Mining the past: project underway to rediscover Catalonia's industrial heritage

150 years of mining in Alta Segarra ended when last mine closed in 1994

You can still find coal in the mines of Alta Segarra today
You can still find coal in the mines of Alta Segarra today / Mar Martí

ACN | @agenciaacn | Calaf

November 8, 2022 02:32 PM

"When we talk about culture and heritage, the last thing we think about is mining," says Jordi Badia, mayor of Calaf, a town of 3,500 people in central Catalonia. 

Aiming to change perceptions and even attract tourists, a project is underway in Calaf and the surrounding towns and villages to rediscover the mining past of the Alta Segarra area.  

Straddling the counties of Anoia and Segarra, this coal mining region was the first and most extensive in Catalonia, with over 200 mines active during a period lasting over 150 years. 

That history has largely been forgotten, explains Pere Tardà, head of Cat Patrimoni, most likely because "the memories kept are not always good ones, because it is associated with hard and dirty work," he says. 

The organization he heads up is now undertaking an exhaustive job to locate, reference and describe the various historical elements that will serve as the basis for a project to rediscover Alta Segarra's mining heritage. 

Mines that powered Catalan industry 

"These were the closest mines to Barcelona and the industrial areas of Terrassa, Sabadell and Manresa and, for that reason, they were very heavily exploited," explains Tardà. 

The "oldest exploited mining region in Catalonia" had "many ups and downs" from the start, in 1840, until the closing of the last mine in 1994, he says. 

Seven towns and villages in the area – Calaf, Calonge de Segarra, Els Prats de Rei, Castellfollit de Riubregós, Sant Pere Sallavinera, Sant Martí Sesgueioles and Pujalt – are involved in the project, which has the support of the Barcelona provincial government. 

As well as the mines themselves, the inventory being put together will also include information on things such as wagons, diggers, photographs, buildings and tools. 

The first phase consists of archival research as well as field work to locate and provide descriptions of historical elements. It is due to be completed by the end of the year. 

The second phase, to be carried out during the first quarter of 2023, will serve to draw up a report containing all the pieces discovered. 

In addition, Cat Patrimoni will also draw up a list with the names of the miners who died in the Alta Segarra mining operations. It is not known exactly how many miners lost their lives, Tardà explains, saying that with this work they want to "dignify and honor" all these people. 

Tourism potential 

The mayor of Calonge de Segarra, Xavier Nadal, highlighted the importance that mining had for his municipality – with more than 80 mines – and for the entire Alta Segarra area: "It was a very important industrial activity, and this project will allow us to diversify what we can offer for tourists." 

Calonge de Segarra has been one of the pioneering municipalities when it comes to rediscovering this heritage. In 2017 it excavated one of the mines, the 'Vicenta' mine, and has turned it into a museum.