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Al-ma'din: the quicksilver mine.

Peregrinopaul

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Year of past OR future Camino
VdlP(2012) Madrid(2014)Frances(2015) VdlP(2016)
VdlP(2017)Madrid/Sanabres/Frances reverse(2018)
It’s 50km north of Alcaracejos - but Almaden is well worth the inconvenience of a detour from the Camino Mozarabe. My wife and I visited Almaden in 2018 on our way from Merida to Cordoba.

A spectacular mercury ore body has attracted serious mining operations since antiquity, and it is recognised as a geological wonder. Since records were kept, more than a quarter of a million tons of mercury has been extracted - a full third of total world production, and there is plenty left in the ground since operations ceased in 2003.

The mercury is in the form of a sulphide, a massive blood red mineral called cinnabar. All you have to do is roast it, and the sulphur is driven off as SO2 and you are left with quicksiver.
IMG_6747.jpeg This sample is in the mining museum, one of the most fascinating I've visited.


The Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans valued it as a source of pigment, vermillion. (A vessel of mercury dating back 3500 years was even discovered in Egypt).
1200px-Roman_fresco_Villa_dei_Misteri_Pompeii_-_detail_with_dancing_menad_02.jpeg Vermillion pigment dazzles in this Roman frescoe.

The Romans certainly used it for its remarkable ability to dissolve gold and silver from its ore. Here’s a cool video of gold amalgamation.

The moors developed its uses in medicine, which persisted in some cases right up to the 20th century.
It is still used, hazardously, by "artisinal" miners in some countries, particularly Indonesia.

Almaden’s most significant contribution to global history came in the 16th century, when enormous quantities were shipped in leather flasks to the Americas to extract the wealth from silver mines like Potosi in Peru. The bullion, by royal decree, ultimately returned to Seville.

Almaden mine is now a world heritage site, and you can tour the upper level of the underground mine. We were the only ones on our tour. The guide spoke enough english to be thoroughly engaging. I loved it - and gave him a big tip!
IMG_5892.jpeg
The gate to the mining compound dates from Carlos IV, late 18th century.
IMG_6744.jpeg
An impressive mule-driven underground timber winch used to haul ore from deeper levels. (Not my picture - my iphone photo was a dud).
Imagen-34-Baritel-de-San-Andrés.jpeg
And as a bonus, the main hotel in Almaden is the partially converted bull ring. A real treat. this taken just ouside the door of our room.
IMG_6735.jpeg
As a quirky post script, I've just finished reading book 18 of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. At the climax he captures a privateer carrying a valuable cargo looted from a galleon. Guess...
 
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Haha...You can. Take a deep breath.
👃😖
But stay away from the pretty little silver blobs.
I'm gonna give it a wide berth.
😜

(Fascinating post, Paul. Gracias.)
It's not the pretty little blobs that get you, it's the compounds that don't look like pretty blobs. Compounds that get put into the oh-so-fashionable flourescent swirly-bulbs. And doubtless other bulbs that I don't know anything about their contents.

I'm not sure I'd want to breathe the sulfur that's cooked off from the cinnabar, either. ;)
Is this the same Almaden that's on the VDLP?
 
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Peregrinopaul

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Year of past OR future Camino
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I'm not sure I'd want to breathe the sulfur that's cooked off from the cinnabar, either. ;)
Is this the same Almaden that's on the VDLP?
No, it's between Merida and Ciudad Real
Screen Shot 2021-05-23 at 9.21.51 am.jpeg
 

Peregrinopaul

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Year of past OR future Camino
VdlP(2012) Madrid(2014)Frances(2015) VdlP(2016)
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Mad as a hatter! (No, not being insulting, milliners used mercury in hat making and consequently became insane)
Ah yes. I had forgotten that gem. The history of mercury is littered with fascinating stories, like Torricelli inverting a metre long glass tube full of mercury over a bowl of quicksilver. The mercury level dropped to 760mm, leaving a vacuum at the top, demonstrating the strength of air pressure for the first time.
Indeed we owe the discovery of oxygen to mercury. Priestly heated mercuric oxide in a sealed vessel, breaking down the compound, producing oxygen gas and leaving pure mercury behind. After experimenting with the gas in various ways, he inhaled it himself having established that it took mice 5 times longer to die than in ordinary air - (to be charitable, he noted that the mice lived 5 times longer). He wrote that “Hitherto, only two mice and myself have had the privilege of breathing it”.
IMG_2380.jpeg Globules of mercury sublimated from the oxide in an alchemist's crucible.
 

Raggy

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Year of past OR future Camino
2021
“Hitherto, only two mice and myself have had the privilege of breathing it”.
Shortly before she passed away, my gran was admitted to hospital, where the doctors decided she needed to receive supplemental oxygen. Gran was frail and suffering from dementia, but she still gave us glimpses of her former, sharp-witted, self. While preparing the equipment, a nurse asked her if she had ever been on oxygen before ...

Gran's reply: "Of course. I've been on it my whole life."
 
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