If in the visit of the town of San Giovanni Rotondo you can not disregard the places of San Pio da Pietrelcina which is inextricably linked, a different way to discover the history of the village is to head towards the mining village of Santa Barbara and the mining site of the bauxite mine.
In the tunnels of the bauxite mine
In fact, for a while now, it is possible to live a unique experience, unique in all of Puglia: wear the suit and descend into the depths of the earth to retrace the old tunnels and relive the workplaces of the miners accompanied by local speleologists.
The initiative was strongly supported by the Centro Studi Miniera di Bauxite di S. Giovanni Rotondo and its president Salvatore Mangiacotti who are fighting for the enhancement of this site of industrial archeology and its promotion at the tourism level. (Info for visits and booking:
Centro Studi Miniera di Bauxite di San Giovanni Rotondo).
Arriving you are immediately fascinated by the breathtaking landscape around Contrada Quadrone on which, among the bright red of the earth and the blue sky, stands a kind of huge rusty sculpture: the elevator that allowed miners to get off and material, bauxite, to climb.
When, until now, I thought of the mines, I always remembered a script that was on the air when I was very young and I do not remember the plot, but the gloomy and sad atmosphere of the protagonists’ life, the miners and their families. The script, entitled “And the stars are watching” based on the novel of the same name by Cronin, told the grame life of the British miners in the twenties of the twentieth century. A life, then, not very different, in hard work and full of risks, from that experienced by the miners of the bauxite mine in San Giovanni Rotondo.
But the mine for San Giovanni Rotondo was, for 34 years, from 1939 year of its opening to 1973 when it was finally closed, a source of income that allowed many families in the area to increase their prospects for life more comfortable than those who worked in the fields or taking care of the animals.
The bauxite mine of San Giovanni Rotondo, in fact, was the most important Italian field with six kilometers of tunnels on twenty-two levels and dug into the bowels of the earth up to almost 150 meters of depth. The deposit was discovered by chance by Giovanni Pompilio, a shepherd who emigrated to America where he was employed in the railways. The discoverer was not rewarded but was then awarded a certificate of merit of work and repaid with 500 Lire.
Thus began the story of the San Giovanni Rotondo mine. We are in 1939, work begins on the construction of the plant and a real working village, with offices and housing for off-site workers, for a total of 150 beds and a refectory for 100 people. A cinema, a conference room and a food store are also built. The extracted material was sent to the port of Manfredonia and then sent to Porto Marghera, where another factory of the company finished processing.
The first years of activity were very intense and unfortunately accompanied by the first deaths at work: in 1940 Matteo Siena and Matteo Notarangelo lost their lives within a few months. They were the first victims of a long series, which reached the number of 27 deaths until the time of final closure. Not to mention the many miners who fell ill with silicosis, gastric ulcer and other diseases typical of unhealthy work in the mine. The most serious incident took place on July 27, 1951, when during a violent flood three miners were overwhelmed.
Other sad moments for the country were those following the closure of the mine, when many to continue working were forced to emigrate to the North.
But why was it decided to close the mine? The intensification of the research of bauxite deposits in Italy in the thirties arose from the need to increase the national production of aluminum, mainly incentivized to replace materials of which it was poor, such as copper.
However, the climate created by the autarchic policy made the company make choices that a strategy dictated by exquisitely economic logic would probably have avoided. In short, the extraction had become uneconomical and from 1967 began the first layoffs, until in 1973, 31 of the 70 miners still employed by Montedison, spontaneously, occupied the mine: the national press called them buried alive making the whole Italy move . The occupation of the mine lasted 9 days, but the battle was useless, the mine closed and the last workers were transferred to the factories of the North.
Knowing the story has amplified the great emotion for us to be able to descend into the tunnels of the mine where it still seems to hear the dry and continuous noise of the picks on the rock between cramped spaces, dust, humidity, eight-hour work shifts, which covered the day and night.
It is difficult to imagine all this today, approaching the Villaggio Santa Barbara through a country lane shaded by tall eucalyptus trees that creeps into the plain and leads to a magical place re-emerged from the past to challenge the future thanks to the Placentino family, the Agriturismo Santa Barbara.
Donato with his wife Giuseppina Ercolino and his sons Michele and Gianluca, they have recovered the mining village turning it into a receptive structure in which the miners’ houses have been renovated without distorting the original forms and transformed into housing to allow guests to sleep in the middle of the countryside, in the same spaces once inhabited by tunnel workers.
While the restaurant was set up in the former canteen. Here Giuseppina offers traditional Gargano dishes with ingredients that come directly from the surrounding countryside where the family produces olive oil, cheese, milk, wine and breeds outdoors chickens, rabbits, calves and lambs, or from selected local farms.