Alan Morris at La Union.

My ancestors in Wales had been miners & I have always been interested in what they had to go through as miners.

La Union Mine tour.

The conditions they had worked in, in Wales, would have been different but I would get an idea of what they went through after visiting a local mine in La Union in Murcia.

Brief Introduction.

The mountain range at La Unión near Cartagena in Murcia has had mining activity since the Carthaginian & Roman Times. The metallic deposits mainly of lead & zinc were mined during the mining booms in the 19th & beginning of the 20th centuries. Mining was stopped in the area in 1991.

The mining activity produced a unique landscape which is full of disused mines, both open face & underground. The whole area of 50,000 square metres is now home to a museum & historical site which can be seen at the Mining Park in La Unión. If you visit it you will be able to learn about the processes, from mineral extraction to its washing & concentration, to the subsequent metal founding in the local foundries.

My Visit.

I had been to the site previously only to discover that you need to book ahead to make the trip. The English language tour is currently only available on a Tuesday or Thursday & I booked to go on a Tuesday. On arriving on Tuesday morning for the booked trip I discovered that the La Unión street market is held on a Tuesday & that it makes it difficult to find a way through to the mining park. I would advise anyone wanting to go, to either go on a Thursday or go by train which stops outside the park.

Before the trip starts you are shown a short film, in English, which gives a short history of the mines & the area. After the film, I then jumped on the small train to ride up the mountainside to the mine entrance. At the entrance to the mine, we were all handed a very fashionable hair net to put on before we were then given a mining helmet that we needed to wear in the mine.

The tour inside the mine was very interesting & it shows the conditions that the miners had to work in. They didn't clock in or out on a timer but had to fill a certain number of mine trucks during a day. After banging my head on the ceiling, I quickly realised how cramped the conditions were. I was lucky that the mines now have some lights & our tour guide showed us the path with a torch. The miners only lights were the lamp they brought with them to work by. The heat of the mines felt nice & cool compared to the outside temperature but I was not working for 12 to 14 hours in the dark. Photos in the mine show how hot it must have got as the miners all stripped off to cool down. Safety equipment was not around then & miners worked in shorts & sandals, in some cases in bare feet.

We were shown the tools that they used to use to place charges to blow up sections of the mine to allow continued mining of the minerals. This was the most dangerous job in the mine & understandably many miners lives were lost doing this job. The job of drilling holes for the charges was also dangerous as breathing in the dusty air damaged many miners lungs causing early death. The average age of the miners was only in their forties. Many children were also employed in the mines, handing tools to miners, carrying water to miners or moving smaller pieces of mined rock, some as young as 12 years old.

The tour guide showed us the different levels of the mine & how the miners removed the rock & soil that they had mined. The fifth level of the mine is now flooded, the water would have been pumped away when the mine was active. Now the water has found its own level & fills the 5th level with dirty water that is mineral-filled. It has a layer of dust giving it a look of thick mud. The tour guide threw a stone onto it & it broke the dirty surface and quickly disappeared, leaving what looked like a hole in dirty ice, visible on the surface.

After leaving the mine the tour guide pointed out to us the washing plant below the mine & the chimneys of the roasting furnaces in the distance. A short walk up the hill we saw the old gunpowder storeroom which is now a small chapel & further up the hill we could see the entrance to another mine that is not yet open to the public. When the second mine is opened, it is hoped that you will be able to ride on a train through the mine, Indiana Jones style.

Although I enjoyed the trip I was a little confused as we were told that the mine we viewed was used to mine *Pirates. I thought pirates were found out at sea swashbuckling their way through life, not as it seems, hiding in mines deep underground waiting to be mined.

The mineral pyrite or iron pyrite is an iron sulfide. The mineral's metallic lustre & pale brass-yellow hue gives it a superficial resemblance to gold. Hence the well-known nickname of fool's gold.  

Summary.

The short video before the trip around the mine & the trip itself was very interesting to me. I noticed the few children on the trip looked bored stiff & I did wonder why their parents had taken them away from the beaches to visit the mines. Perhaps they wanted to sell their children into service in the mines.

Photos from the La Union Mine Trip.