Abirpothi

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100 Feet Below Sea Level: Campina de Cima Salt Mine Reveals New Exhibition Space

In the depths beneath the historic city of Loulé in Portugal lies a hidden gem: Campina de Cima, the rock salt mine, which has long served as a vital source of salt for animal feed and road de-icing. However, in recent years, this subterranean labyrinth has emerged as more than just an industrial site. With its vast network of tunnels spanning approximately 25 miles, Campina de Cima has opened its doors to the public, offering guided tours that look into its rich history and geological wonders.

A New Frontier: From Mining to Art

February 17 marked a significant milestone for Campina de Cima as it unveiled its newest incarnation: an exhibition space nestled within the salt galleries. The inaugural exhibition, titled ‘Ocean: Sea is Life,’ showcases the works of artists from the Portuguese David Melgueiro Association, dedicated to advocating for ocean conservation and cleanup efforts. The association’s mission aligns with Campina de Cima’s commitment to environmental stewardship, as reflected in their joint endeavour to raise awareness about marine preservation.

'Ocean: Sea is Life' installation view (2024). Photo by Techsalt.
Ocean: Sea is Life’ installation view (2024). Courtesy: Techsalt

Exploring the Depths: Portugal’s Deepest Tourist Site

Situated approximately 754 feet beneath Loulé and nearly 100 feet below sea level, Campina de Cima stands as Portugal’s deepest tourist destination. Visitors embarking on guided tours are treated to a unique underground experience, immersing themselves in the ancient salt formations that date back a staggering 230 million years. Amidst the salt-laden tunnels, remnants of mining machinery and artefacts offer insights into the mine’s operational history.

Honoring Saint Barbara: Patron Saint of Miners

Central to Campina de Cima’s narrative is the veneration of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of miners. Legend has it that Barbara, a Christian martyr of the 4th century, sought refuge underground to escape persecution by her pagan father. Her tale resonates deeply with those working in hazardous occupations, prompting the tradition of establishing shrines in her honor underground. The mine’s permanent exhibition, ‘Saint Barbara, Patron Saint of Miners and Other Arts,’ pays homage to her legacy and features one of the world’s largest collections of artifacts depicting her story.

Artistic Endeavors Underground

Campina de Cima’s transformation into an artistic hub was catalyzed by initiatives spearheaded by TechSalt SA, the management company overseeing the mine’s operations. The convergence of art and geology was first showcased in 2022 with an exhibition featuring the works of German painter Klaus Zylla, who drew inspiration from Saint Barbara’s narrative during his residency in the Algarve region. TechSalt SA envisions the mine as a cultural beacon within the Algarvensis Geopark, aspiring to UNESCO recognition by integrating earth sciences, mining heritage, and art into its endeavors.

Forging Ahead: A Vision for Innovation

As Campina de Cima embraces its newfound identity as a cultural landmark, TechSalt SA remains steadfast in its mission to explore and commercialise the mine’s rock salt resources while promoting innovation and education. Through innovative reuse of mining spaces and collaboration with artistic and scientific communities, the mine endeavours to enrich the cultural fabric of the region and ignite a deeper appreciation for Earth sciences and industrial heritage. In the heart of Loulé, beneath the bustling streets, lies a world waiting to be discovered. Campina de Cima salt mine stands not only as a testament to Portugal’s geological legacy but also as a testament to the transformative power of art and innovation in unexpected places.

Feature Image: Ocean: Sea is Life Exhibition at Campina de Cima Mine, via Mina Sal Gema Loulé

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