If you are looking for something which will blow your mind with a kaleidoscope of colour and a rich vein of history to boot, then head to the Rio Tinto Mining Park in Andalucia. It is definitely worth the effort required to get there, and the entrance fee, although booking in advance may be wise!
The mining museum is located in the town of Minas de Rio Tinto. It was once a Roman mining village and its rich mineral resources have been exploited over centuries. The arrival of the British (although every piece of information says English!) in the 19th Century saw the full-scale extraction of iron, silver and copper from the now deeply scarred landscape. Your visit will need a bit of planning as there are nine different tarrifs covering every combination of entries to the six different locations. We wanted option 1 but it was fully booked, hence the advice about booking in advance. In the end, option 2 turned out to be perfect and it leaves something to do on a future visit should the opportunity arise.
Mina Peña de Hierro
Our first stop was the Mina Peña de Hierro. We had to do this first because of our timed tickets. It is located a good few kilometres outside the town and without private transport, you really would have to be on an orgsanised excursion. The mine is set in the middle of some awe-inspiring landscapes. On arrival at the museum, you are issued with a pit helmet, but that’s more to protect your head when you walk through the more than adequate tunnel to the colourful lake. The museum itself is very interesting and well presented showing the history of the mine and its methods of extraction. The main event though is the walk through the tunnel . There is no danger of claustrophobia and it really was disappointingly short! Still, the view of the red lake on the other side was magnificent and the dioramas along the way told a lot about the working conditions inside the mine. Don’t forget to climb the hill above the museum as the views are amazing.
The importance of your timed ticket really plays out with the train ride alongside the river. Again it’s quite out of the way so get there in good time just in case you lose your way! When the time comes to board the train, the best views are on the left side on the first part of the journey, and on the right for the return leg. Be kind and don’t hog the best seats both ways. Along the way you’ll see lots of relics from the mining age including some rusting old trains. The scenery really is like being on another planet at times and at the half-way point where the train turns around you get the chance to stretch your legs and go to the edge of the red/orange/ochre river. It is mind blowing! The commentary on the train was in Spanish only and the quality of the speakers combined with the continuous chit-chat of our fellow passengers made it impossible to follow.
We had a quick snack at the railway station cafe before heading back to the town in time for the museum re-opening after lunch. Now, museums are not everyone’s cup of tea, but this one does have something to suit all tastes. It covers the history of the Rio Tinto Mining Company and how they developed the town resulting in what you see today. There is a narrow, dark mine to walk through and this time anyone with a fear of darkness or enclosed spaces might feel uncomfortable. There are locomotives and industrial vehicles to see, and multi-coloured minerals on display.
A short walk (or drive) from the museum is Casa 21. You will need to plan ahead as it is only open 1630-1830 daily for some reason. Now this really is a histroical relic from the times when the area was full of British mine workers and their families. Of course, the house would have been used by the management and not the hard-core workers. This is illustrated by the cultural references inside including a picture of Queen Victoria draped by Union flags! The house sits in a complex that housed the social club and the tennis courts. It is a detailed glimpse of a bygone age. If you choose to walk there, look out for the superb mural of the mining village on the walls near the school.
There were two things that we didn’t do as they were fully booked, but we found this to be enough anyway. Both are new additions and that’s no doubt why they get booked up so quickly. You can now visit the open cast mine of Mina Corta Atalaya but whilst the Mina Peña de Hierro is done at your own leisurely pace, this is very much an escorted tour. You also have the opportunity to see how the landscape was used to train for space exploration with the Marte en la Tierra exhibition on a hillside near the train station. Both no doubt add extra value to a visit.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day out and we highly recommend it. If you visit, please leave a comment to say what you thought. Those living near the Costa Blanca and Murcia can do a little urban exploration in a similar vein with the Mines of Mazarron. It’s at your own risk though!!