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Cerro del Hierro

          The Iron Mountain

                                                       Stretching for 450 kilometres from west to east,
                                                       the Sierra Morena is one of the major mountain
                                                       regions in the Iberian Peninsula. It forms the
                                                       southern boundary of the Meseta Central, the high
                                                       plateau that forms the central part of Spain. From
                                                       the north the peaks look insignificant, being little
                                                       higher than the plateau itself, but from the
                                                       Guadalquivir river valley to the south the Sierra
                                                       Morena is as imposing as any you will find in
                                                       The whole range, from Portugal in the west,
                                                       through Huelva province, the northern part of
                                                       Seville province and into Córdoba is rich in
                                                       minerals including lead, silver, mercury, copper
                                                       and iron. It is the latter that has been exploited at
                                                       Cerro del Hierro.

                                                                                                                             The Iron Age started in Spain about 600 BC. Iron is a far   deposits were certainly not missed by the ancient
                                                                                                                             better metal from which to make tools and weapons than   people that occupied the area when the Romans arrived.
                                                                                                                             its predecessor, bronze. The problem with producing   Two millennia of mining the veins has left its mark on
                                                                                                                             iron from its ores is the high temperatures needed for   the landscape, vast, open pits between vertical
                                                                                                                             the process. It was the Romans that cracked the     buttresses of limestone. Mining only ceased in the mid
                                                                                                                             procedure utilising an iron oxide ore called hematite.   20th century. Iron ore from the mine was transported by
                                                                                                                             They even developed a type of forge called a bloomery,   train on a line that ran from Cerro del Hierro to Seville. In
                                                                                                                             very similar to the 8th century AD Catalan forge, that   Seville, the iron grills outside the Royal Tobacco Factory,
                                                                                                                             enabled them to make steel.                         now the University, were made from the iron extracted
                                                                                                                             In the far north of Seville province, in the Sierra Norte de   from Cerro del Hierro as was the Isabell II bridge, the
                                                                                                                             Sevilla, about 5 kilometres south of San Nicolas del   Puente de Triana over the Guadalquivir.
                                                                                                                             Puerto is the now largely abandoned town, Cerro del   In the early years of the 21st century, the Junta de
                                                                                                                             Hierro, alongside which is the open cast mine of the   Andalucia made the mine accessible to the public with
                                                                                                                             same name. Due to its altitude, 689 metres, its inland   tracks and bridges through the mining area. In some of
                                                                                                                             position, far removed from the warming effects of the   the rock faces adjacent to the paths, you will see the
                                                                                                                             sea, and the almost constant cold air that flows down off   occasional twinkle as the sun reflects off metallic crystals
                                                                                                                             the Sierra, the town is decidedly chilly in winter and has   still embedded in the rock. Signs warn you that taking
                                                                                                                             earned the sobriquet ‘Siberia of Seville’.          the crystals is not permitted. Other parts of the mine
                                                                                                                             The predominant rock in the area is composed of the   have been opened up for climbers; the limestone faces
                                                                                                                             reefs and sponges that made up the ancient seabed in   providing challenges for even the most experienced
                                                                                                                             Pre Cambrian times. During the Cambrian period,     cragsman.
                                                                                                                             starting some 550 million years ago, the calcium    Apart from the mine, the Sierra Morena as a whole is
                                                                                                                             deposits were compressed into limestone with an     one of the least exploited and remote areas in Andalucia.
                                                                                                                             abundance of iron minerals. The whole lot was uplifted   It is one of the last habitats of the Iberian lynx and home
                                                                                                                             as the African tectonic plate pushed up against the   to wild boar, red deer, the Spanish Imperial Eagle and the
                                                                                                                             European plate and the exposed rock started to erode.   Golden Eagle. It was only in 2019 that the Iberian wolf
                                                                                                                             The iron minerals were turned into oxides and       was declared extinct in the region. The towns and
                                                                                                                             hydroxides and washed down into the cavities. On the   villages have been mostly untouched by tourism,
                                                                                                                             surface, the tops of these iron ore filled cavities were   although that is changing. Still, it is an opportunity to see
                                                                                                                             immediately apparent, being a rich rust colour against   a part of Andalucia that has remained unchanged for
                                                                                                                             the white and grey of the surrounding limestone. The   generations.

   18                   March 2019                                                                       March 2019                                                19
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