The Info List - Almadén

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ALMADéN (Spanish pronunciation: ) is a town and municipality in the Spanish province of Ciudad Real
Ciudad Real
, within the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha
Castile-La Mancha
. The town is located at 4° 49' W and 38° 46' N and is 589 meters above sea level. Almadén
is approximately 300 km south of Madrid
in the Sierra Morena
Sierra Morena
. The name Almadén
is from the Arabic word المعدن al-maʻdin, meaning 'the mine'.

Originally a Roman (then Moorish
) settlement, the town was captured in 1151 by Alfonso VII and given to the Knights of the Order of Calatrava .

The mercury deposits of Almadén
account for the largest quantity of liquid mercury metal produced in the world. Approximately 250,000 metric tons of mercury have been produced there in the past 2,000 years.


* 1 Mining

* 1.1 Introduction of convict labor in mine

* 1.1.1 Daily life at Almadén

* 1.2 Slave labor * 1.3 1645 to present

* 2 See also * 3 External links * 4 References



The geology of the area is characterised by volcanism . Almadén
is home to the world's greatest reserves of cinnabar , a mineral associated with recent volcanic activity, from which mercury is extracted. Cinnabar
was first used for pigment by the Romans. Later, the mineral was used mostly in medicine and alchemy during the Arab domination of Spain

The Fuggers of Augsburg
, two German bankers, administered the mines during the 16th and 17th centuries in return for loans to the Spanish government. Mercury became very valuable in the Americas in the mid 16th century due to the introduction of amalgamation , a process that uses mercury to extract the metals from gold and silver ore. The demand for mercury grew, and so did the town's importance as a center of mining and industry. Most of the mercury produced at this time was sent to Seville
, then to the Americas.

The dangerous working conditions of the mines made it difficult for the Fuggers to find willing laborers. As the demand for mercury grew, the idea of convict labor was introduced.


After the Fuggers failed to meet production quotas in 1566, the King of Spain
agreed to send 30 prisoners to serve their sentences as laborers at Almadén. The number was increased to 40 in 1583. The prisoners, known as forzados, were selected out of criminals waiting for transport to the galleys in the jail of Toledo . Those selected usually had limited sentences and good physical abilities. Murderers and capital criminals were rarely selected, as the galleys were considered a far harsher punishment than the mines of Almadén.

The first group of forzados arrived at Almadén
at the end of February 1566.

Daily Life At Almadén

A steady run of complaints to the king in the 1580s led to an investigation of convict living conditions at Almadén
in 1593. The investigation was conducted by royal commissioner and famous author Mateo Alemán , and was based largely on convict interviews.

The mine at Almadén
provided forzados with acceptable living conditions. Each convict received daily rations of meat , bread , and wine . Each year, a forzado was issued a doublet , one pair of breeches , stockings , two shirts , one pair of shoes , and a hood . Medical care was available at the infirmary, and the mine even housed its own apothecary .

Despite these good offerings, the danger of death or sickness from mercury poisoning was always present. 24% of convicts at Almadén between 1566 and 1593 died before their release dates, most often because of mercury poisoning. Nearly all prisoners experienced discomfort due to mercury exposure. Common symptoms included severe pains in any part of the body, trembling limbs, and loss of sanity. Most of the men at the furnaces died from poisoning.

Forzados were also forced to bail water out of the mines. These men escaped the dangers of mercury exposure, but suffered exhaustion on a daily basis. A group of four men had to bail out 300 buckets of water without rest. Those that could not meet this quota were whipped. Sick prisoners were not exempt from this practice.

Death was common, and the convicts wished to provide a proper burial for each of the men that died at the mine. A religious confraternity was formed, conducted by a prior who was administrator of the mine for the Fuggers. The prior also chose devout convicts to serve as officials. Mass was held on Sundays and feast days , and non-attendance was punishable by fine.


North African slaves were purchased directly from slaveholders to work alongside the convicts. These slaves were often much cheaper than others on the market at the time, and by 1613, slaves outnumbered forzados by a two-to-one ratio.


from Almaden, Hand-colored copper-plate engraving by James Sowerby
James Sowerby
, 1811 Cinnabar
from Almaden

In 1645, the Fugger concession was cancelled and the mines were taken over by the state, to be managed by the royal government. All capital criminals were to be sent to Almadén
by court order in 1749, but the mine simply could not accommodate all of them. The act was cancelled in 1751.

Two disastrous fires occurred in 1775 that were blamed on the forzados.

Safer mining technology was introduced in the last quarter of the 18th century, and free laborers began to take interest in the mine again. By the end of the century, free workers had replaced most of the slave labor. The penal establishment at Almadén
was closed in 1801.

In 1835, during the First Carlist War
First Carlist War
, the mine was leased indefinitely to the Rothschild Bank . The price paid was high, but one of the Rothschild family firms had previously purchased the quicksilver mine in Idrija
(now in Slovenia) from Austria; thus the firm had a monopoly on quicksilver (until discovery of New Almaden
New Almaden
in California). Volume was expanded and the metal sold at a substantial markup returning a substantial profit to both Spain
and the firm. Spain
reclaimed the mine in 1863.

In 1916, a special council was created to operate the mines, introducing new technology and safety improvements. A record production of 82,000 mercury flasks was reached in 1941, just after the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
. The price for mercury decreased from a peak of US$571 in 1965 to US$121 in 1976 making economic planning difficult. In 1981, the Spanish government created the company Minas de Almadén y Arrayanes to operate the mine. In 2000, the mines closed due to the fall of the price of mercury in the international market, caused by falling demand. However, Almadén
still has one of the world's largest mercury resources.

Alamden is now a World Heritage Site, Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija
. A museum has been built, including visit to the mines (areas from 16th to 20th century).


* Huancavelica , the other major source of mercury in the Spanish Empire * The New Almaden
New Almaden
Quicksilver Mine in Santa Clara County, California

* v * t * e

World Heritage Sites in Spain

For official site names, see each article or the List of World Heritage Sites in Spain


* Caves of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain
1 * Monuments of Oviedo
and the Kingdom of the Asturias * Roman walls of Lugo * Route of Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela
1 * Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela
* Tower of Hercules


* Caves of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain
1 * Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon
Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon
* Pirineos - Monte Perdido 2 * Rock art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basin 1 * Route of Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela
1 * San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries * Vizcaya Bridge
Vizcaya Bridge

Community of Madrid

* Aranjuez
Cultural Landscape * El Escorial
El Escorial
* University and Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares
Alcalá de Henares


* Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida * Archaeological Site of Atapuerca * Ávila with its Extra-mural Churches * Burgos Cathedral
Burgos Cathedral
* Cáceres * Cuenca * Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija
Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija
3 * Las Médulas
Las Médulas
* Monastery of Santa María of Guadalupe * Rock art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basin 1 * Route of Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela
1 * Salamanca
* Segovia
and its Aqueduct * Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde 4 * Toledo


* Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco
, Tarragona
* Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí
Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí
* Ibiza
( Biodiversity
and Culture) * Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau , Barcelona
* Palmeral of Elche * Poblet Monastery
Poblet Monastery
* Rock art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basin 1 * Serra de Tramuntana
Serra de Tramuntana
* Silk Exchange in Valencia * Works of Antoni Gaudí


* Alhambra
, Generalife
and Albayzín
, Granada
* Cathedral , Alcázar and General Archive of the Indies
General Archive of the Indies
, Seville
* Dolmens Site of Antequera * Doñana * Historic Centre of Córdoba * Renaissance
Monuments of Úbeda and Baeza
* Rock art of the Iberian Mediterranean Basin 1


* Garajonay * San Cristóbal de La Laguna
San Cristóbal de La Laguna
* Teide National Park

* 1 Shared with other region/s * 2 Shared with France * 3 Shared with Slovenia * 4 Shared with Portugal

* v * t * e

Municipalities in the province of Ciudad Real
Ciudad Real

* Abenójar * Agudo * Alamillo * Albaladejo * Alcoba
* Alcolea de Calatrava * Alcubillas * Alcázar de San Juan
Alcázar de San Juan
* Aldea del Rey * Alhambra
* Almadenejos * Almadén * Almagro * Almedina
* Almodóvar del Campo
Almodóvar del Campo
* Almuradiel * Anchuras * Arenales de San Gregorio
Arenales de San Gregorio
* Arenas de San Juan * Argamasilla de Alba
Argamasilla de Alba
* Argamasilla de Calatrava * Arroba de los Montes * Ballesteros de Calatrava * Bolaños de Calatrava * Brazatortas * Cabezarados * Cabezarrubias del Puerto * Calzada de Calatrava
Calzada de Calatrava
* Campo de Criptana * Caracuel de Calatrava * Carrizosa * Carrión de Calatrava * Castellar de Santiago
Castellar de Santiago
* Cañada de Calatrava * Chillón
* Ciudad Real
Ciudad Real
* Corral de Calatrava * Cózar * Daimiel * El Robledo * Fernán Caballero * Fontanarejo * Fuencaliente * Fuenllana * Fuente el Fresno * Granátula de Calatrava
Granátula de Calatrava
* Guadalmez * Herencia * Hinojosas de Calatrava * Horcajo de los Montes * La Solana * Las Labores * Llanos del Caudillo * Los Cortijos * Los Pozuelos de Calatrava * Luciana * Malagón
* Manzanares * Membrilla * Mestanza * Miguelturra * Montiel * Moral de Calatrava * Navalpino * Navas de Estena * Pedro Muñoz * Picón * Piedrabuena * Poblete * Porzuna * Pozuelo de Calatrava * Puebla de Don Rodrigo * Puebla del Príncipe * Puerto Lápice * Puertollano * Retuerta del Bullaque * Ruidera * Saceruela * San Carlos del Valle * San Lorenzo de Calatrava
San Lorenzo de Calatrava
* Santa Cruz de Mudela * Santa Cruz de los Cáñamos * Socuéllamos * Solana del Pino * Terrinches * Tomelloso * Torralba de Calatrava * Torre de Juan Abad * Torrenueva * Valdemanco del Esteras * Valdepeñas * Valenzuela de Calatrava * Villahermosa * Villamanrique * Villamayor de Calatrava * Villanueva de San Carlos * Villanueva de la Fuente * Villanueva de los Infantes * Villar del Pozo * Villarrubia de los Ojos * Villarta de San Juan * Viso del Marqués


* Chapter on convict labor at mines * the