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Sierra De Lújar Mines Spain, Origva, La Alpujarra, Spain.

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The mineralisation of the Sierra de Lújar mines have been exploited since ancient times by Hellenes, Phoenicians and Romans, mainly for lead and to a lesser extent for copper and silver. But it was not until the second third of the nineteenth century when mining in this region reached significant levels that caused a population growth in the town of Órgiva and an economic edge when compared to the rest of neighbouring towns and villages.

During the peak of 1860, in only a couple of years the population grew from less than 4,000 inhabitants to more than 5,000, which gives an idea of the bustling activity that the mining caused in what until then had mostly been an agricultural and cattle rearing economy. During this period, there were 59 mines for lead and 5 for copper with a total of 6 smelting plants. Fluctuations in lead prices also caused many of the family owned mining companies to rise and fall with changes in the ownership of mining concessions. After the obligatory stop during the Civil War, the mining operations were taken over by the Peñarroya Mining and Metallurgical Society (SMMP).

During the 1950's ore was removed from the mines by trucks pulled by donkeys. Blasting was still being carried out with hammer and chisel and gun powder. The late 1950's and early 1960's saw the introduction of locomotives and compressed air for rock drilling, but only in the most productive areas.

In the 1970's the extraction of fluorspar as well as galena was started. A new track was driven around the steep mountain side which serviced all the mines. This allowed trucks to bring ore to the treatment plants in the small village of Tablones, making an old unreliable overhead cable system redundant. At the end of the 1970's, an improvement in the haulage system inside the mines was achieved by the acquisition of 5 LHD's. With the LHD's many of the main levels that serviced the working stopes had to be enlarged to accommodate the new haulage - around 40km of passage was widened.

The 1980's began with a new fluorite-galena differential flotation plant to obtain acid grade fluorite. This failed to reproduce the promising results of laboratory tests. However, in the mid 1980's an innovation in some reagents saw the plant achieve the promised results. This came a little too late as the prices of the fluorite had started to drop by this point as a result of Chinese and Mexican fluorite on the market. On the 5th August 1989, the flotation plant was stopped and along with it the mining operations.

In 1999 the Minera de Órgiva SL obtained the "Lújar No. 30411" Exploitation Concession, of eight mining 'grids' that cover part of the main mines of the Sierra de Lújar, but it was not until 2010, with a change in ownership that production started to increase to a significant level.

Currently the operations at the mine use a number of LDH's to muck out the working areas and then to dump the ore into 5 ore chutes to the lower levels where a haulage system transports the ore between 1 and 3km to an underground treatment plant. A daily extraction of some 150 tonnes of material is carried out each day. Ventilation is only required around the treatment plant and on the lowest level, due to the large number of adits and surface shafts in the mine system. An altitude difference of 550m between the lowest and highest levels coupled with a high temperature gradient between the outside and underground allows very effective ventilation.

The mine produces acid, metallurgical and cement grades of fluorspar available in different sizes. Most of the processed ore is destined for steel mills and cement factories, with a healthy 45% of the production being exported to Portugal, Turkey, France, Albania and Ukraine. The port of Motril some 30km away allows a convenient overseas transport route.

A look at the new and old workings on this mining complex.

A trip to have a chat with the miners currently working the mine and to look around the old and new workings at 1400m altitude.

(Charlie and Mike), 6th June 2017.