The mines of Murlo
In the Crevole Valley, in the 19th century following the discovery in the area of an important lignite deposit, the Murlo Mine Village was founded. In addition to the excavated lignite, there were also semi-finished products, obtained from the raw materials in the surrounding area.
To facilitate the transport of the material, a 23-kilometer railway was implanted that could connect the mines with the Monte Antico station of the Siena-Grosseto railway. It was used in alternating phases, depending on the degree of exploitation of the deposit. The line was decommissioned in 1947.
The Mine Village is located in a flat position to enable it to be equipped with a railroad connecting to the markets and to ensure the daily service of the yards. Because of its high historical and cultural interest, a cognitive tour of the area takes about two hours starting from the beginning of the Village located one thousand two hundred meters from the Castle of Murlo and about one hundred meters lower.
Most of the original structures of the Village have been recovered for use as civilian dwellings while maintaining those essential features that still allow its identification today.
Following the experience gained at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878 (see Murlocultura 3/2016), the Murlo Mine thought it appropriate to also participate in the Italian Industrial Exposition held in Milan in1881, which despite not having the resonance of the previous one attracted all the attention of the Italian market. This was the first major event since the unification of Italy occurred comforted by the massive participation of exhibiting firms and visitors. Again, the Compagnie Française des Charbonnage de Pienza decided to be present in the hope of increasing the lignite trade by directing it to various market sectors. Consultation of a pamphlet kept at the Intronati Library in Siena and published on the occasion of the Milan Industrial Exposition contains interesting news in this regard that gives an idea of the situation of mining at that date.
Carboniferous Mines of Murlo, Province of Siena
Siena, Tipografia Sordo Muti 1881
Misc: Serv: C. 91- No. 23 (Bibl. Com. Siena)
Situation: The Carboniferous Mines of Murlo, owned by the French Company of Mines of Pienza, are located in the Community of Murlo (Siena) about 2 km from the town itself and can be accessed by carriage road. The mines are located in the lands owned by Messrs. Ferretti, Taddei, Petrucci and the Pieve di Murlo, however, up to now the excavation of the lignites has only extended to the lands of Messrs. Ferretti and Taddei in which, four sections are now open for operation; sections that were named in the order of their importance: Roma, Pratacci, Uzac and Torino.
Reservoir: The lignite deposit is located in the Lower Miocene. The lignite has altered Red Gabbro as its bed, and bigia clay (clay) as its roof. The strength of the stratum varies widely from 5 to 6 meters in Rome, decreasing to 2.5 meters in Turin, holding at 4 meters at the quarries known as Pratacci and Uzac. The slope varies equally according to the quarries: from about 45° at Rome, it drops to 15° at Pratacci passing through all the intermediates.
Nature: Murlo lignite is black in appearance, not very lustrous, giving chocolate brown powder when recently quarried. It contains no pyrites and consequently after combustion leaves white ashes without ever forming crusts which destroy the slats and prevent good combustion. The calorific value of Murlo lignite is about 3,600 calories. The ash content of 9 to 12 percent; and freshly excavated contains about 15 percent water and should be burned in that state.
Cultivation: Murlo lignites are excavated by open cut and in tunnels. They are transported in wagons carrying about 330 kg each on railroads about 3 km long having a gauge of 51 cm. The transport of the wagons is carried out in the tunnels by means of self-propelled inclined planes equipped with brakes and wire ropes, and externally by means of horses towing, depending on the sections, trains of 6 to 10 wagons. Arrived in this way at the station of Murlo, they are unloaded either directly into rail cars by means of hoppers at the head of which is a rocker moving plane; thus permitting unloading without maneuvering of any kind; or into warehouses if there is a shortage of railroad material. The transport equipment owned by the Company consists of 2 locomotives and wagons and can run on all railways in the kingdom with normal section. The Company owns a railway for private service with a length of 22 kilometers and 200 meters and goes to join the Strade Ferrate Romane at the Monte Antico Station using the same section on the length of about 1 kilometer and 300 meters. This railroad running in the valleys of the Ombrone and Crevole is economically laid out with curves of 150 meters radius and slopes of 24 per thousand maximum. Traffic runs in the downhill direction and trains can consist of 13 cars. It is equipped with telegraph wire and the Murlo office, connected with the Monte Antico office, has been open to the public since December 1, 1880. At the lignite warehouses in Murlo, there is implanted a machine shop intended to carry out the construction and repair of both mobile and fixed equipment owned by the Company itself, and a lignite mold factory is being implanted and will be put into operation in a few weeks. This is to more easily supply small consumers with small quantities even for domestic use while leaving the material with more debris and dust to large consumers with plants capable of being able to use it.
Production and Personnel: Production from the Murlo quarries is growing every year. From 2,000 tons in 1876, it reached 10,000 tons in 1880 and will always grow to the extent of the development of its material and means of transportation. The number of workers employed by the Company exceeds 150 and will grow greatly with the opening next June of the new quarries to be opened on the land owned by Mr. and Mrs. Petrucci at Olivello.
Cassa Soccorso e diversi: The workers release on their daily earnings 2 percent of their wages, by means of this release they are assured, the care of a specially appointed surgeon, medicines and a sum equal to half their daily wages for the time they remain ill. The Society is organizing to operate from April 1 next, a food pantry, in which the workers will be provided at cost price with the various kinds of food and usual clothing needed by them. It also owns buildings where it gives free of charge to elderly employees and workers, convenient lodging for them and their families.
Murlo-March 12, 1881 interests in every field, some of which, with prestigious names, are still in business today.
This explains the willingness to continue participating in such high-profile events with the conviction that they can enter the new Italian market.
Fig. 1. The medal dedicated to the 1881 National Exhibition in Milan, where the Murlo mines also participated.
A curious person who take an interest in the affairs of the Murlo Mine for the first time might assume that at that time the Compagnie Française des Charbonnage de Pienza was going through a period of relative tranquility and that its activities were aimed at consolidating its presence in the markets. Unfortunately, the reality was completely different, and despite every effort on the part of the mine management, the situation was progressively worsening.
The lengthening timeframe for the construction of the railroad had prevented it from taking advantage of the favorable moment that the market for hard coal offered when the deposit was discovered.
The Piedmontese investors had realized this early, abandoning the deal as soon as the opportunity arose, leaving the newcomers struggling with problems that were difficult to solve and, above all, without capital. Despite every attempt by the administrator, the situation would not change, although the latter would insist for a couple more years on working to save a business he had believed in to the point of sacrificing his family's established one. A lustre later a truly capable character will try to "right the ship" and almost succeed. But that is a story that will be good for a later time.
Excerpted from: Cultural Association - Mines of Murlo