During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the iron and steel industry helped form the backbone of the industrial revolution in Bilbao and Biscay, its province, playing an important role in shaping the current Bilbao.
Much of what is now Bilbao is thanks to the hard work of thousands of miners that worked in the rich open-pit iron-ore mines in the mountains of Triano, known as the most wonderful hematite mountains in Europe, in the late 19th century.
The region was rich in iron ore. Of all the mining sites, “La Arboleda”, in the town of Trapagaran, is perhaps the largest and best-known mining settlement. It was founded in 1877 to house miners from all parts of Spain, whose social, cultural and economic conditions, even today, can be seen through its wooden houses and a stunning landscape dotted by lakes created at the site of the old mines which surrounded the town.
Those years were filled with much hardship. Men, women and children lived and worked under appalling conditions. They lived crammed in tiny wooden huts which were close to the mines they worked. They suffered many diseases and many died due to the harsh conditions. In fact, life expectancy was only 18 years at some point.
As a result of the poor living and working conditions, new ideologies and political movements came into existence, as mining was often at the centre of working-class discontent in the area. Anarchists, Socialists and Communists struggled for improvement of work conditions such as low pay and less working hours. It’s worth highlighting the role of Dolores Ibarruri, miner-right defender, or “La Pasionaria” as she was known.
In the fifties of the twentieth century, the veins were almost exhausted, and in 1963 stopped the export of iron ore, thus ending the mining activity.
Walking through this quaint small town is like stepping back in time. Miners no longer exist, but we can still find remains of this activity as the place still retains its look as a nineteenth century mining town.
Many of the original houses are still in use by some of the 300 residents who make their home here today.
Nowadays, many of the mining areas have been converted into leisure areas. For example, the open pits, known as Hostion, Parcocha and Blondis, are lakes today that enhance the landscape after years without mining activity. “Meatzalde Goikoa Parkea”, the park that surrounds the three lakes, has been turned into an open air museum with a sample of work from local Basque artists melting into the natural landscape.
La Arboleda is easily reachable from Bilbao, either by car (30 minute drive) or by train (20 minutes from Bilbao Abando Station – RENFE) to Trapagaran. From this town, take “La Reineta” funicular railway. This is another jewel in the mining area. It was opened in 1926 to communicate mining towns with Trapagaran.
Spending a day in the area is not only gaining insight in the mining history, but also enjoying other activities and attractions as hiking, playing golf, horseback riding, and above all, don’t miss the opportunity to eat red bean stew, usually prepared in a clay pot and served with chorizo sausage, blood sausage and a Rioja wine. It is a must!.
A visit to La Arboleda is a great way to combine culture, exercise and fresh air for all the family.
I’ll leave you here with some pictures from my last visit.