Hello all! I’m back, but this time with a slighter shorter article. It’s about my day out to the lovely mines of Peñarroya and Pueblonuevo in the province of Cordova (just what you really wanted to know!). As usual, the article is accompanied by photos. (I think I remembered to clean the grubby camera lens first, though I am still learning about all the advanced features that this digital camera has. Wish I hadn’t lost the PhD instruction booklet that came with it all those years ago!)
Anyway, before I start my ramblings, I firstly wanted to share a couple of photos with you of my vegetable patch (also an experiment and learning curve) which, the other day I dressed with well-seasoned horse manure. In a fit of over-enthusiasm I then sowed seeds of spinach, Swiss chard, runner beans and peas (which, for all you Spanish language learners, is: espinacas, acelgas, judías y guisantes). The only thing is I’m not sure if I should’ve sowed them straight into the manure or into ordinary earth first…. Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. But don’t worry, I shall keep you updated as to the progress of these seeds (that is, if there is any progress…).
As you can see, I was accompanied by my tireless, faithful helpers — Zeus, my dopey but loving mastiff puppy, and Dingo, my adopted, previously-abandoned mongrel. (They are inseparable and share a brightly burning love.)
The day was cold and windy, but Zeus and Dingo kept themselves warm on their bed of horse manure!
Close by, the almond tree is just coming out in flower. It has a delicate marzipan perfume.
Anyway, to get back to the thread of things — the mines of Peñarroya and Pueblonuevo…
Having studied a joint geology/geography degree in London it is no surprise that I love to hang out at mines, quarries, spoil heaps, slag heaps, chimneys, mills and other places of similar beauty. So this explains why last Monday I was picking my way through piles of mineral debris and traipsing over dangerously-camouflaged grassy hollows. I strolled past leaning, tottering chimneys and ambled by decaying buildings with terracotta bricks dropping out, and where now only jagged splinters of smoky glass marked the remains of the former Victorian windows.
I almost tripped over the rotting wooden sleepers that once guided the locomotives and carts that ferried mineral-rich rocks, wood pulp, jute and chemicals to and fro one building to the other in this old French-Spanish mining complex of Peñarroya. And I just missed falling down one of the deep, vertical pits… (Nevermind about the distinct lack of warning signs!)
But yes, I was happy: I was in my element! And yes, it’s a long way from the quarries of the Malverns (a place where I hewed out hundreds of rock samples from the granite and diorite quarries to later study them under the microscope; and where I trod miles and miles, come rain come shine, in my tireless attempt to map this area..), but Peñarroya is not so far from Córdoba, which is where I have been living for the last thirty years, as mentioned in my previous blog. (You can find out more about that from my book An English Lady in Cordova – the Alternative Guide, see: https://www.etsy.com/es/shop/GillysWork?ref=search_shop_redirect where apart from describing the local areas, I recount the hows and whys I came to be here, and also describe the embarrassing, painful, humorous and often humiliating experiences that I survived during the initial teething problems of being a freshly-imported, naïve immigrant…)
Anyway, getting back to those lovely mines and spoil heaps… I would just like to share with those of you who are that way inclined (or those contemplating a visit to this location north of Córdoba), a brief description of the Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo area and to show you some photos that I took and did surprisingly manage to download to my computer via the use of the SD card.
So, to keep this short (since I have read that the average blog consists of about 300 to 600 words — gulp!), here goes:-
Peñarroya dates back to the 13th century, and in medieval times it was known as Peña Roja (peña meaning crag, geologically-speaking, and ‘roja’, red). This mining town lies at about 79 km north of Córdoba (inland Andalusia, Southern Spain) on a plateau within the Sierra Morena range. The neighbouring mining village, Pueblonuevo, is more recent, dating back to the mining boom. Apparently, in 1860, a rather fierce mastiff named El Terrible discovered coal there when he was having a good dig around, and hence from that day the main mine was christened El Terrible, as was the newer adjacent village — Pueblonuevo del Terrible. (The village was founded after 1778.)
However, dogs apart, the exploitation of anthracite and bituminous coal and other mineral ores such as iron, silver and lead dates back to 1770. Soap, paper, fabrics and chemical fertilisers were also manufactured there. The surrounding land was planted with eucalyptus and pines, and the wood was used for the extensive railway tracks and for making paper and card. (Hence the name of La Papelera for the chimney at the paper-making works. ‘Papel’ means paper.) The fields were also planted with jute and cotton which were used for fabrics and sacks. Some fabric was used in 1928 for the carpets in Madrid’s Prado Museum, and during the Civil War the paper was utilised for newspapers in this Republican area, once the rebels had taken possession of the factories.
Mining reached its peak in the middle of the 19th century and was largely owned by the French Mining and Metallurgical Company, SMMP (Société Minière etMétallurgique de Peñarroya). They were around for about a hundred years (having elbowed out the English), and several of the buildings display French architecture typical of that era, such as the former hospital, built in 1928, or the SMMP headquarters, which is now a geriatric home. (Nothing like that of the English Victorian architecture though, such as can be seen in the old disused mining complex of Los Cinco Amigos in my local area of Posadas, lying about 33 km due west of Córdoba. There are more illustrated descriptions of these mines, as well as the local towns and villages in my book, mentioned above).
Anyway, unfortunately this important large mining, chemical and industrial centre (known as El Cerco) became a focus for bombing during the Civil War of 1936, and because of this, as well as other factors — such as the after-effects of WWI, a reduced market, problems with transportation and the Spanish Royal Decree of 1921 requiring mine ownership to be totally Spanish — the French ceased their mining activities and finally retreated in the 1950s. Today there is little or no mining activity in the area.
Various plans of raising money for the economic reconversion of the area were devised, and included a variety of projects, such as taking tourists on tours of the neighbouring Guadiato Valley using the original 1884 French locomotives, or generally redeveloping the area, constructing industrial/commercial parks, museums, walks and footpaths, revamping the former railroads and even restoring some of the architecturally beautiful mining buildings and chimneys of the Cercado complex etc. However, these plans came to naught and were in fact a further loss of money for the government-backed Miner Plan coffers, despite them having showered millions of euros on Spain’s mining areas as a whole.
Anyway, though economically depressed, Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo is still a lovely, fascinating and historical area lying amongst the cork-oak (‘alcornoque’) hills of the Sierra Morena: it affords some majestic views of the hills and agricultural land of the Guadiato Valley, as well as the rocky outcrop of the Peñon and the castle of Belmez at the other extreme.
Below are some of the photos I took. (The aforementioned castle of Belmez, which sits atop the steep, limestone, rocky outcrop dates back to the 13th and 15th centuries and the Reconquest of Spain. It was also owned by the French from 1810 to 1812 during the Peninsular War.)