In 2011 we visited the region of Murcia in southeast Spain near Cartagena. We did not know this area is also known as Sierra Minera. The bizarre landscape is the result of many years of mining and the surface is dotted with deep air shafts. There are many ruins of mine elevators, factories and machinery left behind. But most striking are the brightly coloured mountains of mine waste.

Mining already started in prehistoric times. During the Roman period more than 30,000 people - most slaves - worked in the mines searching for metals like lead and silver. Because of the poor conditions and the dangerous work many workers died.

In the 14th century, the search was mainly for alum. From 1840, mining started again, but now on a large scale. From the end of the 19th century the mining industry flourished. Following WWI there was a mining crises but in the 1950s mining revived due to the introduction of modern mining methods.

This created mountains of brightly coloured mine waste and deep craters due to open mining techniques. Millions of tons of waste material was poured in the bay of Portman, causing one of the Mediterranean's worst ecological disasters. Portman's bay is now completely filled with mine waste.

In 1991 the last mine closed because production was no longer economically viable. Also the incredible pollution of Portman's bay caused many national and international protests.

The Sierra Minera is one of the most impressive man-made landscapes I've seen. Unfortunately it is the result of extortion the natural resources of the planet.

© 2020 Nico Westerhof

Last updated on December 12, 2020