June 26, 2013

0699 SPAIN (Castile-La Mancha) - Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija - Almadén (UNESCO WHS)

Mercury is a relatively rare metal, with a decisive role in the extraction of silver and gold, so the possesion of the mercury mines had a worldwide strategic importance. Until recent times, it has been produced in substantial quantities and over a long period only by a small number of mines, of which the biggest were at Almadén in Spain and Idrija in Slovenia. These two mining towns was included on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 2012, because this dual testimony is unique, and it illustrates the various industrial, territorial, urban and social elements of a specific sociotechnical system.

Located in the Sierra Morena, approximately 300 km south of Madrid, Almadén was a Roman (then Moorish) settlement, captured in 1151 by Alfonso VII and given to the Knights of the Order of Calatrava. It was named from the Arabic word al-ma‘din, meaning "The Metal", because it was home to the world's greatest reserves of cinnabar, the mineral from which mercury is extracted. In the mid 16th century, the mercury became very valuable in the Americas due to the introduction of amalgamation, the process that uses mercury to extract the metals from gold and silver ore.

The dangerous working conditions of the mines made it difficult to find willing laborers, so were used prisoners, known as forzados (selected out of criminals waiting for transport to the galleys) and then North African slaves. In 1645 the mines were taken over by the state, which owned them until 2000, when they were closed.

About the stamps
The first stamp, showing A Talgo Train and Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Madrid), is part of a series dedicated to 17th International Railway Congress, Madrid, 1958, about which I wrote here.

The second stamp is part of the series Spanish Cinema, issued on April 26, 2012:
Paco Rabal (0,36 EUR)
Fernando Rey (0,36 EUR)
The Goya Awards 2012 (0,70 EUR) - it's on this postcard

Almadén - Wikipedia 
Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija - UNESCO official website

sender: Fabienne (direct swap)
sent from Madrid (Community of Madrid / Spain), on 25.09.2012

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