Rio Tinto is a river flowing through the South of Spain opening to the Atlantic ocean at Huelva. I had wanted to visit it since long time ago. It is not just any river: it is especially acidic (pH2), it has a high content in heavy metals and as its name points out, it is red (“tinto”), due the iron dissolved in the water.
The Rio Tinto area has been a mining site since ancient times, and it is there that the British mining company, bearing that name, was founded in 1873, when some international investors bought the site to the Spanish government. The mining activity grew so much that at some time it was reported as the biggest mining site in the world (especially for copper).
The influence of the operation in the area reached every corner of life:
- The ancient village of Minas de Rio Tinto was brought down in order to exploit the underground below it and had to be displaced.
- A huge train system (over 300km of rails), only second to the national state train system, was built to bring metals to the port of Huelva.
- The British colony formed by the company workers and managers brought by the owners introduced all kinds of changes in the society: from religion to the introduction of several sports (football, tennis, polo, criquet…).
- The Mediterranean forest in the area was completely destroyed. Today, the a forest of pine trees, more resistant to the acidic conditions has been planted.
At first, several dozens of children were employed (about 50 under age 10!), salaries would be paid out in coupons to exchange for food from the company, work conditions were deplorable. Years later, partly due to the pressure of organized unions led the company to improve the standards of workers and to provide several social benefits. A major cornerstone was the strike that occurred in the first days of February of 1.888 which ended in the killing of over hundred demonstrators (“Año de los Tiros“).
In 1.955 the Spanish State bought back a majority stake of the operation to the Rio Tinto Company Ltd., which was kept ongoing for some decades, but today is closed.
Today, Rio Tinto has a very different interest, as it serves scientists from NASA to study the bacteria living in the extreme conditions of the river. This helps them in studying the plausibility of life in Mars under similar conditions.
The landscape is unique, striking. We took several pictures of it and I share some of them below:
The village has a wonderful mining museum, a train tour through the mining complex (11km route and back) along the river, a small mine can be visited (entering 200m into it) and a typical British house of the time is also open for tourism. It is a very interesting tour for a day (different packages starting from 10€; just ~60 km from Seville).