Mining and Railway Museum

The Royal Railway Carriage
The Royal Railway Carriage in the Rio Tinto Mining museum


Rio Tinto Mining and Railway Musuem

It's best to start off at the museum, for an introduction to the area and its rich cultural and geological history.


Housed in the former British hospital, the museum displays models, documents, rock samples, artefacts and actual machinery, tracing the long history of the Rio Tinto mines.


You can read information about the area's geological make-up, and see fragments of the various ore-rich rocks, such as the vivid blue chalcanthite (use to make copper), and the multicoloured iridescent goethite, known locally as golsan - golden sand, used as an iron ore.




Scale Landscape Models

Various scale models show the development of Rio Tinto (both the mines and the town) between 1892 and 1992, illustrating how the open-cast mines were expanded to meet demand, and the town grew to accommodate the English workforce. The largest mine is Corta Atalaya, a vast circular elliptical hole with many layers of "benches" (terraces) - at 1200m wide and 335m deep, it is one of the biggest mines in the world and once provided work for 12,000 miners.


Everything from Neothithic burial to Roman statues
Everything from Neothithic burial to Roman statues

Ancient Human Settlements

Local human settlements dating from the Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages are well explained and documented, with information about, and examples of, their corresponding metallurgical processes (bowls for crushing the minerals using stones), with a recreation of a 3rd century BC dolmen (burial mound), complete with bones. From the Roman period, you can see jewellery, coins, sarcophagi and beautiful pieces of glassware, as well as another tomb.


Museum artefacts
Museum artefacts

Roman Mine Reconstruction

One of the highlights of the museum is the reconstruction of a Roman mine. You walk down 250 metres of cold, dark, narrow, low-ceilinged passages (not for the claustrophobic), hear the dripping of the water and the clanking of the metal picks, and see models of the poor shackled slaves, who worked by the light of tiny oil lamps. The water-wheels (the original was found in nearby Cortalago mine) with their human operators, designed to drain water from the mines, are a testament to the impressive engineering skills of the Romans, as are the hydraulic screws.

Railway Museum

There is a restored steam engine and information about the extensive collection of rolling stock the company once maintained.  The other not-to-be-missed attraction (though little boys will love all the engines) is the Maharajah's carriage. This luxurious wood and leather coach was built in Birmingham in 1892 for a visit to India by Queen Victoria, but her trip was cancelled. It was sold to the mines and used for a visit by King Alfonso XIII in 1895. Take a look at the Royal Thrown. The most comprehensive book about Rio Tinto was named after her and is titled  "Not on Queen Victoria's Birthday" by David Avery in 1974.

Colonial life

Those interested in colonial life, and the social aspect of the mining community, should look out for black and white photographs (rooms 8 and 9) of various activities of the British inhabitants of Bella Vista, the British "colony" where the mine's engineers lived, as well as the paraphernalia of their day-to-day working and domestic lives. Old telephones and telegraph machines, weighing scales, miners' helmets and lamps; handwritten notebooks with accident statistics (working days lost, cost in pesetas, fatal/serious/light injury); photos of the company stores (workers were paid partly in food coupons), the embroidery workshop, which produced renowned items under the label "Alto de la Mesa", beach houses at Punta Umbria (some of which still remain), and various sporting events (tennis, polo, cricket, football), all captioned in English. Small, personal details such as these bring to life the British era of the mines.


There is a shop selling samples of many types of rock quartz seen in the museum, as well as a restaurant.