Las Menas, an abandoned mining town
in Serón Municipality in Almería Province, Andalucia, Spain
By Nick Nutter | 14 Nov 2020
In a valley, high in the mountains of Sierra de los Filabres in Almeria province, three companies, one English, one Dutch and the third Belgian, built an entire town that included a very English football pitch and a very Spanish bullring. At the beginning of the 20th century over 2000 people lived there, the workers and their families employed to extract iron ore from the mines of Las Menas.
The Industrial Era
During the late 19th century the industrial revolution in Europe and the increased usage of iron in the building and engineering trades and for industrial machinery, including steam engines, caused a demand for iron ore. Mining companies were formed to exploit iron ore deposits not just in their home countries but abroad as well. Many places that had a cheap source of labour and easy to extract ore experienced an ‘iron rush’. Problems such as lack of nearby accommodation for the workers and difficult terrain over which to transport the ore to foundries and ports were of secondary consideration, those minor inconveniences were all solvable in the new, dynamic, industrial age.
Andalucia Mining Areas
Andalucia is blessed with a long range of mineral rich mountains, the Sierra Morena, that extends 450 kilometres from the Portuguese border in an easterly direction all the way into Castilla La Mancha. At the eastern end of the Sierra Morena, in Almeria province, there are a series of shorter Sierras parallel and south of the Sierra Morena. Amongst those Sierras is the Sierra de los Filabres that runs for 50 kilometres through Almeria forming the southern boundary of the Rio Almanzora valley. Many valuable minerals have been exploited from the Sierras through the ages including silver, gold, copper, lead and iron. The Sierra de Los Filabres is rich in lead ores and iron deposits.
Sierra de Los Filabres
Lead mining had been practised in the Sierra de Los Filabres for decades before the value of the iron was realised. Spain had been very slow to take advantage of the new industrial technologies being developed in other European countries and the turbulent politics of the country during the 19th century discouraged foreign investors until 1874, when the moderate king Alfonso XII became ruler. For a brief period investors from abroad were encouraged to reform key industries in Spain in an attempt to reverse the serious capital deficit that had grown since the end of the Peninsula War in 1810, amongst them, the mining industry.
Three companies, the Belgian ‘Mines et Chemin de Fer Bacares – Almeria et Extensions’ incorporated in Brussels in 1887, the British ‘Bacares Iron Ore Mines Limited’ incorporated in Glasgow in 1899 and the Dutch ‘W.H. Mullery y Cia’, already operating in Santander, collaborated to exploit the iron in the Sierra de Los Filabres in the municipality of Serón. The Belgian and Dutch companies amalgamated in 1925 to form the ‘Sociedad Minera Cabarga San Miguel’.
Las Menas is 17 kilometres from the small town of Serón, at an altitude of over 1000 metres in a small valley on the northern flanks of the Sierra de Los Filabres. It is extremely hot in summer and deep snow is common in the winter. The landscape is rugged and had no road or rail connection with the Almanzora valley, the main artery between Granada province and the Mediterranean sea at Villaricos. The largest port on that coast during the late 19th century was Aquilas, just over the Andalucian border, in Murcia.
Between them the three companies first built a town, Las Menas, that included housing, shops, a hospital, school, Guardia Civil station and a church. For further entertainment they also included a cinema, a bullring and a football pitch. Aerial cable runways transported the ore from the valley down to a specially built loading area at Estación Serón where the ore was loaded into railway trucks on the Baza to Lorca and Aquilas railway, a line built by another British company, the ‘Great Southern of Spain Railway’ between 1870 and 1894. The road connection between Serón and Las Menas had to wait until 1950.
Las Menas Abandoned
By 1925 there were 2,291 people employed by the mining companies and a total of 25 kilometres of galleries had been hewn through the mountains. The iron ore was shipped to foundries in northern Europe. Ironically some of it was used to build the cargo vessels, the tramp steamers, that travelled the world bringing cheap products back to the industrialised nations, including those that brought cheaper iron ore from Brazil and North Africa. Mining activity ceased in 1968 due to competition, primarily from the mines in North Africa. The entire population of Las Minas had to abandon their town and find work elsewhere.
Las Menas Outdoor Leisure Complex
Today some of the abandoned buildings in Las Menas are being converted into an outdoor leisure complex. The emphasis is on walking and nature. There is to date (June 2020) accommodation in rural houses, a camp site and a venta. The ruins are of great interest to industrial archaeologists.
In 2013 the Alfarajo company, together with an unnamed American company, requested permission to carry out prospecting in the area with a view to exploiting lead and iron deposits and other unspecified mineral resources. We may yet see a resurgence of mining activity at Las Menas.Return to History Articles series of articles
Find Las Menas on the map
We Welcome Your Comments
Submitted by Graham on 27 Jul 2020
Thank you for your research as also are very interested in what happened years ago, We have visited some of the places featured in your work, one being Rio Tinto. We take family to the Los Filabres (Las Menas) but sometimes have turned around in deep snow. Please also treat yourself to the Observatories (Azimuth)
Hi Graham, Thanks for the comment. I will certainly try the observatory next time we are up that way. It was closed just after lockdown when we last visited the area.
Submitted by Ian Carrington on 27 Jul 2020
Very interesting, is it possible to explore the mines?
Hi Ian, There are open adits in the sides of the valley and what looks like an open cast mine in the adjacent valley. As far as I know there is no organised tour of the mines so I would not recommend going in any of the holes.
Submitted by Sheena Hurley on 27 Jul 2020
Thank you for information very I informative we will certainly visit after reading this, we live in area but did not know about it.
Thanks for the comment Sheena. The area is full of historically interesting places, as I am sure you are aware.
Submitted by Andy Durrant on 28 Jun 2020
We stumbled across this village today and then researched it and found your page written just a few days ago. Very informative thank you. We love the area and live around 40Mins away.
Hi Andy, Thanks for the comment. We are looking forward to going back in the winter. The mine walk looks interesting.
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About the Author
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.