The "Sistine Chapel" of mining heritage lies 50 metres below the surface of Almadén: the gallery of San Andrés. Visitors of the Mining Park are able to reach it by taking a miner's cage down into the former cinnabar mine of the village. Tunnels and drifts that are centuries old lead them to a huge domed hall, 13 metres high, with the reconstruction of a majestic wooden horse-gin in its centre. Once this hoist carried the ore to the surface for its further processing into mercury. You want to follow this process? Just let the mining train take you to the Park's well-restored surface buildings: the metallurgical furnaces where the mercury was extracted, protected by high walls since quicksilver was precious; the magnificent Gate of Charles IV through which packhorse trains and ox carts passed on their way to Seville; the mining museum revitalising the former compressor house with infinite audio-visual installations illustrating historical modes of extraction; and the mercury museum in a warehouse of 1941 that shows the scientific significance of mercury by offering interactive experiments. Even the Miners’ Hospital of 1752 partly is a museum today while the other part hosts the archives of the mines.
Almadén is Arabic and means "the minerals". It's the most telling name for this place. For more than two millennia it has been one of Europe’s principal sources of cinnabar. The mineral that played a certain role in painting as vermilion gained its greatest significance for its mercury content. As early as the 12th century Spain’s Moorish rulers had workings in the area 450 metres deep that employed more than a thousand workers.
The mines became particularly important in the 16th century due to the rich gold and silver deposits in the recently discovered New World. Mercury dissolves other metals thus helping to filter even the most tiny gold and silver flakes out of mined rock. The profit made from the paying mercury trade was collected by the Fuggers of Augsburg, whose well-known banking and trading dynasty owned the Almadén mines at that time. Later on the mines passed into the ownership of the Spanish Royal House. For the miners that meant no change at all. The regular contact with highly toxic mercury would often cost their life. Many of them, however, did not have a choice, at least during the 16th and 17th centuries, since a part of the mines’ labour requirements was met by convicts, or forzados, and slaves from North Africa.
Following a fire in 1755 the mining activities temporarily paused and only revived with the establishment of a mining school about 20 years later. Production was further boosted from 1835 when regular mercury auctions were held in the City of London. Again a powerful banking family was involved: the Rothchilds owing part of their wealth to the trade with precious metals. The mines closed in 2003, and in the following a mining park has been laid out displaying Almadén’s mining heritage. In 2012 the Almadén Mining Park and the Slovenian cinnabar mine at Idrija were jointly inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
|Recommended duration of visit:
|2,5 - 4 Hours
|Duration of a guided tour:
|Access for persons with disabilities:
|For details see website
|Infrastructure for children:
|Visitor centre on site:
|Gift and book shop on site:
May to September:
Tuesday - Sunday 10am-2pm and 4.30-7.30pm
October to April:
Tuesday - Sunday 10am-2pm and 3.30-6.30pm