the illusion of Put yourself in the shoes of one of the miners who in the 19th century lived the gold rush in the surroundings of Minas de Corrales, in the north of Uruguay, is the true reward for tourists who, more and more, come to an area as rich in stones as it is in history.
Usually described as a “gently undulating” peneplain, postcards of cows and sheep grazing in green meadows abound in the geogrhy of Uruguay; However, in the department (province) of Rivera, to the northeast, a set of flat hills announces the wealth that lies below.
It is that it is there where, as the owner of the Posada del Minero and in charge of the tour “the Gold Route” Edelweiss Oliver, told the EFE Agency, by the 1820swhen current Uruguay was the Cisplatina Province -occupied by Portugal-, a man finds gold nuggets that he secretly keeps in a jar at home.
“One day they steal it and as a result of that theft the ball begins to spread that there is gold there. The whole world begins to find out (…) and the gold fever begins to come. It begins to populate with adventurersfrom people who have nothing to lose where they are and decide to try their luck,” Oliver narrates.
Explained to the visitors during the tour, the anecdote of the find begins a long history of gold mining that, details the local historian Selva Chirico, can be divided into several stages.
According to Chirico, the documents indicate that until 1850 there is a “primal” exploitation“closely linked to the inefficiency of those who do not know what they are doing” and then “artisans proliferate” and “a culture of artisanal sampling” arises in which they “bat” in the stream to extract “small sparkles” from the sand ” of gold.
Some 16 years later, he describes, a “crucial” character pears, Clemente Barrial Posada, who employs 300 workers in the area of the Corrales and Cuniru streams and it gives the kick for the industrialization of mining that, with the help of the militarism that ruled in Uruguay, was consolidated when a group of Frenchmen installed a plant there.
The ruins of Cuniru
Strategically located in the waters of the Cuniru -‘skinny woman’ in Guarani-, in 1879 the Gauls ordered the construction of the Cuniru Dam, which, Oliver points out, was “the first hydroelectric dam in all of South America”.
Today, as part of the Gold Route, a tour allows you to see its ruins, which range from the area where the workers rested to the management house, which was once inhabited by the Marquis de Malherbe and which is accessed by a picturesque staircase. of stone.
“The French contributed something very important that was management and technologywhich goes far beyond the famous dam, because for example they installed a railway that people called the Clotilde, which consisted of two locomotives powered by compressed air, which was a very fashionable technology in Paris”, explains the historian.
In the area of the plant, to which stones arrive in a short period from the nearby San Gregorio mine in a 12-kilometre railway whose towers remain, modern machines can be seen, since the First World War marked the end of French activity and just in 1935 The National Administration of Electric Power Plants and Transmissions (UTE) and current owner of the property resumed the activity for five years.
Chirico, who despite being retired still investigates history with a focus on the role of women, who, she says, also participated in mining, It also highlights that in 1880 there was a strike planned by 200 Italian workers and repressed “by force of Remington (arms)” by order of the French management but which was distinguished by its duration, of several months.
With an annual average number of visitors of around 6,000Oliver points out that the Gold Route has more and more influx, especially Europeans arriving from Germany, France and England or Brazilians, an audience that they are aiming at hand in hand with the launch of the joint promotion of Uruguay and Brazil “Binacional Destination “.
The experiences, he says, are varied, because a search for gold is offered with a ‘garimpeiro’ or prospectortry regional wines or walk through the hills of an area that, he reveals, has been seeking to become a Unesco Geopark for some time, like the one that already exists in Grutas del Palacio (downtown).
“We can go underground, in the ancient underground galleries and really realize what it was like to work in there and how hard life must have been for the miners at that time, if we are lucky someone will tell us out there inside of whom we are not going to discard (reveal) much”, he highlights.
However, he emphasizes that progress is slow, since it is only now in sight that the authorities can prove a project that would guarantee the safety of tourists when touring the area and the provision of preserve the ruins and nature of the area.
“There is (in Cuniru) a very large and very important colony of bats at the level of preservation and thus another lot of layers and stories. Conservation is a very important part that tourism contributes to these types of sites, it turns them into something more than a lot of bricks”, he rounds off.