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Mine Exploration Forum

Author My first French mine - L'Argentière-la-Bessée silver mine
SimonRL

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Joined: 27/11/2005
Location: North Wales

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My first French mine - L'Argentière-la-Bessée silver mine
Posted: 22/07/2009 22:45:47
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L'Argentière-la-Bessée is a town in the Hautes Alpes region of the French Alps. It takes it name from the silver mine (Argent / Silver) located in a gorge just above town in the Fournel valley.

The mine has been worked since the 11th century and most productively in the 19th century. At its peak it was one of the most productive silver mines in France.

In the town are various exhibits hinting at the area's mining heritage. The local historical society is both active in pushing the exploration of the mine and in managing the visitor centre through which it offers a public tour of two levels of the mine.

Hence this report isn't so much a mine exploration as a mine tour.

The tour starts at the visitor centre with a 30 minute video (in French but with a basic understanding of French and mining techniques it was easy to get the gist). You then travel up to the mine for the underground tour.

It was interesting to see not only how similar techniques were but how similar the timelines were as well. From firesetting in the earliest workings to 19th century winding and pumping equipment.

The society have restored some buildings at the mine and these serve as kit store. After a demonstration of various mineral samples, and being issued with a helmet you head off underground.

I'd phoned ahead and asked if it would be possible to take photographs or whether this would interfere with the trip, and this was accommodated in a way that I can't imagine anywhere similar in the UK would. Basically, if the crazy English wishes to take photos then as long as he doesn't get lost it's OK with us!

The tour takes in two floors, and explanation of various artifacts as well as a practical demonstration of drilling. The guide took time out to point out (in English) the area where evidence of firesetting is visible and some very colourful secondary mineralisation.

The tour then descended down a metal staircase to the lower floor to view the 19th century waterwheel, pumping equipment and winding equipment before leaving via the deeper adit back into the gorge.

I understand recreational mine exploration is trickier in France due to access conditions to disused mine workings, but clearly there are active groups working with local historical societies, and in the case of L'Argentière-la-Bessée silver mine the result is an excellent and informative visit for any interested member of the public.

Some photos (not great I'm afraid, combination of electric lighting and torch made conditions tricky)

Full album here [web link]

View of the gorge



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View along a typical level



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Evidence of firesetting visible in this area



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Stacked deads in a worked out chamber



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Secondary mineralisation



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Flooded lower workings



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Underground waterwheel and pump rods



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Uphaul winding equipment



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Lower level adit portal



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Restored buildings



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IP: 81.79.251.61 Edited: 22/07/2009 22:48:48 by SimonRL
Moore Books: Specialist Books I.A. Recordings: Mining and Industrial History DVDs Starless River - Caving Store Explore a Disused Welsh Slate Mine
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