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Almadén (Municipality, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain)

Last modified: 2019-09-16 by ivan sache
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Flag of Almadén - Image by Eduardo Panizo Gómez, 8 May 2019

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Presentation of Almadén

The municipality of Almadén (5,461 inhabitants in 2018; 23,964 ha) is located 110 km south-west of Ciudad Real.

Almadén developed around the world's biggest deposit of cinnabar (HgS), the most common source ore for refining elemental mercury, considered to have hitherto produced one third of the mercury ever used. The deposit was formed 430 million years ago, when volcanism of deeper origin brought mercury to the surface.

Almadén was first settled in the Age of Bronze, 3500 to 2500 BC. The surrounding mountains are decorated with several rock paintings, always found on vertical walls oriented southwards. The dominating color is red, cinnabar being probably used in religious ceremonies; the paintings feature a wide array of human and animal (horses and stags) figures, as well as circles, points, idols....
Systematic exploitation of the cinnabar mines started in the 2nd century BC, in the aftermath of the Roman colonization of the area. Some 10,000 pounds of ore were exported every year to Rome, where they were processed into vermilion in factories located on the Roman Forum, between the Flora and Quirinus temples. Highly prized and sold up to 70 sesterces a pound, vermilion as a painting and a dye, for instance to color the face of the statue of Jupiter and the body of the game winners; it was also used to produce ointments and toiletries for the Roman ladies, and as ink.

Almadén is named for the Arab toponym Hins-al-Madin (lit., the Mine's Fort). The fortress, part of an extended fortification network aimed at watching the mining district, was increased in 1467 by López de Padilla, Key Warden of the Order of Calatrava, and surmounted in the 18th century by a tower with a clock and bells, today its last remains.
The geographer al-Idrisi (1100-1165) reports that the mines employed more than 1,000 workers and reached a depth of 4,2O0 m, both figures being quite exaggerated.

After the Christian reconquest, the mines were granted to several owners. The exploitation of the South American silver mines boosted mining industry in Almadén, since mercury is required to amalgamate silver ore. In 1521, the Függer bankers, who had funded Charles V's imperial election and wars, were granted the concession of the mines by the Masters of the Orders of Saint James, Calatrava and Alcántara. Until 1646, their representatives lived in the Fúcares Manor, a former Dominican convent, but did not really care for the mines, which soon declined.
In the 18th century, the Spanish government hired foreign experts to re-activate and modernize the mines. Appointed director in 1756, Carlos Koeler was expected to teach mining and mercury processing, but unexpectedly died in 1757. Upon request by Charles III, Enrique Cristóbal Störr established in 1785 the Mines Academy, the first mining school in Spain and the fourth in the world, after Freiberg (Germany, 1767), Schemitz (Slovakia, 1770) and Saint Petersburg (Russia, 1772). Modeled on military engineering colleges, the school hired noted scholars to teach "underground geometry" (geology), physics, chemistry, mineralogy and technical drawing. The most famous professor was Fausto de Elhúyar (1755-1833), joint discoverer of tungsten with his brother Juan José, while the most famous student was Andrés Manuel del Río (1764-1849), discoverer of vanadium. After the transfer of the Academy to Madrid in 1835, as the Special School of Mines Engineers, the original school was converted into Spain's first School of Mines Foremen.
Sales of Almadén mercury were in a monopolistic way controlled by the Rothschild Bank from 1835 to 1821. Subsequently operated by the Spanish state, the mines were eventually closed in 2002, following a sharp decrease in the demand of mercury and the deposit's exhaustion.

Almadén and Idrija (Slovenia) were registered in 2012 on UNESCO's World Heritage List, as follows (registration):

Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija The property includes the mining sites of Almadén (Spain), where mercury (quicksilver) has been extracted since antiquity, and Idrija (Slovenia), where mercury was first found in AD1490. The Spanish property includes buildings relating to its mining history, including Retamar Castle, religious buildings and traditional dwellings. The site in Idrija notably features mercury stores and infrastructure, as well as miners’ living quarters, and a miners’ theatre. The sites bear testimony to the intercontinental trade in mercury which generated important exchanges between Europe and America over the centuries. Together they represent the two largest mercury mines in the world, operational until recent times.

Ivan Sache, 8 May 2019

Symbols of Almadén

The flag (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo) of Almadén is prescribed by an Order issued on 27 August 1991 by the Government of Castilla-La Mancha and published on 30 August 1991 in the official gazette of Castilla-La Mancha, No. 66, p. 3,084 (text).
The flag is described as follows:

Flag: The proposed flag, of new creation, rectangular, in proportions 2:3. Divided in three parts by two oblique lines starting from the hoist and converging to the fly's midpoint. The colors are red for the upper stripe, white for the central, and green for the lower. Charged with the crowned municipal coat of arms, in total width 3/5 of the flag's width, its axis located at 1/3 from the hoist. Nothing can be opposed to this design.

The text is, undoubtedly, the verbatim copy of the report made by the Royal Academy of History on the proposed flag.
The flag was designed by the prolific and talented vexillologist Eduardo Panizo Gómez, also the designer of the municipal flags of Allande, Cabranes, Ibias, Morcín, Ribera de Arriba, Nava, and Teverga (Asturias), Matallana de Torío (León), and Villahermosa and Puebla de Don Rodrigo (Ciudad Real).
[Mi Pueblo Almadén, 16 March 2012]

The coat of arms of Almadén, of "immemorial use", and, seemingly not officially registered, is:

Coat of arms: Quarterly, 1. Gules a castle or port and windows azure, 2. Argent a lion rampant gules, 3. Argent a Cross of Calatrava, 4. Gules a miner's sledgehammer and hammer or in saltire. Inescutcheon azure three fleurs-de-lis-or. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown closed.

The upper quarters feature the Royal arms of Castile and León. The third quarter recalls that Almadén once belonged to the Order of Calatrava. The fourth quarter represents the mercury mines. The escutcheon features the arms of the Bourbon dynasty.
[Ramón José Maldonado y Cocat. 1973. Heráldica municipal de la provincia de Ciudad Real. Cuadernos de Estudios Manchegos 4, 84-109]

Ivan Sache, 8 May 2019