Puits Castan, 3 Le Château, 11600 Villanière.
15 km north of Carcassonne in the Montagne Noire massif.
|Light:||Incandescent Electric Light System|
|Guided tours:||self guided|
|Address:||Mine d'Or de Salsigne, Puits Castan, 3 Le Château, 11600 Villanière, Tel: +33-.|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|1873||first industrial mining.|
|1892||gold ore discovered by Louis Marius Esparseil, an iron mine operator from Carcassonne.|
The source rock of the mine is formed by only very weakly metamorphic sediments of the Palaeozoic. The Montagne Noire (Black Mountains) are the southernmost tip of the Massif Central, an orogeny, and have a complex structure caused by tectonic movements. There are two nappes, the Minervois nappe on top and the almost 500-metre-thick Fournes nappe below. Sandstones, limestones, and dolomites are from the Lower Cambrian (Georgian). In the Salsigne gold mine, nine hydrothermal events can be distinguished, which can be separated from each other by tectonic processes. The first four events were contemporaneous with the emplacement of the two nappes, solutions were channeled by ductile and ductile/brittle structures. First the deposition of arsenopyrite-pyrrhotine-gold associated with biotite, then overprinting with quartz-muscovite, then precipitation of massive sulphides (arsenopyrite-pyrrhotine-pyrite) and gold, associated with chlorite, and finally a general feldspatisation. The gold deposit already formed during the first event, all other events added numerous other minerals and elements to the mix. The subsequent five events are the result of brittle fracture tectonics, which partly reworked the existing structures. Silicification and the formation of quartz veins occurred. The energy of the hydrothermal convection most likely originated from late Variscan Magmatites.
In addition to gold, silver, arsenic, iron, copper, zinc, lead, sulphur and bismuth also occur in Salsigne. In the vicinity of Salsigne, the weakly metamorphic Cambrian strata are intersected by numerous quartz veins impregnated with sulphides, which carry the following minerals: Arsenopyrite (FeAsS), Pyrite (FeS2), Chalcopyrite (CuFeS2), pyrrhotite (Fe7S8), marcasite (FeS2), Galena (PbS), Sphalerite (ZnS), and Bismuthhinite (Bi2S3). In total more than 200 minerals can be found in the mine.
The Mine d'Or de Salsigne (Salsigne Gold Mine) has enormous fame in France, for being one of the few gold mines of France, but also the only gold mine where gold was mined underground with a shaft. And it is famous for being the most important gold mine in Western Europe during the second half of the 20th century. During its operation, it produced more than 120 tons of gold. And finally, it is infamous for being one of the major ecologic desasters of France, a whole valley which is contaminated by pathogens like cyanide, arsenic, and cadmium. In 2011, the Prefecture prohibited the marketing of vegetables produced in this valley, due to its contamination. Nevertheless, the locals eat their own produce. The runoff from the Orbiel and Aude valley slag heaps to the sea pollute the valley downstream. And it is even worse during the increasingly frequent major floods, like the one of 2018.
The mining related sites are quite young; the mine closed 2004, only two decades ago. Nevertheless, the mine has already been severely damaged, while the headframe still stands, the surrounding buildings have been demolished. On the other hand, nothing has been done to contain the pollution of the slag heaps. There is no show mine, not even a mining museum, and there is also no underground tour, but the site is definitely of great importance and well worth a visit. There is the headframe, a mining monument, and numerous outlooks into the huge open cast.
The area has limestone with karst caves and numerous different ore veins, the mining district covers about 200 km². Since Roman times iron, gold, copper, and lead were mined. Actually, the copper mining started already in prehistoric times. The Romans mined the iron-bearing minerals of the oxidation zone (iron hat) of the current open pit mine for more than three centuries. Alluvial gold in small amounts was known since Roman times and mentioned by Julius Caesar, but it was not of economic relevance. There were numerous times of mining during the Middle Ages in the area. In 1873 mining in area was intensified as a result of the industrial revolution.
The gold-bearing ore deposit at Salsigne was discovered in 1892 by Louis Marius Esparseil, an iron mine operator from Carcassonne. Mining began immediately, and the mine produced a total of 120 tons of gold and 300 tons of silver, in average 1 ton of gold and 2 tons of silver per year. At first the mine was operated by the Société des Mines et Produits Chimiques de Salsigne (SMPCS). In 1980, it was sold to the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières (BRGM). But the mine was operating with outdated technology and was plagued by many strikes, and so it was closed in 1991. A year later, the mine was bought by an Australian consortium consisting of Eltin Minerals Pty. Ltd (51%) and Orion Resources (49%). They modernized the mining, but nevertheless, there was massive pollution of the environment. Since 1999, the Languedoc-Roussillon environmental authority ADEME was working to dismantle the Combe du Saut plant because of the heavy contamination of the soil by arsenic and other heavy metals. That's the reason why the mine buildings were demolished immediately after the closure of the mine. Nevertheless, it was not possible to stop the pollution. While the responsible companies estimated that 3 tons of arsenic are carried annually by the Orbiel, the initiative founded by the residents estimates more than 8 tons per year. Residents have unacceptable amounts of arsenic, mercury and lead in their bodies, exceeding official standards.
According to estimates, about 30 to 40 tons of gold are still in the underground, but mining is not profitable anymore. This sounds strange, as the gold price went up massively since then, and probably a reopened mine would be profitable again. Nevertheless, the enormous pollution caused by the mine has been realized now; the reopening is rather unpopular at the moment. Unfortunately, the area does not have any documentation of the mining, like a mining museum, probably nothing to be proud of. But while several pages contains statements like this:
The largest French gold mine does not have a museum, no educational visits, no sale of minerals, gold or documents to tourists who love mineralogy... It is true that given the sinister aspect of this site which remains to be repaired, it is perhaps preferable to keep schoolchildren and tourists away.
We actually do not agree. We think the opposite is the case, if there is such a great danger, a good educational site which explains the problems to locals and visitors alike is even more important. To cite Lucy: ignorance brings chaos, not knowledge. That's the reason why we listed this place despite the lack of any tourist infrastructure.