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Nel sito polacco www.touristic.com.pl, versione inglese, si trova il fascicolo della rivista mensile che ha pubblicato un articolo di Alfredo Frega sulla Miniera di salgemma di Lungro. Lo pubblichiamo integralmente.


Town-twinning based on tourist and cultural affinity - is it possible?

Polish WIELICZKA and Calabrian LUNGRO

towns with oldest salt mines in Europe

This is about an initiative by Antonio Conte – President of European Tourist Press Federation (FEST) - who has recently accompanied the mayor of the Italian town of Lungro on his visit to the salt mine in Wieliczka (Poland).


LUNGRO

The candidate of Calabria for the first Parliament of United Italy, in his address to voters, mentioned a possibility of mining the rock-salt deposits in Lungro (Cosenza province) as a major issue, convinced of the exceptional value of that mineral due to its flavour and clarity. Later, he awarded a high status to the hard-working miners and operators of the Italian salt mine that was as much valued and renowned as the mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia.

For the first time now, the mayor has visited the salt mine in Wieliczka, belonging to the world heritage, using the opportunity afforded by the granting of an international award for religious tourism to the town of Lungro by European Tourist Press Federation.

This initial “bridging” of both towns has laid foundations for a wide-scope cooperation related to the old, precious mineral - the rock-salt.
 

Lungro salt mine –  where is that? 

Just for our readers, we shall make a short trip to Calabria, a beautiful Mediterranean centre, ample with marine and mountainous landscapes, surrounded on three sides by a seacoast more than 800 km long. It is a repository of the first artefacts of civilisation and a scene of historic migrations and conquests that have enriched the history and culture of the region. It is in Calabria we find the town of LUNGRO, a small local centre situated on a high hill, inhabited by Albanians since times immemorial. In its neighbourhood (1.5 km away) there is a saline reservoir belonging to one of the oldest salt mines in Europe. The town dwellers still use old Albanian language and follow old customs, traditions and Byzantine catholic rites. (Lungro is the seat of the Byzantium metropolis.) Their ancestors arrived here from Albany in the second half of the 15th century as a result of Turkish occupation.
 

A glimpse of the mine’s history

Going back two thousand years we discover that Lungro rock-salt was known to Greek colonizers from Sibarys – a wealthy city in ancient Greece. It must have been known also to invaders from ancient Rome who came here next. At least this is what Pilinio, a natural historian, claims in his Natural History having visited Calabria as a prefect of a Roman fleet garrison stationed in Capo Misseno near Naples. A thousand years later, Lungro passed into the hands of count Ogerio del Vasato, prince of Bisignano and Altomonte. It is near Altomonte that the Lungro colony was located. In 1145 the vassal let the monks from neighbouring Acquaformosa use the salt deposits and in 1197 he extended that favour onto Basilian order monks from the Lungro monastery. They also obtained rights to the salt mine where local  people were allowed to continue mining. In 1486 first refugees arrived here from Albany. Accommodated by the abbot, they quickly found employment at the mine. Salt production became of interest to Normans who issued some salt trade regulations. In the year 1811, under Gioacchino Murat, these were supplemented with first technical and administrative regulations.  At that time first buildings were erected in the square and the first plan of the mine was drawn. Chronicles from that period say Murat himself opened the main building. He also took part in a wedding ceremony in keeping with Albanian tradition whereat he was fascinated by the Byzantine ceremonial and the valuable and gorgeous outfits of the women. The lucky newly-weds were granted a lifelong salary in the amount of eight carlins which was the currency at that time. The makeshift health and safety arrangements had not improved till 1825 when the first 81 meter high ventilation shaft was built.

 
The mine interior

The interior of the mine was closed in 1976 and entry is now prohibited for visitors. The pit’s mouth is sealed with concrete. Nobody knows for sure what may have happened to the mine’s galleries during the last 25 years or  so. Quite probably the sudden shutdown of the mine caused dilapidation of its tunnels – caving in and flooding. But this is only  speculation. The mine, although little known, equalled the most famous ones in the world due to its proportions. Using the west entrance people descended the winding galleries whose steps and ceilings had been hewn out in pure rock-salt or a clay-and-salt mixture. The mine’s characteristic feature was that the salt occurred here in great concentration in the form of a huge lens through which a countless number of tunnels were drilled at four different levels. To get to the last one, you had to walk more than 1200 steps hewn out in rock-salt. On the way you could see abandoned spacey mine faces and construction sites. The salt production area was very extensive, its vertical section was shaped like an irregular ellipsis and resembled a huge lens interspersed with clay layers and excavations going down more than 250 m. The drawing shaft that was opened in 1881 linked all the levels. The first one, located at a depth 77.75 m, was named “Via dei Plini” followed by “Speranza Terza” at 103 m, “Magliani” at 150 m, “Garibaldi” at 200 m and so on.  The mine had eight levels, the last one at a depth of more than 250 m. In its prime, the mine employed about 500 people altogether - workers, technicians and administrative staff. Till last days, the salt had been transported in killing conditions – on workers shoulders. The job was made lighter after a network of rails had been laid down for a set of cars, pulled by a locomotive, that were taken up in a makeshift lift. In old photographs, yellowed with age, the workers look like phantoms – stark naked, bathed in sweat, they descend into the mine’s depths getting lost in the labyrinths of silent, humid tunnels, walking hundreds of meters in poor light carrying heavy sacks filled with salt blocks on their backs.

Many people have visited the mine during the last 100 years: geologists from different universities, mineralogy experts, organized groups of tourists, e.g. from Italian Touring Club, as well as little parties guided by a group of workers and technicians who, on their days off, offered the guests nice handiworks made of pure salt. For the guests, a visit to the mine was evocative of Dante’s hell - a scenery that is austere and rough but somehow beautiful and long-remembered. Down there miners were isolated from the world and surrounded by salt on all sides.

 
Shutdown

The independent company Monopoli di Stato adopted a resolution on liquidating the Calabrian mine business  on the grounds that the salt deposits had been exhausted. This was challenged by the workers and all Lungro inhabitants due to the lack of proper and credible expertise. The shutdown was received with pain after many years of vicious struggle on the part of trade unions accompanied by strikes and a number of political initiatives. The mine’s history is linked to the history of Italian trade unions. First strikes in Calabria were in Lungro. The strikers were miners defending their workplaces and worker rights that were often ignored. In 1860, five hundred of those workers distinguished themselves as patriots fighting along Garibaldi’s soldiers in Vulturno for the country’s unification.  In the past, the mine was much written about. It was visited by writers and foreign travellers from Grand Tour. Many tourists would still like to visit it not knowing about its inglorious end. One way or another, it would be a pity if the living witnesses accounts relating to the mine were not recorded and preserved in the mine’s museum that should be established in the abandoned and ruined buildings that require immediate repair. The history of the town of Lungro in Calabria and of many generations, is closely connected with the mine from times immemorial.

Now when the Mayor of Calabria, Vicenzo Ianuzzi, has come to Poland on the occasion of Lungro receiving a European tourist award, he has become a great enthusiast of the Polish idea of introducing some transformations to the Wieliczka salt mine to make it more available to tourists. The Lungro municipality, together with Cosenza province and Calabrian authorities, have undertaken to estimate the historical and cultural heritage of the place at its proper value. Antonio Conte, President of European Tourist Press Federation (FEST) and a very good friend of Poland, has launched the idea of tourism-oriented town-twinning for places such as Lungro and Wieliczka in order to establish a broad cooperation in the field of tourism.


Alfredo Frega
Photo courtesy of FEST
 

   
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