The rocky south-west coast of Sardinia combines natural beauty and impressive industrial heritage.
A tunnel suspended between sky and sea approximately 600 metres long, dug out of the rock by the miners, appears halfway up a cliff, offering a breathtaking view of the captivating Pan di Zucchero sea stack, a 132-metre natural monument shaped over time. The mine of Porto Flavia, on the promontory that dominates Masua is within the Geological Mining Park of Sardinia, in the territory of Iglesias. This masterpiece of engineering was designed by the engineer Cesare Vecelli. It was built between 1922 and 1924, and made it possible to load minerals (lead and zinc) directly onto the ships, destined for the northern European foundries, drastically reducing time and cost of transportation.
It was a bold idea. Work began in 1923, with a team of expert miners and climbers brought in for the dangerous construction project. Using dynamite and mechanical drills, the workers managed to excavate two tunnels 600 meters long through the cliffs, one on top of the other. The top tunnel took ore by electric railway to nine silos 18 meters deep, which stored 10,000 tons ready for loading ships. while from the lower one, equipped with a conveyor belt, lead and zinc were loaded onto steamboats, thanks to a movable arm out over the waiting ships. Any cargo ship moored beneath it could be filled in a couple of days, reducing the production costs by about 70 percent. Up until that moment, minerals had been loaded by hand onto the galanze (sailing ships), it was a lengthy and costly process. Sailors had to come from the island harbor at Carloforte, about 15 miles to the south. Once they arrived on the beaches near Masua, they would load up their boats with ore before heading back to Carloforte. The return journey was slow and dangerous. Weighed down by ore, the small boats often sank, especially in stormy conditions. Adverse weather could hold up the flow of ore for weeks on end, and it could take more than a month to fully load the hold of a steamship waiting in Carloforte. Vecelli named the “port” after his daughter Flavia, whose name appears on the medieval-style tower at the entrance to the tunnel.
The beginning of the extraction activity dates back to the middle of the 19th century. At the end of the century, the mine was a great center of extraction activities, with over 700 workers. After a short slowing-down period, in 1922 the Belgian company of Vieille Montagne brought new impetus to the mine. Then the crisis of the 1930s continued on with its slow decline. The complex of Masua includes a mining village, a school, hospital, church, laboratories and houses surrounded by greenery located at different heights on the rocky slope.
Today you can visit the tunnels and the interesting Museum of Mining Machinery: inside it, there are about seventy machines, as well as mining tools and equipment. After the historical-industrial tour, you can relax on the little beach of Porto Flavia, which looks out onto the crystal-clear sea alongside the ruins of the mining facility, surrounded by a cool pine forest.