How the iron from the mines was worked, from the Etruscan period to the present

The origins of extracting and working iron on the island of Elba ("Blue mineral" for the Egyptians, "sideros" for the Greek) goes back to the mists of time. The ores in Elba are among the oldest iron deposits in the world. Infact since the dawning of history, the position of the island has always been strategic both because of the sea trade control and because of its inexhaustible mineral resources that have always attracted the great Mediterranean powers.

Under Etruscan rule, Elba was called "The Island of a thousand Fires" thanks to the pureness of its minerals, and it was in this period that the island's development reached its peak, a peak that was to continue until the end of the 1st century BC.

Today, thanks to about a hundred "furnaces" discovered by historians, you can still see traces of the heaps of waste from the typical Etruscan cone shaped "furnaces". During that period, the extraction and working of iron became a very organized industry: they had spread their dominion as far as Elba precisely because of its giant mineral ores. In later years, because the wood for melting the iron in the furnaces started to become scarce, the iron was still worked in Tuscany but on the mainland.

The Greek sailors called Elba "Aethalia", sooty, and it is mentioned by Virgil, Diodoro Siculo, then Varrone, Strabone and Plinio the Naturalist: From the XI century onwards, although in different ways, the mines belong to the various governments that ruled the island: the Maritime Republic of Pisa, Signori e Principi of Piombino, the local Government on the island, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Kingdom of Italy.

The Grand Duke government with a "Motu Proprio" (Papal Document) of September 24th 1840 gave itself full power in the Administration of the mines, in that they could extract the iron even on private land. There then follows the period of the "Joint Partners Administration", at the end of which the Italian Government passes the running of the mines on to an Italian cooperative represented by the General Bank. Later a short term lease is granted to the chevalier Ugo Ubaldo Tonietti, who ran them until 1899, when the Joint-Stock Mines and Blast Furnaces Company of Elba took them over.

The turning point in a capitalistic-industrial sense starts in 1897 when the idea of an improvement in the modern iron and steel industry is born. The giant iron and steel industry becomes organized and starts using the iron minerals from Elba: magnetite, hematite, limonite, siderite and pyrite, all first, main sources of steel.

In 1924 the Concessionary Firm of the Elba Mines takes over from the S.p.A. Elba, that later merges into Ilva. In 1939 "Ferromin" takes them over until 1970. For the next ten years the mines are in the hands of Italsider.

From 1950 onwards, the economical boom and the arrival of tourism, competition, strikes and negotiations that failed cause the mines in Elba to close down, and in 1981 the one mine still open was closed down for good: the Ginevro Mine.

In 1980 the yards close down and work comes to an end.

The concession had belonged to the Società Nuova Italsider, now Ilva, since 1980, and up till 1982 they allowed the extraction of serpentine and magnesium silicate in the Santa Filomena yard in Rio.

Today, thanks to the Island of Elba Mineral Park and the Calamita Mineral Park, the true importance and worthy conservation both of the mineral sites and of the historical and cultural past of Elba are maintained in museums, study laboratories and along guided tours; only 30 years ago this very island was the Island of Iron and Fire.

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