Mines awash in history
In the early 19th century, Sardinia had no less than 59 mines in operation, mainly producing lead, iron, copper and silver. The island’s abundant ore deposits attracted the interest of entrepreneurs from Piedmont, Liguria and other European countries, who soon set up companies to exploit the local ores.
As the mining industry gained ground, Sardinia received a stream of geologists, clerks and miners from all over Italy.
Most of the mining companies operating in Sardinia were created with non-local capital. A notable exception was the venture launched by Sardinian entrepreneur Giovanni Antonio Sanna, who in 1848 secured a perpetual concession on about 1200 hectares in the Montevecchio area. The Buggerru mines, in the Sulcis Iglesiente district set a milestone in the history of workers’ rights in Italy.
Starting from 1865, mining for lead and silver, until then the main ores extracted in Sardinia, was flanked by zinc, recently discovered in the Malfidano mine at Buggerru.
In its heyday, the Sarrabus district employed a total of 1500 labourers, working in the mines of Masaloni, Giovanni Bonu, Monte Narba, Perd'Arba, Baccu Arrodas, Tuviois, S'erra e S'Ilixi and Nicola Secci.
After World War II, mining activity continued with high yields in the main mining districts. Starting from the 1970s, production declined, due to the gradual depletion of the deposits and to dwindling profit margins as mining costs soared. By the 1990s, most mines had been decommissioned, first in the Montevecchio district and later on in Iglesias.
The old mining villages, with their urban layout, industrial sheds and machinery, are today fascinating industrial archaeology sites, attracting large numbers of scholars, history buffs and tourists.