An unusual landscape halfway between Alghero and Stintino: abandoned mines and an (almost) uninhabited village framed by silver cliffs and lapped by the shimmering reflections of the sea. Argentiera retains the primordial and mysterious charm of a place frozen in time. After the end of the mining epic between the 19th and 20th centuries, today it is one of the most significant and evocative European sites of industrial archaeology, an integral part of Sardinia's geo-mineral park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ruins coexist with new buildings, all around sheer rock faces, mountains of mining slag and coves accessible by paths through unspoilt nature. A spectacular setting, the 1968 set for the opening scene of Boom!, starring Betty Taylor and Richard Burton, which is now a hiking destination.
A hamlet of Sassari, 43 kilometres away, Argentiera has been the scene of environmental regeneration and urban redevelopment, becoming an innovative open-air museum in 2019. After travelling along State Road 291 and Provincial Road 18, you will find yourself in the central square of the village, which at its peak had two thousand inhabitants. Today a few dozen live there all year round. A seaside resort that is never crowded, even in summer, where silence and a magnetic atmosphere reign.
The name comes from the ore extracted and the colour of the rocks (‘argento’ means ‘silver’ in Italian). Together with nearby Canaglia, it was the main metal producing district in northern Sardinia, thanks to rich deposits of lead and silver-bearing zinc, known since ancient times. The Roman proconsuls began extracting ore from the Argentiera cove, followed by the Pisans in the Middle Ages. At the beginning of the 19th century, various speculators were attracted to the area, including Honoré de Balzac, who undertook an adventurous and fruitless exploration in 1838. Two years later the mine was officially opened, although operations began in 1867 and lasted exactly a century. A history studded with collapses and accidents, due to erosion. There are legends attached to the misfortunes: some claim to have seen human shadows or evanescent figures and heard metallic sounds coming from the depths, as if the souls of miners buried alive were wandering in the tunnels.
The first concession was given to the noblewoman Angela Tola. Despite ample resources, the running costs were unsustainable, so it was inevitable that the company was sold to the Compagnia Generale delle Miniere, which brought considerable development. It employed 400 workers, whose huts upstream are older than the settlement that developed near the sea. At the end of the 19th century, Baron Podestà's Correboi company gave it a further boost: the tunnels were extended and equipped with tracks, a new wharf was built and a shaft was dug: for the first time it was possible to mine below sea level, down to -333 metres. In the meantime, living conditions improved and the community was provided with an infirmary, nursery, guesthouse and shop. At the beginning of the 20th century, Cala Onano was built above Porto Palmas, and was described as an exemplary workers' village by the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into Mining in the Giolitti period. Then it was handed over to the Pertusola company, which added a cinema, an after-work club, the director's new residence, the church of Santa Barbara and the large pitch-pine wood washery, one of the most unique mining monuments. After World War II, the number of residents peaked, the La Plata district was born, but production began to falter. A 20-year crisis led to the cessation of operations in 1964 and the closure of the plant three years later.
The well and washery have recently been cleared and restored, and facilities and buildings secured. A flight of steps descends from the church along illuminated terraces dotted with oases of Mediterranean plants. At the end of the steps, an open space hosts a literary festival every year at the end of July. Continuing the redevelopment work is the Open MAR, the first open-air mining museum, with a route through houses and plants where you can admire installations that can be used digitally.