a few lumps of coal to chuck on the fire this chilly morning.
Where exactly was the mine in Son Fe? I have my shovel at the ready!

andrew said...

South of you is the hermitage, and then a bit further south is the site of the mine. This might help - shows photos: