Las Menas is an abandoned mining town, south of Serón and in the Almeria province.
The road from Serón to Las Menas is a single track winding up the side of the Sierra de las filabres. It is a heart stopping drive although in recent years it has been resurfaced and is easily accessible by car.
These were the last iron mines to close in the province of Almeria, and with their closure a long tradition of mining activities and transportation from the late nineteenth through the early 1970’s also ended.
After lead mining came the emergence of iron mining from 1885. The lower cost of transporting iron meant great savings and thus increased profits. This resulted in a huge infrastructure of overhead cables, landings and railroads. Many foreign companies moved into Serón and Bacares. Extraction of iron reached almost a million tons a year before the first world war.
The miners worked in shifts of eight hours day and night. This 24 hour shift work led to the other support jobs to maintain the function of the mine. There were workshops, a forge, a sawmill, a hospital, a school, a church, a bar, housing for the workers and their families and even a guardia civil station. The idea was that any issue arising, either inside or outside the mine could be dealt with quickly and efficiently so that production did not stop.
The transport of ore within the mine in the early years was with wagons and horses, and there was a stable at the rear of the guardia civil office. Later the transportation of the ore was by small diesel locomotives.
The hospital, to the left of the entrance, was a masonry building surrounded by a garden enclosure. Inside was a long corridor with rooms on either side. Each room had two beds, bedside table and chairs, and there was also a treatment room, an operating room, X-ray, and kitchen.
The company doctor carried out surgery every morning and every six months he checked the workers for lung problems.
There is a monument engraved with all those who lost their lives as a result of the mining.
The Guardia Civil building was composed of eight homes, four upstairs and four down. The stables were at the rear of the building and there was a courtyard surrounded by a stone wall. The entrance was at the front in the centre and there were two guardhouses, one on either side.
It was the second world war along with competition from mines in North Africa that led to the closure of most mines in Almeria. Serón and Bacares appear to have survived for so long because of their location and their proximity to the railway line from Baza to Lorca and onward to the port in Aguilas. The major mining companies were gradually absorbed under Carbarga San Miguel a Spanish subsidiary of WH Muller but this was not to save the mines at las Menas and in 1968, with the decommissioning of the iron mines las Menas finally closed.
The village was abandoned and looted during the following thirty years. Workers scattered throughout the mountains and this resulted in buildings in small towns having a wide variety of materials and construction styles.
Las Menas became deserted and by 1980 Seron had half the population it had in 1968.
Decades later, after years of plundering, the Andalucian government acquired part of the village, restored several landmark buildings (the old hospital, the offices of the company, the oldest social housing and the doctors house) and built an access road from the village to the capital Almeria.
The recovery of the chapel of Santa Barbara (the patron saint of Miners) in 2001 is a symbol of union.
In 2008 work began on the Forest Park to design a multifunctional complex that is intended to promote the sustainable development of the villages in these mountains and to include an exhibition and visitors center.
These days the old town has been part restored and converted into the Hotel Apartamento Las Menas of Serón
The hotel is open all year round but when we visited this morning we found it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. There is a restaurant but it would be a great place to take a picnic in the summer, although it was bitter cold first thing this morning and we would have preferred a flask of hot chocolate and some churros!!
A definite must see for historians, walkers, photographers, nature lovers and anyone who just wants to breath in the clear air and marvel at the stunning scenery.