Mining tourism: underground trip to the island of Elba

An experiential visit with nature to discover the largest iron deposit in Europe (and not only) to be reached on foot, by bike, by train or donkeyback

Elba Island (Tuscany) – The red of iron, the gold of pyrite and the silver of hematite, up to the thousand shades of granite. The Elba is a journey through the colors of the stones, always kept in the belly of the island and dug, from the Etruscans until a handful of years ago, with inexhaustible deposits so as to seem eternal.

Closed in 1981 after almost two thousand years of activity, the iron mines of the Island of Elba are now open and open to visitors: #Elbaunderground is to go underground to discover what is still considered among the largest mining basins in the world, with more than 200 varieties of minerals present in the surface of the island and more than one twentieth of all minerals on earth, means taking a real journey into history and science.

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Mining tourism today represents one of the most fascinating frontiers of “experiential” visits in which the tourist not only sees, but is involved in first person through immersive activities: from visits to the galleries to the collection of minerals, from the mineralogical trekking path to the visit to the stone processing plants. With ever-changing views: the eastern side of the island, facing the boot, is dominated by ferrous deposits; the western side, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and Corsica, by granite stone, still excavated. To frame the whole sea, always a step away from the visitor throughout his stay on the island.

The iron of Monte Calamita

The route starts from Monte Calamita, in the magnetite mine of Ginevro, the only mine in the tunnel that can still be visited on the island. It is the largest deposit in Europe and is considered a strategic reserve of iron by the Italian state, so much so that it is still protected for its importance.

Equipped with a helmet and a spirit of adventure, with the help of guides, you can go down “in the belly of the island” immersing yourself in an experiential visit. How did the miners live? What habits permeated the small community dedicated to the excavations? What did working underground mean? The visit answers these and other questions, in a path along the tunnels and common areas of the mine, where you will have more than once the feeling of seeing the activity still in progress, thanks to the presence of equipment left in place immediately after the closure of the 80s.

The granite of San Piero

Another must-see stop is San Piero, on the west side of the island, dominated by granite. Here, accompanied by expert guides in excursions in contact with the wildest part of Elba, you can discover more about the extraction and processing of stone, which has marked the history of architecture. Here too, it is enough to think that the 7 colossal columns of the Pantheon of Rome (12 metres high and with a diameter of 1.5 metres) were made with Seccheto granite. But Elba’s granite in Rome is also found below the Quirinal, the Palatine and the Colosseum, testifying to the importance that the ancient Romans attributed to this quarry of precious stone.

According to some scholars, a trace of Elba can also be found in the Cathedral of Aachen, precisely in the 18 columns brought to Germany by Saint Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, and then transferred to the church by Charlemagne. To return to Italy, Elban granite is present in the Cathedral and Baptistery of Pisa, as well as in the Boboli Gardens, the altar of San Lorenzo and the Chapel of the Princes of Florence.

The stone is still appreciated by architects and interior designers for its resistance.

Work sites and mining museums

The journey is completed with an exploration of the old work sites and dedicated museums: in Rio Marina with the Mineralogical Museum of the Elban Mining Park, guided tours of the quarries of the Basin and Jupiter Valley, in Capoliveri with visits to the museum of the Old Workshop and the sites of the Wall and the Galleries of Geneva, and finally to the MUM, or the mineralogical and gemological museum of San Piero to discover the wonderful world of granite.

An experience to live with the family

Minerals fans? Looking for a new experience that can involve children and excite adults? Have you always dreamed of putting yourself to the test in search of precious stones, with ice axe and bag in hand? This is the right experience!

The island’s mines offer routes and excursions suitable for families where, in the company of expert nature guides, you can feel like a geologist for a day discovering and collecting minerals yourself.

The collection of minerals in the mines is a real adventure, fun and engaging, starting from the scenario itself, halfway between the lunar surface but at the same time a step from the sea. The earth shines and here starts the challenge in search of minerals from different eras, formations and shapes.

The route is accessible on foot or, for the more adventurous, with the e-bike that for the occasion becomes min-ebike, or even with an off-road vehicle of the army in safari-style.

Families who prefer the “slow course” can opt for a train tour of the mining areas: in about 80 minutes, thanks to a comfortable train on the road, through the red lands in an almost Martian landscape, you can discover the most important and ancient mine on the island of Elba for an unforgettable trip to Valle Giove, in the mines of Rio Marina. During the trip it is possible to go down in search of pyrite and hematite samples to preserve and collect.

For those who want to choose a more natural means of transport, there are routes with donkeys along the granite roads, which allow you to discover the west coast on a donkey’s back, the same means used from antiquity until the middle of the last century to travel the most inaccessible paths of the island.

Trekking and nature tourism

The mines are also a fantastic pretext for trekking enthusiasts. Following the “mineral veins” that cross the body of the island, Elba offers numerous routes suitable for every type of sporting experience.

Suitable for everyone is the Granite Route, which starts and arrives from San Piero and through some dirt roads, leads to the quarries and offers beautiful views of the island of Giglio and Monte Cristo (3 km, easy). Other routes on the granite road allow you to visit the things still active or to get to the archaeological sites.

Another route connects the mines of Rio Marina: here in addition to visiting the mining sites, you often have the opportunity to meet a-tu-per-tu the wildlife of the island, such as wild boar, hare and red partridge.

For the most demanding, the mines of Calamita offer different itineraries that can be adapted according to the level of experience and the time you want to dedicate to the visit: from easier routes (Macei the minerals of iron, 2 km, lasting 1.5 hours; From the Museum to the sea, 2.5 km, lasting 1.5 hours; The way of the old railway, 7 km, lasting 3 hours) to those of medium intensity (Ring of Calamita, 11.5 km. duration 3.5 hours) or longer, for trained hikers (The path of the miners, 9 km, duration 5 hours).

Between science and culture: Magnetic Festival

The natural red streaked scenes of Ginevro, in the summer become the natural backdrop of the Magnetic Festival, an event dedicated to opera that enhances the natural beauty of the mine in a game of reference between the arts of the scene and nature. All this with a sea view.

A scenario with a unique charm, in which the strength of nature and the human imprint harmonize, in the point of equilibrium between sea and mountain.

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