The Monte Narba silver and lead mine, located in the Municipality of San Vito (Sardinia, Italy), is a symbol of the wealth of industrial and architectural heritage inherited from mining golden era. But it is equally emblematic of the inability to enhance or, at least, to protect historic valuable sites.
This situation is quite common for most of the buildings that form the Geopark of Sardinia. An institution only too often unable to protect its assets, due to a mixture of constant political and legal wrangling. Not even the Unesco recognition has stimulated visions and projects able to ensure a present and a future to such glorious chapter of Sardinia’s past.
The first mining concession in Monte Narba was given in 1822. But it was only in 1874 when it was granted to the Anonymous Society of Lanusei Mines, that Monte Narba silver and lead mine began operating at full speed. Coming in a few years to remove nearly 1,500 tonnes of minerals, and to employ more than 900 people, operating up to 500 metres deep in an area 18 kilometres long.
The end of the 19th century signalled the start of Monte Narba downward spiral, induced by the opening of new mines in South America and the general lowering of the silver value in the world market. The first decades of the 20th century were marked by several changes of ownership and promises of revival. The reality was a progressive reduction of activities until 1935 when the Montevecchio company finally gave up its concession.
Today visitors find an abandoned village, derelict but still capable of offering beautiful views and some glimpse of lost wealth. A jewel, hibernated for decades in its splendid isolation surrounded by the Sarrabus mountains, sentenced to death in 1935 by the mining halt and buried, almost entirely, by landslides caused by the floods of 1993 and 1999.
The village consisted of a hospital, housing for officers, employees, carpentry and smithery. Recent landslides have hidden a lot, but something can still be seen. Just like the Villa Madama’s amazing paintings. The residence of the director was decorated by an Austrian soldier detained in the mine during World War I, as remembered in the book “The silver mine of Monte Narba History and memories” (“La miniera d’argento di Monte Narba – Storia e ricordi”, 1999) written by Sergio Mezzolani and Andrea Simoncini.
While walking among the ruins, you stare at the buildings in awe. But also in disbelief for an inheritance so poorly guarded. An ancient beauty weakened by time, scarred by neglect and shortsightedness.
The love for the mine, however, remains. And it is tangible in the words and old pictures shared with the occasional visitor by the competent employees of San Vito’s Municipal Museum (“Museo della Via dell’Argento”).
Pride and romanticism counterbalanced by the discouragement of the town hall technical office officers, who explained with the lack of agreement with the current owners the inability to design any project of recovery or rejuvenation. Immobilism that ensures the progressive decay of a piece of history that deserved a very different fate.