02 March 2013

Les Mines d'Argent

I am so behind on my blogging. I still haven't finished writing about where else I went with Rob whilst he was here, and I've had another visitor in the form of my cousin Sophie since then. So I shall attempt to recap the highlights of the past week.

Apart from its Roman Triad of churches, Melle is most 'famous' for its Mines d'Argent des Rois Francs (The silver mines of the French kings) and is the oldest of its kind in Europe still open to the public. It is also a 2 minute walk from my flat. Having been closed over the winter, Rob and I were excited to learn that it opened for the new season at the weekend. So we went along for a guided tour on Sunday. As Rob can't understand French, I asked at the beginning whether there were any guides in English, but the guy said it was only French. Rob didn't mind though, so we paid our 7,50€ and went inside. The tour guide obviously felt sorry for Rob not being able to understand, so attempted from about 3 minutes in to talk in very broken but nevertheless comprehensible English, which was very nice of him! And it was a really great trip - educational, interesting, and pretty to look at. I'll sum it up for you what the mines are about:

In use between the 8th and 10th centuries, miners dug and blasted through 30km (of which 300m is open to the public) of rock underground in order to extract the galena (a lead ore composed of lead, sulfur and silver). Once out of the ground the galena is washed to remove any lime or quartz, then is put into a furnace where the lead and silver melt down to rid themselves of the sulfur. To be left with pure silver it was then necessary to put the metal into another furnace where, with the help of bellows, the metal was oxidised. Reaching temperatures of almost 1000ºC, the lead oxydised but not the silver. This process was carried out until all that remained at the bottom of the furnace was pure silver. The silver was subsequently cut into small circles and stamped on both sides to make coins.

Sorry for the chemistry lesson, I hope I didn't bore you too much! In any case, here's some photos of the interior of the mines:
When the miners dug and exploded the rock, they made sure they left
columns so that the roof wouldn't collapse
There are many ventilation shafts throughout the mines which have, over hundreds of years, caused calcium deposits to grow on the rock as a result of condensation
And I can't remember why this mini lake has formed, but I like it because it's pretty, and apparently in the summer when there's no rain dripping down, the water is as smooth as a mirror, therefore allowing a perfect reflection of the surrounding rock :)

I know I said this post would be a recap of a few events, but the above is longer than anticipated, so I'll write about the rest in another post soon!

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