The mining industry in Europe and North America, in general, has been hard hit by falling demand, high operating and capital costs, stringent environmental concerns and globalization. Sardinia is no different, yet a simple look at some place names in Sardinia tells the importance of mining and metalurgy in the history of the island: Gennargentu and Argentiera both contain the word for silver, Montiferru (iron mountain), Raminosa (copper), Capo Ferrato (iron), and so forth. Indeed, an entire southwestern town is named for coal—Carbonia; it opened in 1938 in order to house coal miners from the local mines. These days, however, the entire island is in the midst of a mammoth (and precarious) shift to a tourist-based economy; yet Sardinia is still the Italian province with the greatest mineral resources. Facilities (now mostly closed) for the mining of silver, gold, copper, lead, zinc, and coal are spread throughout the island and have been since ancient times.
lead and zinc mine of Montevecchio near
the town of Arbus in the southwest. The mine
was closed in the 1990s.
Archaeology has revealed that obsidian (a volcanic glass used to make cutting implements) was mined in the central-eastern part of the island as long ago as the 6th millennium BC. By about 3,000 BC, metal-working technologies were apparently imported from the eastern Mediterranean. The Phoencians (in the 8th century BC) and then the Carthaginians, who replaced them, were both active mining peoples. Sardinia became a Roman province in 226 BC. The Romans were very active miners of gold and silver (as monetary standards) and lead (for such things as crockery and water pipes). During the Middle Ages, when Sardinia was part of the so-called Crown of Aragon, or at various times allied with the continental maritime republics of Genoa and Pisa, the island provided all with important metals.
Sardinia passed into the hands of the Savoy dynasty of Piedmont in the mid-1700s. Large-scale concessions were granted to various continental Italian mining consortia, and by the beginning of the 1800s, there were 59 active mines of various kinds on the island; the mid-1800s was an active period for mining. Critics recall that the relationship between mainland Italy and Sardinia, when it came to mining, was almost a colonial one; that is, the land-owners were from the industrial north of mainland Italy and the workers were the Sardinians.
It is strange, indeed, that the entire mining industry of Sardinia may survive only as a tourist-based cultural artifact, a curiosity, a museum—a place to see where “they once mined the earth.” Perhaps that is better than nothing. In any event, in 2001, the regional government of Sardinia officially created the “Geo-mining Historical and Environmental Park of Sardinia,” primarily in the provinces of Oristano and Cagliari and particularly the Iglesiente area in the southwest (including the two islands off the coast). The ambitious goal of the park is to "...recover and maintain the entire set of mining infrastructures for environmental, scientific, educational, cultural and tourist purposes." That park is now on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list as, collectively, one of our planetary artifacts that should be saved because they remind us where we came from.
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