Man and sulphur

The link between man and sulphur has ancient origins. Archeologists have hypothesised that the ancient romans, perhaps even the populations of the late Bronze Age, used sulphur to tan hides and bleach material. In the past, people from Perticara and the surrounding area collected the mineral that emerged from the banks of the Fanante stream. However, the discovery of gun powder started man’s adventure into the depths of the earth in the search of sulphureous rock. In fact, this is also suggested by the presence of mills used for the production of black powder in Novafeltria and Campiano di Talamello.

The first reports of some mining activity appeared in the 17th century and from the 18th century the ownership of the deposits in Perticara and Marazzana changed numerous times due to the development of new technology as well as recurring money problems. The Masi family, Count Giovanni Cisterni (who also established a sulphur refinery in Rimini), the Picard Society and the Public Limited Company of the Suphur Mines of Romagna and Trezza Albani succeeded one another, taking over the business of extracting sulphur. The first large pits were dug and the mine was constantly being deepened. In 1850, the first calcheroni, large smelting ovens, were built to separate the mineral from the rock, replacing obsolete systems and from 1880 the first Gill ovens were set up.

In 1917 the Montecatini Society bought the concession to mine the sulphur in Perticara at a very reduced price. Thus began the most important industry in the area employing thousands of men to dig tens of kilometres of galleries. The productive rhythm of mining extraction set up the lives of entire generations. In 1938 the plant at Perticara reached the peak of its extraction activity when it produced 50,000 tonnes of unrefined sulphur and employed over 1600 employees. In the years after the Second World War this peak slowly started to decline. Competitors from foreign countries using alternative methods to produce sulphur and at more reasonable prices, deposits slowly being exhausted of their yield, advances in technology and the ever more important interest that Montecatini had in the chemical sector would all lead to the dramatic closure of the Perticara Mine in 1964.

The mine today

The attraction of mystery, the subsoil, the rediscovery of local heritage, the desire to find the lost mine hidden under the town of Perticara again and its sudden closure in 1964 lead to the reopening of the Fanante decline in the 1980s. This enabled the organisation of speleological investigations dedicated to monitoring the subsoil in order to discover the stability of the mine with the hope of reopening it for tourist trips and scientific research. The dangers caused by numerous collapses and the lack of good airflow, which results in very low levels of oxygen and high levels of toxic gas, has limited the research to a few meters of gallery. The reopening of the mine still remains a distant hope but the advances in finding new methods of guaranteeing the security of the subsoil continue.

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