EuChemS Historical Landmarks Award plaque unveiled at Almadén mines, Spain

Sep 17, 2021

The Mines of Almadén, after being added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2012, together with Idrija Mine, Slovenia, celebrated the unveiling of the EuChemS Historical Landmarks plaque in recognition of the role it played in the history of chemistry and shared European cultural heritage on Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 September 2021. Famous for the production of mercury since antiquity, the mines have been awarded the 2019 EuChemS Historical Landmarks Award by the European Chemical Society (EuChemS).

The EuChemS Historical Landmarks emphasise and celebrate the development of the chemical sciences and the circulation of chemical knowledge inside Europe as well as the constitutive role chemistry has played and continues to play in the making and the shaping of society at large. Most of the time, this role remains hidden or vilipended because it is reduced to negative side effects only. On this point, the historic site in Almadén unveils the life conditions of the mineworkers, mechanics, chemical artisans, and engineers from times when slaves and prisoners were sent to work and suffered from mercury poisoning to more recent periods when more human conditions and safety measures were implemented.” 

Brigitte Van Tiggelen, Chair of the Landmark Selection Committee
booklet EuChemS Historical Landmark Minas de Almaden (I.S.B.N.: 978-84-9044-478-8

The ceremony was preceded by a symposium on the history of the mines and the element mercury. From EuChemS, Floris Rutjes, President, Pilar Goya, Vice-President and Nineta Hrastelj, Secretary General, attended the unveiling of the plaque in Almadén. The ceremony also welcomed several  high-level guests from the scientific community, media, politicians and regional organisers. Amongst others, the President of the Spanish Royal Chemical Society (RSEQ), Antonio M. Echavarren Pablos, the RSEQ Secretary General, Sonsoles Martín-Santamaría, and from Universidad of Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM) María Antonia Herrero Chamorro and Antonio M. Rodríguez García were present. Additionally, the President of the Portuguese Chemical Society (SPQ), Artur Silva joined the unveiling of the  plaque.

During the symposium, Pilar Goya gave way to each of the programmed lectures. First, Ángel Hernández Sobrino, from the Mines of Almadén, lectured on ‘The long geological journey of Almadén’s mercury‘ relating the geological origins of the mines and their relationship with volcanic activity in the region. Secondly, María del Mar Zarzalejos Prieto, UNED, referred to the ‘Uses and symbols: cinnabar in Hispanic antiquity‘ exploring the oldest chapters of the history of the exploitation and use of cinnabar in the Iberian Peninsula between Recent Prehistory and Late Antiquity, with special emphasis on its period of glory during Roman times. Manuel Castillo Martos from the University of Seville followed with mercury, chemical element and something more. Protagonist of science, technology and economy in the Modern Age‘, where he identified why the inorganic and organic compounds of mercury were so interesting to the Romans and how they amalgamated gold and not silver with it. Finally, Rosa Carmen Rodríguez Martín-Doimeadios from UCLM spoke on ‘Mercury: an unjustly condemned element‘ describing how, despite the harmful characteristics of mercury that are undeniable, it is also true that this element, with its unique and peculiar properties, made it possible to open fields of science and knowledge that did not exist before.   

Located in the province of Ciudad Real (Castilla-La Mancha region), in Spain, the Almadén site is a typical example of a historic mining site producing mercury. Mercury is a relatively rare metal: its extraction took place in a very limited number of mines, and Almadén was one of the largest sites of mercury production worldwide until recently. The extensive extraction of mercury deeply impacted the mining industry on a global scale, thus the Almadén mines constitute an important heritage on the evolution of the scientific, technological, and technical methods of mercury extraction. The site has also seen a long history of mercury trade which has generated intercontinental exchanges over the centuries.

The mines closed in 2000 but remain today one of the world’s largest mercury resources.

We would like to thank all the people involved in this wonderful gathering, especially María Antonia Herrero Chamorro and Antonio M. Rodríguez García for impeccable coordination.

One of the activities of the European Chemical Society (EuChemS) is to raise awareness for the history of European chemistry and its chemists. This we do by recognising the impact that local historical sites have had on the chemistry community at the European and international level, and the Almadén mines are no exception.

Floris Rutjes, EuChemS President,
booklet EuChemS Historical Landmark Minas de Almaden (I.S.B.N.: 978-84-9044-478-8

EuChemS Historical Landmarks Award 2019 (European level) in media:

More information on the EuChemS Historical Landmarks Award can be seen here.