The Rio Tinto mines
Near Huelva in south west Spain
Few places have been so thoroughly devastated by industrialisation as this. Villages destroyed, holes dug 1000 feet deep, and whole mountains blasted away, leaving mineral-rich rock faces with rivulets of rust streaming into the red river.
But it is also inspiring. Thousands of men have struggled here since Roman times to dig the minerals on which civilization was built. Many died, but some became rich, invested their profits in better machines and dug bigger mines. As much as any scientist, and more than any general, they built the foundations of our present prosperity. The marks of their industry are all around.
The village of Minas de Riotinto was built by the Rio Tinto mining company in the early 20th century to house some of the workers from the village of the same name that they were about to destroy.
Rio Tinto lies on the huge Spanish/Portuguese pyrite belt which runs for about 230 km between Seville and the Atlantic. Formed by seabed volcanic activity in the lower carboniferous era about 320 million years ago, it contained about 1.7 billion tons of ore before humans started mining it.
Within the belt are eight giant mining areas, each with more than 100 Million tons of ore, Rio Tinto, Aznalcollar-Los Frailes, Sotiel-Migollas, Tharsis, La Zarza, Masa Valverde, Aljustrel and Neves Corvo, and many smaller ore bodies.
The Rio Tinto area is the largest and most spectacular, but environmentalists will also want to visit Aznalcollar, the site of a terrible pollution accident in 1998 when a failure of the Los Frailes tailings dam spilled toxic slurry into the Guadiamar river and threatened Donana National park.
Within the Rio Tinto mining area are five main ore bodies the San Dionisio, the south lode, the planes-San Antonio, the north lode and the Cerro Colorado. They are believed to have once been a single, continuous stratum of ore 5 km long by 750m wide and about 40 meters thick, containing half a billion tons of ore. Before man came along natural erosion had whittled that down to about 250 million tons.
The following are some of the biggest holes in the ground.
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