Mining has been remarkable in Picos de Europa over different periods of times. Already in the years 1500-2000 B.C. archaeological remains found in the area revealed that the prehistoric man used the copper minerals found in these mountains, an attest to continuous human activity throughout different historical periods in the area. Apparently the Romans were the first to perform mine exploitations in this area. The Romans did not have knowledge of zinc, the main mining element in this area, but they managed to produce brass from copper and zinc sulphure obtained in these exploitations, without knowing its real composition.
Wild goats grazing in Picos de Europa, Natural Park nowadays.
Photo cortesy Juan S. Cózar.
Many centuries had passed until the area developed mining activity again. The first known written testimony of the mines of Picos de Europa, dates back to 1578. A royal permission to continue the exploitation of several gold, silver, lead and iron mines very near the present location of the Las Manforas mine was conceded to some Valladolid residents in this testimony. The mining exploitation continued with little development during the XVII century and was almost abandoned in the middle of that century because of the lack of attention from the government and the scant benefits it provided. It was not until 1825, with the enactment of the new Mining Law, correcting deviations of the previous one, when mining resurged, through the formation of societies, which encouraged prospecting and mining in the area.
During the XIX century and early XX many societies took control of the different exploitations. The Zinc deposits were of small volume, their benefits were very intermittent, and always depending on the price of zinc in the international market. It was not easy to find miners, due to unsafe living conditions and hard work; miners lived in small barrack huts and were using primitive techniques for extraction of the mineral. Miner’s salaries didn’t reward them enough for their effort, thus sometimes they had to turn to drifters or to fugitives from justice to do the job.
World War I provoked a big increase in the demand of metallic elements in Europe, particularly zinc. The production of zinc increased notably between 1915 and 1918, financed partially with foreign capital. After World War I, production returned to its previous levels. It also went through a period of mechanization with the introduction of pneumatic drills and the improvements in the transportation of materials. However the mining activity in the Picos de Europa, went bankrupt in 1929 due to the economical crisis in that year and the price of zinc on the international markets. Many of the exploitations had closed in the 1930s, and those which had not, continued working on minimum levels in the most enriched areas.
High mountain hotel Aliva situated near to the old Las Manforas mine.
After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), during the World War II and following isolation period, Spain was in need of economic independence. It caused the exploitations of zinc and lead in the Cantabrian Range to be open again in the 1940s and 1950s. The mine with more activity was Las Manforas. In 1950 about 2,000 kg of explosives were used in the vicinity of Las Manforas causing a huge scar on the mountain and accumulation of stone blocks in its base, the stones with more metallic were selected.
A flotation plant for concentrating the desire components was installed in 1957, up to 50 tons of the minerals extracted could be concentrated. When reserves started to decrease in 1968, more drillings were done which discovered the existence of a mineralized zone of a 6 meters potency.
In the 1970s, Las Manforas’s historical maximum yields of zinc were reached. The workers’ living condition improved remarkably, and the relationship between them and the company was better than ever, thus putting aside the conflicts Asturias’s mining sector. In the beginning of 1970s a study of the mine’s profitability was conducted which proved the presence of four high quality mineralized areas. Further geological exploration was performed in 1979 that concluded with the discovering of reserves (200,000 tones of ore) and precise geological profiles of the deposit.
In 1981 the mine’s ownership changed. Between 1983 and 1985 the new company carried out an extensive program of exploration in the entire area, however new profitable reserves were not found, and the mine’s rights were sold again. The new owner focused mainly on exploitations in the marginal zones and the extractions of collector’s minerals such as transparent toffee-colored sphalerite.
In 1989 Mining of in Las Manforas and Picos de Europa ended definitely. Nowadays, the mine is inside the Picos de Europa National Park. This national park is shared by the autonomous communities of Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla y Leon and it is protected by the environmental legislation. Entrance to the mine is sealed with concrete, and exploitation of minerals is forbidden in the whole park territory.
Partly demolished old mine buildings covering the entrance to the underground mine Las Manforas, actually sealed with concrete.
Stamp series "Minearals of Spain", 1994, featuring cinnabar (Almadén), pyrite (Navajún),
sphalerite (Aliva) and galena. In the center - Museum of Geological and Mining Institute of Spain.