The Irugurutzeta furnaces

Location and environment

The Irugurutzeta furnacesAiako Harria boasts the oldest geological substratum in the Basque Country. The Aiako Harria granite batholith is the result of the cooling of the incandescent magma which rose up to the Earth's crust more than 250 million years ago. Later, transformations in the composition of the rocky materials prompted the appearance of diverse minerals (silver, zinc, iron, etc.).

The minerals of Aiako Harria have been mined by humans since Roman times, although this activity reached its height in the mountains of Irun at the beginning of the 20th century. Iron carbonate was first extracted from the Mezuri, Meagorri, Aitzondo and Basakaitz galleries and then burned in the Irugurutzeta furnaces in order to convert it into oxide, thus increasing its assay value. Nowadays, the Irun Local Council is fully committed to restoring this part of its cultural heritage by promoting the furnace and highlighting its value to local inhabitants and visitors alike.

A simple tour around the area or the town itself uncovers a wealth of traces of this age-old activity. Of the material evidence that has survived down the centuries, one key element is the collection of calcination furnaces at Irugurutzeta, located in the Meaka neighbourhood at the foot of the impressive Aitzondo gorge in the Aiako Harria Nature Reserve.

Mining in Aiako Harria dates back to Roman times, and more recently, constituted an important source of income for the region and had a strong influence on the life and people of Irun.

Iron mineral (iron carbonate) was transported from the mines (Meazuri, Meagorri, Aitzon-do, Basakaitz) to the furnaces by means of a rail convoy of tipping cars or an aerial cable system of vats.

The calcination process was used to transform the iron carbonate into oxide, thus improving its assay value. For fuel, 30 kg of coal per tonne of carbonate was added, with the furnace being loaded in alternate layers. Despite the different types of furnaces found in Irugurutzeta (circular, square, stone, brick, etc.), all fulfil the same function and have the same characteristics: an enormous calcination chamber with top loading and bottom unloading.

Restoration

For a number of years now the Irun Local Council has been working to restore this collection of furnaces, considered by experts to be one of the best examples of industrial archaeology in our region. The final part of the restoration project is now underway, and includes the renovation of the industrial ruins themselves and the preparation of the site for cultural and tourist visits. This phase also includes the Irun Green Train, which currently offers provisional guided tours of the site. These tasks have required a large investment by the local administrations and institutions, but we are certain that all the effort will prove worthwhile, and will enable us to disseminate knowledge and ensure the enjoyment of both our fellow inhabitants and visitors to our region.

Irugurutzeta mining region visitors’ centre

The Irugurutzeta Mining Region Visitors’ Centre, located in what is currently the silo-warehouse, will provide an audio-visual explanation of the mining activities carried out in Irugurutzeta in order to provide a more detailed account of Irun's mining history.

The centre will also serve as the starting point for the visit to the furnaces, in order to ensure that visitors gain a full understanding of the industrial process involved in their working. Furthermore, a raised walkway over the Irugurutzeta irrigation channel leads to a mining gallery where visitors can see a recreation of the mineral extraction process. For the more adventurous, the route can be extended all the way along the narrow valley to the Aiztondo mining reserve and Meatxipieta gorge. Today, this route is signposted as a Sendero Local (SL) hiking path by the Aiako Harria Nature Reserve and Gipuzkoa Mountain Federation.

Oficinas

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