Geoparque Villuercas > CULTURAL SITES > 12-ROMAN MINING

The subsoil of the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Global Geopark of the UNESCO conceals rich mining resources which since antiquity have attracted the attention of the various peoples who inhabited this territory. However, it was not until Roman times that large-scale projects were undertaken to extract minerals from the bowels of the earth. Tin, iron, and copper were some of the coveted metals which could be obtained in the area. Evidence of this major mining activity constitutes some of the most interesting remains to be found in the Geopark.

As early as the 1st century A.D. the Greek traveller, historian, and geographer Strabo, in a volume devoted to Iberia of his great work Geography, described the foothills located on the north bank of the River Anas (the current Guadiana) as “metal-bearing hills which extend as far as the Tagos (Tajo)”. This reference included the territory of the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Global Geopark of the UNESCO.

One of the sites which can be considered to have been a true mining centre two millennia ago is the geosite of the Cerro de San Cristóbal. The mineral richness of this enclave is based particularly on its abundance of cassiterite, a mineral of tin. In pre-Roman times this metal was already of crucial importance as together with copper it was part of the alloy which gave rise to bronze. For this reason it is assumed that the Roman mines which existed on this site were preceded by others which had been operating more than a millennium previously.

Ancient tin trading routes which took the metal to other territories left from Logrosán. However, at the Cerro de San Cristóbal not only was the mineral extracted but metallurgy was also practised as is shown by the remains of slag from smelting, crucibles, and moulds which have been found in the area. The importance of this exploitation gave rise to a settlement known as the pagus or vicus of the Morra de San Cristóbal.

In the municipal district of Castañar de Ibor other traces of Roman mining can be found, especially in the vicinity of the course of the River Ibor. Here are concentrated a large proportion of the mines and most of the mineral transformation installations of the period. Not only are there old pitheads but also numerous catas or small shallow galleries. On occasion it has been speculated that the magnificent chestnut grove in which this mining area is located owes its origin to the use by the Romans of chestnut wood. In effect they used it to shore up galleries, to build devices, for beams, stakes… owing to which this tree was greatly esteemed by miners.

Near Peraleda de San Román some three kilometres to the south lies the valley of the Gualija and near to the river the Marialina mine of Roman times, the miners of which came from the neighbouring town of Augustobriga (the former Talavera la Vieja which is now submerged beneath the waters of the Valdecañas Reservoir). From this mine copper and galenite was extracted, it is from the latter that lead is obtained. In modern times, as from 1871 this deposit was again worked by an English company under the mine name of Triunfo de San Julián. As the last concession for its exploitation dates back to 1917 the mine is now abandoned, although the remains of its installations are visible to visitors to the area. The valley of the Gualija, San Román, and the Marialina mine are precisely a geosite of the Geopark.

In addition to the mines already described, in Las Villuercas and Los Ibores there is another curious model of mining exploitation as it was in Roman times. This is that of the “cave mines”, caves excavated in the Armorican quartzite of the sierras in search of iron ore. To be precise this metal was extracted from iron oxides and hydroxides such as limonite, oligist, and goethite by the use of fire and hot water which allowed the fragmentation of the hard quartzite. Normally these hollows were associated with small smelting furnaces as is borne out by the remains of hammer slag in the vicinity. Owing to their size the following “cave mines” are representative: those of the Cueva de la Mora on the Crag of the Castle of Cañamero; the Cancho de las Narices in Castañar de Ibor; the Cueva de los Maragatos in Guadalupe; the Peña Amarilla cave in Alía; and the Cueva de los Doblones also in Alía. Many others are distributed on all the outcrops of these districts.