Elba Mineral Museum in Rio Marina

Rio Marina Mining Museum Elba Island

The Museum of Minerals of Elba in Rio Marina preserves an important collection of Elba samples of exceptional beauty inserted in an environment that recreates the blacksmiths’ workshop with original tools and materials found in abandoned mining sites. The reconstruction of the miner’s shelter and a gallery, all life-size and with real material, recovered in the mines abandoned for more than 20 years. The exhibition also includes photographic documentation on the old mines of Rio and Capoliveri and sculptures using the old mining tools. Guided tours of the Rio mine leave from the museum on established days and times: the ancient village of miners, the cavieries, the washery and the construction sites which for 100 years have seen the open-air industrial workings of Elban miners.

The unique colors of the Elba area rich in iron minerals

Rio Marina is the place on the Island of Elba with the greatest presence of minerals: Pyrite, Hematite, Limonite, this gives the area particular and unique colours, where the rock shines in the sunlight and you perceive a mineral contact its essence, the reddish color of the earth that becomes darker and darker together with the ocher yellow that stretches and sinks into a blue sea, where nature is stronger than the human activity that has consumed it over the course of 3 millennia of mineral extraction of Elba.

The museum tells the story of metallurgy with the extraction of minerals from Elba

The history of Elba metallurgy told in the heart of its mining district. Stories of men, iron, toil and work on the Island of Elba before its transformation into a tourist paradise.

Types of minerals exhibited in the museum and extracted on Elba

Hematite – The bloodstone

The name derives from the Greek aima = blood due to the very intense liver-red colored powder.

Hematite, a mineral that can be viewed at the Elba Mineral Museum in Rio Marina
Ematite, cristalli romboedrici, minerale dell’Isola d’Elba

The most common variety is a fine-grained hematite called red ochre, a mineral present in the Elba museum which contains about 70% iron and has been known and exploited since ancient times, both for iron extraction both for use as a pigment.

Hematite is used as an abrasive and for cleaning, but its main use is as a dye, as the colors offered by hematite and ferrous oxides are comparable, in terms of beauty and permanence over time, to those of synthetic products. Hematite falls into the category of minerals with suspected toxicity.

Limonite – The stone of painters

The name limonite is a generic term to indicate iron oxides and hydroxides. It is substantially a mixture of minerals and amorphous materials, forming earthy and stalactitic masses. It is often pseudomorphic on pyrite and other iron ores. The lack of cleavage and the color distinguish it from goethite. It has an earthy sheen and yellowish-brown stripe. The color is yellow, brown or blackish. It forms as a secondary mineral in the oxidation zone of pyrite and hematite deposits. It is also formed by precipitation in water. If heated in a closed container, it releases water; dissolves very slowly in acid.

Limonite, a mineral that can be viewed at the Elba Mineral Museum in Rio Marina
Limonite from the Island of Elba Rio Marina

Limonite is a secondary mineral, i.e. formed by alteration of other pre-existing minerals.

It is an iron ore that is not very important in modern iron and steel, as it is often polluted by phosphorus.

The earthy varieties (yellow ochre) have been used in the dye industry and still are; currently they are mainly used as modeling clays, as they are not caustic.

The origin of its name is relatively recent: used for the first time in 1832, it derives from the Greek leimon = marsh and indicated one of the places of genesis of this mineral, also called marsh iron.

Another term that is often used, also to generically define all iron hydroxides, is ocher. The powder has a yellow-brown color, which allows it to be easily distinguished from red ochre, an earthy variety of hematite.

Pyrite – Fool’s Gold

Pyrite is a mineral present in the “Valle Giove” mining site on Elba and visible in the Rio Marina museum. It is made up of iron disulphide FeS2, called the gold of fools due to its gold color and its brilliance capable of mislead enthusiasts and even experienced gold seekers.

Pyrite, a mineral that can be viewed at the Elba Mineral Museum in Rio Marina
Pirite, minerale di Rio Marina, Isola d’Elba

The differences with gold are many: pyrite, as a mineral, breaks down and is reduced to flakes, while gold, as a metal, can be bent if subjected to mechanical pressure; if heated, pyrite emits a mixture of sulphides with the typical smell of rotten eggs, while gold softens and melts; although pyrite appears shiny and of a color similar to brass, it has a lower specific gravity than gold and if rubbed on a rough table it leaves a black mark, while gold leaves a yellow mark.

This mineral, which takes its name from the Greek term pyros = fire, was once also used as flint. If you strike it with a piece of metal, in fact, the sparks emitted can also set fire to tinder or gunpowder.

Magnetite – Pliny’s magnet

Magnetite is the oldest known magnetic material: it was in fact already known to the ancient Greeks and takes its name from the city of Magnesia ad Sipylum, near Mount Sipilo, in Asia Minor, where it was found in large quantities. The term magnetism derives from the name of the mineral.

Magnetite, a mineral that can be viewed at the Elba Mineral Museum in Rio Marina
Magnetite from the Island of Elba

Magnetite is the iron ore extracted in the mines of Elba and exhibited in the museum, with the highest iron content that can be used industrially and with the most intense magnetic properties existing in nature.

It is a natural magnet, this is due to the transfer of electrons between the sites with bivalent iron and trivalent iron, an electric movement capable of generating a magnetic field.

The Mineral Extraction Yards of Elba

The museum organizes guided excursions to the open-cast mining areas which include visits to the main deposits of Rio Marina and Rio Albano: Bacino, Valle Giove, Falcacci and Conche .

Rio Marina where the museum of minerals of Elba and the mine are located
Rio Marina where the museum of minerals of Elba and the mine are located

Basin construction site

In this construction site, located north-west of the town of Rio Marina, industrial work began in 1860 with the extraction of hematite.
The accessory minerals are mainly pyrite and quartz. The Bacino extraction site is the closest to the museum where the minerals of Elba are exhibited (Palazzo del Burò), and can be easily reached on foot.
In the 1980s, when mining had already ceased, crystallizations of hematite were found so remarkable as to make the site known to mineral collectors from all over the world.

Valle Giove construction site

Located on the slopes of Monte Giove, it is the most recent construction site of the Rio Marina mine. Work began in the 1950s and ceased in the 1980s.
The mineral extracted was mainly hematite with accessory minerals such as adularia, calcite, epidote, fluorite, galena and quartz.
The site presents itself like a stepped amphitheater, in the typical aspect of open-air cultivation. The Museum, where the minerals of Elba are exhibited, organizes trips by train to reach the Valle Giove construction site.

Falcacci shipyard

It is located southwest of the Valle Giove construction site and was cultivated from the early nineteenth century until 1960.

The main minerals extracted were hematite and limonite, while the accessory ones include blende, malachite, galena, bismuthinite.

From a collecting point of view, the shipyard became famous for the samples of cubic pyrite. Today Falcacci is back in the limelight for the discovery in 2005 of a new mineralogical species, Riomarinaite which, as is evident, derives from the name of the town.

The Bacino, Valle Giove and Falcacci shipyards are part of the Rio Marina field.

Shipyard of the Conche

Laghetto Rosso mines of Rio Marina
Red lake of the Conche mines of Rio Marina

It was cultivated from 1940 to 1970 both in open air and in tunnels. The main minerals extracted were limonite and hematite, while the accessory ones were pyrite and siderite. Inside the deep open-air excavation, bordered to the east by a quartzite wall and to the west by dolomitic limestone, a red-brown lake with purplish reflections has formed, the waters of which are extremely rich in iron salts.

The site is part of the Rio Albano field.

Visit of the Elba mine by train

After visiting the mineralogical museum, you get on board the characteristic little train for a journey through the most important mining sites in Rio Marina. Along the way, after having observed the remains of buildings and equipment used in the past for mining, a stop is made in the suggestive construction site of Valle Giove, the largest of the mines on the island, to search for samples of pyrite and hematite from collect and store.

Meeting point at the Elba Mineral Museum, Rio Marina – Departure: Via Magenta n°26

Average duration: 2 hours

The deposit of Rio Marina, the oldest mine on the Island of Elba

The field covers a total area of ​​approximately 191 hectares. It consists of various construction sites located above the town towards N-NE. The cultivations, which began in the Etruscan-Roman period, lasted almost uninterruptedly until the industrial period.

In Rio Marina there are two types of mineralization which give rise to two deposits.
Rio Marina deposit: the most superficial deposit and known since ancient times. It consists of lenses, clusters and veins of minerals, within schistose-sandstone rocks, known under the name of verrucano.

Rio Marina Profondo deposit: discovered in the 1950s through boreholes. It consists of hematite and pyrite bodies associated with skarn silicates (rocks made up of calcium and iron silicates) and is found within Paleozoic schist rocks referable to an age greater than 250 ma

The mining area is very rich in minerals of secondary origin, i.e. products due to the interaction of the original minerals (pyrite) with the oxidizing and water-rich surface environment. The variously colored masses (from yellow to brown to reddish) of limonite prevail, a rock made up of iron hydroxides deriving mainly from the alteration of pyrite.

The most beautiful specimens of pyrite and hematite found on the island come from the Rio Marina field.

Rio Marina hematite is known all over the world: it is presented in beautiful crystals with a micaceous, lamellar or rhombohedral habitus, black in color and extremely shiny, or iridescent due to the presence of a superficial patina of alteration to iron hydroxides, the Pyrite is found in crystals mostly with dodecahedral pentagon shape.

The Rio Albano deposit, iron “wedges” in the rock

The Rio Albano field has a total area of ​​approximately 172 hectares and is developed in various yards located around Mount Caledozio.

The deposit is mostly made up of hematite and limonite (with pyrite) masses, often in the shape of wedges delimited by fault surfaces; there are also lenses and stratiform iron veins. The mineralization is hosted in rock formations of the Triassic age (200-250 ma) which take the name of Verrucano a Calcare Cavernoso.

Although less famous than the Rio Marina mine, the Rio Albano area was also the subject of intense cultivation, especially in the first half of the 1900s; some of the numerous construction sites, in fact, have been exploited until the useful iron ore is exhausted.

Main economic minerals: hematite, limonite.

Other iron minerals present: pyrite, magnetite.

Ganga: calcite, quarzo, epidoro.

Duration of cultivation: from the 19th century to 1979.

Type of cultivation: open air and in tunnels.

Amount of mineral extracted: estimated at around 6.5 million tons.

The history of mining on Elba

It seems that initially the Island of Elba was known for the extraction and processing of copper and only later for iron.

The Etruscans soon realized the riches that lay in the subsoil of Elba and began to extract, process and trade its minerals. Even the Greeks, rivals of the Etruscans, although they never conquered it, had set their sights on Elba which they called “Aithalìa” which means “Sooty”.

Perhaps it had been given this name because of the smoke that rose from the numerous ovens that burned the wood: in fact, very large quantities of coal were needed to extract the iron from the minerals and it was for this reason that already in past times people began to bring the material to be processed in Populonia, rich in woods for the production of the necessary timber.

Over the centuries the various sovereign administrations that governed the island continued to exploit its mineral resources.

In the early 1800s the French invaded Piombino and Elba and we know that Napoleon also wanted to build a blast furnace on the island, but there was not enough water and wood to feed a large production, which he even wanted to export to America!

However, this project saw the light in 1900 when blast furnaces were also built in Portoferraio. Many of our grandparents worked in the mines and it was a risky and poorly paid job because mines were used to open the passages in the rock and above all in the underground quarries the danger was that everything could collapse.

The dangers of mineral extraction from Elba

In the mines of Rio Marina the galleries were supported by wooden beams because the rock tended to crumble, while in the Ginevro mine we do not find them because the galleries were self-supporting.

The mines closed completely in 1981 after a great mobilization by the workers who opposed the closure: although it was hard work it was still their work.

Only the remains of the mining activity remain in the museums that collect its treasures and tell its story.

Text taken from the website of the Elba Mineral Museum in Rio Marina: www.parcominelba.it

Palazzo del Burò, is the building that houses the Museum of Minerals of Elba, is an eighteenth-century palace located in the historic center of Rio Marina, it was the headquarters of the Directorate of Mines and today it houses the museum of the Mining Park.

Elba Island Mining Park – Museum of Minerals and Mining Art, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, Rio Marina, Livorno, Tuscany, 57038, Italy

La storia dei giacimenti di ferro dell’Isola d’Elba coltivati da oltre 2000 anni dagli Etruschi e dai Romani

The Island of Elba has been famous since ancient times mainly for its iron deposits, known and cultivated for over 2000 years by the Etruscans, the Romans and numerous successive populations.

The Rio Marina area has been exploited since Etruscan times for mining purposes, due to the strong presence of pyrite, hematite and, to a lesser extent, limonite ore in the soil. Unlike the Capoliveri mines, the mines in the area surrounding Rio Marina are open-air.

In the Etruscan period, the minerals, after being extracted, were smelted on site, making columns of smoke visible right from the coast (precisely for this reason the Greeks called this island Aethalìa, which means precisely “smoky”); the minerals were also transported by sea to nearby Populonia to then be melted down in the furnaces.

The first documented settlements date back to around the 15th century: at that time the area was known as «Piaggia di Rio», and was the access point to the sea of ​​the nearby town of Rio nell’Elba.

Rio beach and the tower

In those periods, in fact, pirate raids drove the inhabitants to build villages on the hills: the only buildings present at the time were the tower (it appears as «Torre di Spiaggia» in a 1420 cartography attributed to Cristoforo Buondelmonti), the oratory of San Rocco and some service buildings. It is in the eighteenth century, when pirate raids are now a thing of the past, that the village begins to develop: some Ligurian and Corsican shipowners and sailors move to the Rio Marina and together with the guards, weighers, some fishermen and to other masters and sailors who came down from Rio nell’Elba, give rise to the first Piaggese community.

Rio Marina in 1799 has about 800 inhabitants

At the time of the French invasion of 1799, the town had about 800 inhabitants. It was in that period that the industrial exploitation of the iron mines began: new technologies were imported and new quarries were opened. In 1841, despite strong opposition from the parish of Rio nell’Elba, a bishop’s decree sanctioned the birth of the village parish, which would find its seat in the church of Santa Barbara. Parish dedicated to this saint since Rio Marina has been a mining town since ancient times and for this reason it has chosen her as its protector. It was not built immediately in the place where it is today, at the entrance to the village, but in its centre, where the town hall square is located, in the year 1843. That structure was short-lived, as since 1850 there were problems of static nature that advised in 1860 to abandon and demolish it. Only the bell tower remained standing until 1958.

ILVA and the mines of Rio Marina

At the turn of the 20th century, the town experienced a profound crisis, which ended when the ILVA company obtained possession of the entire production chain of the Rio mines, from extraction to transport. These were moments of prosperity for the country, but the working conditions in the mine were prohibitive: twelve-hour shifts in an unhealthy environment, with the poverty of the workers forcing even the elderly and women to work. In this period the new socialist and anarchist ideas arrived in Rio and in 1904 the local branch of the Italian Socialist Party was born.

In 1911 a hard struggle broke out between the workers and the managers of the mines, which ended with the crushing defeat of the proletariat and the dismissal of many workers. Nine years later, in the middle of the red two-year period, the occupation and self-management of the mines was even attempted but, despite the help of the socialist municipal council, this attempt also failed. With the advent of new technologies, the mines underwent a sharp downsizing, until their definitive closure in 1981.

Vigneria wharf, the last one for loading ore

As previously mentioned, (Rio Marina autonomous municipality from 1881 to 2017), it was in the past a center of fervent mining activity. There were two main construction sites: the Rio mine, located northwest of the town, and the Rio Albano located about four kilometers to the north. Also in the south of the town are the mines of Ortano, Terra Nera and Capo Bianco. In all mines there is a strong presence of hematite and, to a lesser extent, limonite. The presence of accessory minerals such as pyrite and other sulphides is also very high.

After the closure of the mines, mining gave way to tourist development, thus transforming Rio Marina into a thriving seaside resort. During a heavy storm (October 28, 2018), the last remaining of the seven piers also collapsed, known as the “Ponte di Vigneria“, for loading iron ore.

Samples visible at the Elba Mineral Museum in Rio Marina

360° View

Museum of Elba minerals


Island of Elba Mineral Museum and the Mining Park of Rio Marina

History: from extraction to the Elba Mineral Museum