For years, thanks to its vast network of copper, silver and lead mines, the small city of Linares was famous as one of Andalusia’s most important heavy industry centres. And although the last mine closed in 1991 and the recession has hit hard – unemployment stands at 36 per cent in Andalusia and the city’s population is shrinking steadily – Linares has now turned to its past to help revive its economic fortunes.
A mining heritage centre traces the industry’s local origins from the beginning of the Bronze Age to modern times. At one point Linares had 45 mining companies, six railway stations – five now closed, one of which hosts the mining centre – and Belgian, French and British subconsulates, whilst 19th century steam technology, perfected in Cornish copper mines, was imported by British engineering immigrants, so numerous they had their own cemetery. Inside the centre the mining heritage remains: from the haunting tarantas music sung by miners to scale models of the mining sites and collections of the primitive tools and equipment the miners used.
One of the most poignant items is a pair of the rough alpargata shoes, with rope soles, that was all most miners could afford to wear underground.
The curator says he hopes that one day miniature trains will do guided tours of some of the hundreds of abandoned mines that surround Linares.
But the centre is already attracting more than 12,000 visits a year – and helping keep the city alive.