1. Contenuto della pagina
  2. Menu principale di navigazione
  3. Menu di sezione
Cosa visitare

Contenuto della pagina

Discover the area

The mines of Formignano


Formignano (circa 8 Km. da Cesena)
Miniere Romagna


Formignano mining site is part of the 2nd biggest sulphur deposit in Italy (after Sicily), located today across the boundary between two regions, Romagna and Marche. The sulphur mining activity in the area has been going onsince Roman time until the 20th century and involved several mines now in two different regions and several borough boundaries.
Formignano mine is the best preserved one in Romagna, as it was the last one to be closed down in the region. Since antiquity sulphur, known as brimstone, 'the stone that burns', has been used in small quantities for a variety of purposes: colorant, bleaching agent for fabrics, incense in religious rites, insecticide in agriculture, ingredient of medicines and healing remedies, part of gum mastic to glue.
The Romans in particular used it in combination with other substances in incendiary weapons and fireworks, as it happened in China and India. In Romagna the first few evidences of sulphur activity refer back indeed to Roman time and are constituted by place-names clearly linked with sulphur. It was presumably a small scale activity.
In the 14th century the demand of sulphur in Europe increased rapidly as essential component of gunpowder, imported from Eastern Asia and used widely for war and civil uses. Several sulphur pits were worked out and gunpowder mills appeared near the mines. Written evidences of this activity in Romagna became more consistent from the 15-16th century onwards: among all a Papal Bull stating the State's ownership on the underground and defining the conditions of a mine's activity. Documents don't give a comprehensive overview of the activity, but it is evident from them that mining and refining activity took place in several localities and was established as a productive economic source of the area. The first detailed account of the activity in the area is dated 1676 by science scholar L.F. Marsili who recorded his visit in Romagna, listing and locating all the active mines and giving a description of the pits and of the method to extract sulphur from its ore through 'olle', fire-resistant terracotta vessels.
In 1759 the local writer Vincenzo Masini published a poem called Il zolfo, in which methods of extraction, locations of pits and production were described in verses and long explanatory footnotes - as it was usual in the 18th century Italian literature- with the help of detailed drawings. Notwithstanding what it seems a huge activity, important legislation appears only in 1796. From this date the license to mine has to be requested to the Prefect of the Province of Forlì. Through its archive it is thus possible to follow the development of the activity in the area. At the end of the 18th century sulphur started to be employed to make sulphuric acid, one of the most important base chemicals of the 'chemical revolution', being required in ever-increasing quantities. Indeed its rate of consumption may be regarded as one of the measures of the commercial and industrial prosperity of a nation (Leblanc soda process and bleach making depended on it, as did many numerous subsequent developments; in the 2nd half of the 19th century it was largely employed against a common disease in agriculture.). Its production boomed accordingly to the increasing importance of chemical products in society. Besides the chemical industry, the frequent wars in Europe in this century (Italy in particular was in the process of political unification) demanded constant supply of sulphur for weapons. The sulphur production took over in Italy from the middle of the 19th century and Italy played a leading role in the world production: Sicily accounted for the 75% of world production and Romagna - Marche area for the 5%, being thus the 1st and 2nd world producers. Exportation was directed to European countries as France, United Kingdom, Germany and United States. The activity boomed in Romagna-Marche and impacted the local economy, mainly based on agriculture: at the beginning of the 19th century there were approx 135 sulphur pits in the whole area. The high demand of sulphur attracted many entrepreneurs and, in Sicily and Romagna as well, the sulphur industry was seen as the new industry to invest in: a real 'sulphur rush' that moved initially local landowners, then, due to the high amount of money required, joint stock companies often with foreign investors, initially from France and, after 1870, from the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the constant ups and downs of sulphur prices on the market led to a succession of periods of optimistic overproduction and sudden dismissal of mines that were flourishing the previous year. Moreover, the mine companies were characterized by difficulties and bad management that led many of them to close down and to some financially disastrous ends. The main problem for Romagna-Marche mines was the competition with Sicilian sulphur, that was quite cheaper on the national and international market: - Sicily's sulphur deposits were richer in size and quantity; - excavation in Sicily was easier, often with the open air system, while in Romagna-Marche the veins were scattered, thin, deep and inserted between layers of fragile mineral that made the excavation time -consuming and expensive; - the wage average was lower for Sicilian miners, many of which were underpaid children; - Sicily sulphur was exported raw and thus there were no costs for refinery; - in Sicily transport costs by sea were much lower than in Romagna, where the lack of communication's infrastructures influenced the selling price. Romagna producers decided therefore to invest in the quality of the product and to export it refined, to attract new markets and to be able to compete with Sicilian sulphur. While Italy was under the process of political unification, in 1865, the first national body ('Consiglio e Corpo Reale delle Miniere') was created to control the mining industry and with the aim of giving a unique legislative framework to the newly unified country where a huge variety of local regulations and rules remained as remnants of the previous different political reigns. Local offices to control the activity and new schools to educate skilled technicians were set up (as with investors, technical staff working in the mines came initially from France and UK). Sulphur industry was one of the main economic asset of the new state and it needed an adequate attention. Several rules remained active and had different impact on the mining industry in Sicily and Romagna. According to the principle informing the legislation in Romagna since 1500, the landowner has legal rights on the surface ground, while the underground is property of the State, who has the right to license its use.
In contrast to what happened in Sicily, in Romagna this legislation favoured the concentration of capital and mining sites and the establishment of big companies capable of keeping updated with the modernization of working techniques and methods. A unique legislation, adopting this principle on the entire national territory, was actually achieved only in 1927. In 1870, the majority of Romagna mines was indeed in the hands of two main groups: the 'Società anonima delle miniere di zolfo di Romagna', and the 'Natale Dell'Amore & C.' firm.
Another important firm was the 'Cesena Sulphur Company ltd', with headquarters in London. Along with the increasing demand of sulphur by the chemical industry, many countries tried to step up their national production, researching new sulphur veins and cheaper working techniques.
World-wide competition was difficult to keep up with for Italy and the Italian sulphur mining industry underwent several critical periods as in the beginning of the 20th century, when the employment of Frasch process, a newly completed and more economical technique of extracting sulphur, led to an irreversible shift in the world market. Frasch process was suitable to large consistent sulphur basins as in Texas and Louisiana, that could dispose also of huge quantity of water and low-cost fuel.
In 1912 the United States became the first world suppliers with 788.000 tons, exceeding for the first time the Italian supply. The quality of the product and the need of less workers in the Frasch process made possible to lower the sulphur price, thus making quite difficult for the Italian suppliers to keep up.
In 1917 during the I World War, one of the main Italian chemical enterprise, Montecatini, decided to devote itself to sulphur, whose demand was increased by the war, and acquired all the Romagna- Marche mines; in a few years Montecatini closed down all of them but for two, Perticara and Formignano. The American sulphur would have meant in the long run the end of the Italian sulphur industry, but between the World Wars the sulphur industry was among those favoured by the protection policy operated by the Fascist government.
In Romagna the years 1938-1940 had indeed an average production between 122.000 and 111.000 tons of sulphur. They accounted for the 30% of national production, the maximum ever realized.
After the II World War, the free competition with the American market was unsustainable for the Italian producers. The major mines stayed open as long as 1980 in Sicily and until 1962-64 in Romagna, but with variable results. Technology development in sulphur extraction enabled new sulphur deposits to be worked and new sources for its production. Today the history of sulphur continues in other countries: United States, Canada, Japan, France, Poland, Norway, South America, Indonesia and Philippines.  



tel. 0547 372342 (Quartiere Borello)

on reservation

Free entry



Turismo Made in Cesena