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The treasures of the Corbières

The land also provides building materials. On one of your hikes, you may well come across the remains of some ancient lime kiln or see the traces of former quarries. The Ferrals stone was frequently used (‘lightning stone’, window and door frames, etc.) but other types of stone, like marble, were locally extracted, as in Vignevieille, and used, for instance, to build the village fountains.

Who would think that, under the barren soil of the Corbières, so many unsuspected treasures lie sleeping, from Termenès to Tuchan : iron/ferre, copper/coire, silver/argent, antimony/antimony, black coal/carbon de tèrra, lead/plomb and baryte/barita, to name but these. The first signs of exploitation can be dated back to the days of the Romans. In Auriac, the Romans dug a great many galleries in search of gold, silver (using a combination of chisel and rock heating) and iron. The active phase of iron mining can be situated in the second half of the 1st Century BC. In the Middle Ages, there are but few traces of mining in written texts (about a dozen for the 12th Century). The mines were mainly in the hands of the lords of Termes (lien page du château de Termes site PTCM), and the Abbey of Lagrasse continued and intensified mining activities: silver, gold/aur and iron. Accounts say that the archbishop of Narbonne’s crown was made with silver from the mines of la Bousole, on the territory of Maisons.

In the Modern Era, the conflict between France and Spain appears to have diminished the mining activities. In 1660, Colbert appointed a Royal Clerk whose responsibility it was to list every mining site and draw up a precise description of each. Some of the sites were reactivated, for example the Ségure coal field, by the famous Marshall Vauban around 1678. At the same time as the State, the leading families of the Corbières also resumed their mining activities. From the Revolution onward, up till 1850, mining remained a secondary activity, even if the important exploitation companies continued their work and also studied any potentially interesting mineral resource.
With the development of the railroad, mining activities were industrialized and concessions were bought by important companies which provided the necessary techniques and funds. The “tramway” which linked the mining sites of the Hautes Corbières to the Lézignan railway station and further on, to the town of La Nouvelle, was an important source of hope for the industrial development of the Corbières. Unfortunately, the expected impetus failed to occur. From 1945 onward, only the Montgaillard baryte mines were still exploited, but lack of profitability caused the termination of their exploitation in the 1960s.