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A visit to the Rock Salt in Loule

A visit to the Rock Salt in Loule
In the center of Loulé, in a residential street we are surprised by a rock salt mine that has been exploited since 1963.
Discreet in appearance, all we see on the surface are two elevator shafts. One used for people, the other roughly 2 km away to bring the salt to the surface.
In 2019 the mine opened doors to tourism.
The exploration is done at a depth of 230 meters. To access the mine, we are equipped with a yellow vest, helmet and miner’s light. Not because the mine is not light in the visitable part, but for safety reasons. We are invited to enter a rudimentary elevator with capacity for 4/5 people, built manually for the purpose at the beginning of the exploration, and it takes about 3 minutes to go down to the gallery.
Already inside we realize that we have effectively arrived at a living exploration of what nature has to offer us. A dark workplace, we hear the intense noise of the air ducts that recycle air at this depth, we smell the oil from the vehicles that are used to transport and extract salt, we see all the high-voltage electrical wiring and realize that in addition to the miners, it is essential to have mechanics and electricians working down there.
Before we enter the first room, the office, our guide alerts us to the need to circulate together. There are more than 45 km of labyrinthine galleries where we can easily get lost if we don’t keep up with the group. She also shows us that all the walls and floors we see are salt. 93% mixed with other ores, such as gypsum, clay and limestone.
At 230 meters deep, and 30 meters below sea level, they have built an office, where they have the map of the 45 km of galleries and a wire phone to communicate with the surface . Over the years they have done several prospections and realized that there are more levels below where salt can be extracted. So they started a second salt exploration floor 30 meters below this level. However, this floor has been inactive for several years now. The transport elevators do not reach level 2, and it is not profitable at this time to explore this level while there is area to explore on the first level.
The main gallery of the mine, which defines its boundaries between east and west, is 4 km long. This is the length where there is salt. From there, they found gypsum.
This salt has a rocky appearance, brownish in color, due to its mixture with the other ores. Given its density, over 90%, it is not allowed for human consumption, so it is used fundamentally for roads and for animal consumption.
Initially the mine worked 24 hours a day. They used explosives to open the galleries. They would drill small holes where they would insert the explosives and during the night, they would blow up this area. The salt would fall in large blocks of “rock”, which was then loaded onto trucks and taken to be crushed.
It’s interesting to see that all the machinery they have inside the mine at a depth of 230 meters, namely trucks, tractors, brush cutters, etc., had to be disassembled at the surface and reassembled by the mechanics already inside the mine, because the only way to access the mine is through elevator shafts that we also go down. Whenever there is a need to send a machine down, the elevators, which were once built by the mine team, have to be dismantled to send the parts down by cables.
To work in a mine it is not easy! But it became easier in 1989 when they stopped using explosives and started using only brush cutters to extract the salt.
Since then, the number of miners has been reduced and the brush cutters are equipped to remove the salt from the walls and deliver as final product. Then the truck picks it up and takes the salt to storage or to pit 2 where there are completely enclosed elevators to transport the salt to the surface.
In the past this mine extracted more than 80,000 tons of salt annually. Nowadays it works only by order and removes approximately 10,000 tons of salt per year, not because there is no need for salt anymore, but because it has become very expensive to send salt by land to the Nordic countries.
The sightseeing tour is about 1.5km into the mine and takes approximately 2 hours from check in to check out.
It is possible to take photos inside and even bring back a little salt as a souvenir.
If you’re in the borough of Loulé, this is a visit we recommend, along with the walks at Fonte na Benémola and Rocha da Pena.
Try to support local tourism and promote sustainable tourism!

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