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Valle Imperina Mining Center

Location: Valle Imperina - Municipality of Rivamonte Agordino (Bl).

Access: situated at about 3 km from Agordo, you can reach the area by taking the SS road no. 203 Agordina; park the car near the mining center (loc. Le Campe) and continue on foot (footbridge on the Torrent Cordevole).

Environmental context - Description of the site: the former mining center is situated within the administrative borders of the Municipality of Rivamonte Agordino and within the perimeter of the Park, marking one of the border points in the north; it extends for about 1 km in the final stretch of Valle Imperina (543m asl), where the latter perpendicularly meets Val Cordevole. The Valley, characterized by steep woody slopes, has a south-west / north-east pattern and includes the whole course of the homonymous torrent. The woods are of recent formation; as a matter of fact, the several historical images of the valley show completely bare slopes. This depended on the serious environmental pollution caused by the metal processing activities carried out in the area (first of all the sulfur dioxide produced by the metallurgic process of "vitriolation" and the production of sulfuric acid) and, only in part, by the need of fuel (charcoal) for the processes of roasting and fusion of the mineral.

Building period: the first documents about its existence date back to the early 15th century. Mining exploitation: probably during the Roman period; buildings dating back to the pre-industrial and industrial period.

Architectural features: pre-industrial and industrial mining architecture. Of the greatest historical-testimonial value.


The structure (description of the buildings)
The buildings are situated along the old municipal road of the Old Mines developing along the orographic right side of Torrent Cordevole and form a more complex nucleus in the final stretch of Torrent Imperina where the valley opens and the morphology of the right slope becomes gentler (in the past, all the space available in the small valley bottom was full of buildings); further buildings can be found by following Valle Imperina.


Original use - Current conditions / uses
From the beginning of the 15th century until 1962 it was used for the extraction of silver and copper, and is today abandoned and in a bad conservation state. The rests of 16 buildings can still be found (the main storehouses, the smelting furnaces, the power plant, the stables, the charcoal deposit, the powder store, the villa of the director, the "hospital", the blacksmith forge, the washing-crushing plant and the mineral processing plant, as well as a series of houses and offices), 3 subterranean entrances, 2 water drainage gallery outlets. Years ago, a complex and ambitious measure was started to recover the main buildings and routes and to transform the village into a museum complete with tourist-accommodation structures; the monumental complex of the smelting furnaces has already been recovered (the original structures date back to the 16th century), together with the building of the former main storehouses (about 1730, from 1910 used as dormitory and meeting place for assemblies and religious ceremonies) that has become a Hostel, and the former hydroelectric power plant situated in the southernmost section of the village, housing a Visitor Center of the National Park. Moreover, the trail going from the mines across the valley to Forcella Franche, in the past used everyday by the local miners, has been recovered.


Notes
The mining exploitation (extraction and processing of silver and copper) probably started in the Roman period and developed in the pre-industrial and industrial period becoming, for production and duration of the activity, one of the most important of the region. From the beginning of the 15th century until 1962, the mining activity developed and continued without interruptions. During the Republic of Venice, Valle Imperina represented the most important national copper extraction center, covering in the late 18th century the 50% of the total needs of Serenissima; at that time, about 1,300 persons worked in the mining and metallurgical complex. Originally, the property of the deposit was divided among various families, and each of them carried out its own excavations; afterwards, because of family mishaps, the private initiative was gradually replaced by the Serenissima Republic of Venice which, from the second half of the 17th century, started to purchase all the rights and the private buildings. Later on, the complex followed the same political fate of the territory, passing to the Kingdom of Napoleon first, then to the Austrian Empire, and finally to the Kingdom of Italy which, in 1899, sold it to private enterprises. The mining complex passed then from the Montecatini to the Municipality of Rivamonte Agordino in 1989. The entrance to the subterranean passages is today obstructed by the cement "floors" that have been placed for safety reasons at the moment of the closure of the plants in 1962 at the entrances of the galleries and on the main well (dating back to the 18th century). The signs of the past activity are visible both around the mine, where important examples of pre-industrial and industrial mining architecture are still evident, and throughout the territory where, for instance, it is still possible to recognize the track of the railway line Bribano-Agordo, built in 1922-25 and abandoned in 1956: the trackman's lodges and the small stations (now residences) along Val Cordevole are still there.


Bibliography

Salton W. - Pollazzon A. - Slompo G. (edited by) - Il centro minerario di Valle Imperina e il suo recupero, Giunta Regionale del Veneto, 1995.
Spagna F. - Minatori in Val Imperina. Storia e antropologia di una comunità di montagna, Museo Etnografico della Provincia di Belluna - Quaderno n.15, Tip. Piave, Belluno 1998.
Vergani R. - Valle Imperina - Otto secoli di attività mineraria e metallurgica, in "Rivista Bellunese" n°, 1975.


Some history
The discovery of the metal deposits in Valle Imperina dates back to ancient times, but unfortunately the exact date is still uncertain. Giorgio Piloni (1607) talks about the rich mining features of the Agordo of the 12th century, when several deposits of iron, copper, lead, zinc, and silver were discovered in the valleys of Agordino, Zoldano, and Cadore.
The first document regarding the presence of a mining activity in Valle Imperina dates back to 1417, year in which a certain quantity of copper was brought to Padua to be processed. The cupriferous pyrite from which the metal was obtained had been extracted from a huge outcropping boulder and, at the same time, the cultivation of the veins of silver galena had started. Under the rule of the Republic of Venice, the copper became a metal with a strategic importance, used by the Zecca for coining and by the Arsenal to make bronze for the cannons.

According to the ancient metallurgical process, copper was extracted dry. The cupriferous pyrite underwent a first manual sorting: the richest mineral was directly sent to the smelting furnaces for a first fusion, and the remaining mineral, mixed with wood, underwent a slow roasting process in special piles covered with roofs (called "roste") for a period going from 4 to 10 months. The roasted mineral of the inner nucleus (called "tazzone") was separated then from the outer oxidized crust (called "terre vergini"). The latter, treated with hot water, gave origin to vitriol (iron sulfate), used in the dye works industry, while the "tazzoni" and the rich mineral gave origin to copper through a series of fusions and further roasting processes. An innovation in the enrichment of the mineral was introduced in 1690, with the addition of a wet process (case-hardening), giving the opportunity to obtain copper also from "terre vergini" treated with iron scraps.

The availability of great quantities of wood was essential to prop up the galleries and feed the "roste" and the smelting furnaces. Through a series of measures, the Republic of Venice gave the mines the possibility to obtain wood and charcoal from the surrounding woods: from 1548, the use of the woods within a 10-mile radius was reserved to the mines; even the furnaces and mines situated in the adjacent areas were closed, since their activity stole the precious fuel to the complex of Agordo.
Already since 1488, Venice drew up an organic mining legislation which, with a few changes, remained in force until the fall of the Republic. The subsoil was always considered a state property, therefore private entrepreneurs needed an authorization to use it and had to pay to the Treasury the tenth part of the product.
In Valle Imperina, until the half of the 17th century, the mines were exclusively exploited by private entrepreneurs, including some members of the Crotta family who, in the 17th century, boosted the mining activity here, also thanks to the introduction of the use of gunpowder for the extractions. In the square of Agordo you will find the villa purchased and enlarged by the Crotta family with the incomes of the mining and metallurgical activity.
In 1654, the Republic of Venice purchased a mine and founded in this way the first nucleus of a state-owned industry bound to a progressive expansion. At the end of the 17th century, in the private mines the so-called "di rapina" exploitation developed: it consisted of the opening of huge cavities in the underground that were not sufficiently propped up. A series of consequent falls and floods forced some entrepreneurs to abandon the activity, and this situation favored the absorption of the complex by the state.
In 1813, the mining complex of Agordo passed to the Austrian Treasury that, between 1835 and 1845, completed the purchases from the few private entrepreneurs still working in the area.
Until the early 19th century, this mine was considered one of the major mines in Europe, but then the progress in the mineral enrichment techniques and the discovery of huge deposits in Latin America caused the drop in value of copper.
Therefore, the second half of the century was a period of crisis and redeployment and, in 1866, the Kingdom of Italy inherited a state-owned business with a big deficit, and sold it in 1899 to the company Magni from Vicenza; the pyrite began to be extracted for the production of sulfuric acid, and the local metallurgical treatment of the mineral was interrupted.
After some passages of property, the mines of Valle Imperina were purchased in 1910 by the Montecatini company which closed them in 1962, not for exhaustion, but for their "scarce production".
The mines of Valle Imperina have been thus active for at least eight centuries and represented, for about three hundred years, the economic nucleus of Agordino area: in 1609, the mines gave work to about 400 men including miners, toasters, and furnace keepers and in 1801, they became about 600. Besides, the mines also gave work indirectly to woodsmen, coalmen, wood and charcoal traders, food traders, transporters, and many others.
Only from the second half of the 19th century the recruiting was limited in order to contain the company liabilities.

(G. Poloniato)

Municipality: Rivamonte Agordino (BL) | View on Map
Valle Imperina, inside melting furnaces
Valle Imperina, inside melting furnaces
(photo by Enrico Vettorazzo)
 
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