Archaeology Cultural Landscapes Heritage Cities Industrial Heritage

Discovering a Mining Village at São Domingos Portugal

Sao Domingos Mines

A visit to the São Domingos mines in southern Portugal is a mix of interesting elements: the former company town celebrates the work of the old miners and displays how human action and industrial exploitation changed the incredible landscape.


Lying in the Iberian pyrite belt, the São Domingos mines are located in Mértola, Portugal. In 1854 Nicolau Biava and Juan Malbouisson discovered the mine. Around the site, they found remains of ancient Roman and Islamic mining operations such as shafts and galleries. Then, together with other shareholders, they created a company called La Sabina, with the purpose of exploring the Portuguese mines. After a concession from the Portuguese government in 1858, the company granted the exploration of the mine to a British company, Mason & Barron. The Company built the town and everything necessary for miners to stay in Mértola.

A Company Town in Southern Portugal


“São Domingos is a remarkable example of a company town. Its social-spatial organization made it the most developed mining area in southern Portugal in the nineteenth century.”

In the old town, there were houses for miners and their families, houses for owners, a sports club, hospital, market, church, cinema and school. All have a typical architecture. The cinema showed three films a week and all the proceeds from admission went to destitute miners. In the sports centre, there were five football, cricket and tennis teams for the miners to compete against each other.

Typical architecture of the village.

One of the streets inside the residential area with the small houses and the church.

Cross Brown Football Club for the miner’s entertainment.

Old Medical X-Ray Equipment of the miner’s Hospital

For Every Door Home, an Entire Family.

Beginning in 2004, a project to reconstruct the site began. The Serrão Martins project launched an effort to reconstruct some of the miners’ homes. Pieces of the old miners’ houses picked from the trash, or donated by local families made their way into the museum exhibition. Old photos, home utensils and furniture sets the scene. However, mining equipment is also in the house. Gasometers, or the flashlights that miners used in the mines hang on the walls. They work with a carbide stone that was a calcareous stone, which in contact with the water creates a gas, and that was what made the light.

Home utensils: grinder grains and kettle.

Conditions in the houses were crowded. Everyone in the family slept in the same room. Sometimes parents and children had to sleep in the same bed. Most of the miner’s houses also don’t have windows, only doors. Roofs were made of natural fiber, facilitating air circulation. Behind every door, an entire family lived and worked.

Miner’s House with domestic utensils. Everyone in the family slept in the same room.

Recovering the Memory of the Place


Memories from the mining heritage in southern Portugal.

At the Miner’s House — Center of documentation, it is possible to look back and understand a miner’s life. The Serrão Martins foundation collected oral histories of the last miners, preserving the memory of the town. They did workshops and interviews to record the testimonials of the community, motivating people to talk about themselves and build their memory. For instance, rats were a miner’s best friends because they prevented the miners from a landslide or a slip into the mine. While many of the miners have already died, some of their grandchildren still live in the town. The Serrão Martins Foundation also recovered the cinema to make an inventory. Inside the cinema, it’s possible to find pieces of all social circles in the mining city.

Technical Environment in a Mining Landscape


Informative flyer with the mine’s map.

To maintain the structure of the mine, the mining company had an electric power station. It initially burned coal, then cheap gas and fuel. It was the first one built in the Alentejo region. Beside the power station, there were the ore docks, for ore unloading and separation. There the bundles of minerals were pulled by steel cables until unloaded on the trains. The transport was by train. After passing through the docks, the miner was taken to Moitinha and crushed.

Then, the crushed ore went to a smelter in Achada do Gamo, with the cooper cementation tanks. There were still some railway facilities, such as the Telheiro station, the Salgueiros station, which served as a place for maintenance of railway equipment until the final station of the route at Pomarão. Furthermore, Tapada Grande was the old water reservoir that provided clean water to the complex. In the summer, tourists and locals come to enjoy the fascinating landscape from the shore of the Tapada Grande.


Power Plant, the first built in Alentejo region.

Ore Dock — Here was the old dock for ore unloading and separation.

Exploitation pit with the advice “Attention: contaminated water!”

Old Constructions in the border of Chança River

Mineral rocks in the Chança River.

Going to São Domingos mines is also recognise how the landscape is affected by the exploitation for industrial purposes. Mining operations caused the soil to get very acidic, but some plant species thrive in it. The particular ecosystem, born by the centuries of works and changes in the natural landscape.

In Portugal, there’s a project to routes of mining places here and plan your next visit to discover the landscape and their outstanding industrial heritage.


Take a look at the video and let’s go with me discover the place!


Photos and Video: Anna Karla Almeida

Special thanks to the Fundação Serrão Martins.


  1. Vouffo Bergenie

    Article très intéressant Anna. Bravo

  2. Natália Gonçalves

    Seems amazing, Anna! Nice pics and video! 🙂

  3. Thioub Magueye

    Un article très intéressant qui nous montre comment les innovations techniques ont changé le paysage. Merci Anna félicitations et bonne continuation.

    • Anna Karla

      Cher Thioub, merci pour ton commentaire! Sur le terrain, la technique dans l’environnement est changeant de tout l’écosystème autours, un vrai paysage d’innovation, et parfois, de destrution.

  4. Very interesting! Great job!!!

  5. Thank you for this portrait of a mining company town.
    1. What is the main mineral that was mined?
    2. What is the Portuguese word for gasometer, and is it also used to describe bigger things than lamps?

    • Anna Karla Almeida

      Dear Mark, thank for your questions!
      1. The mineral exploited in São Domingos Mines were the pyrite, copper and sulphur concentrates;
      2. For me, it was a surprise. In fact, I know gasometer as the building, not the object. But she’s a specialist in the objects of this mine, and the old miners called it this way.

  6. mariana martinho

    I love to discover wonders from my country!
    It is fascinating how heritage is unlimited and there is always something to discover next to us.
    Thank you for showing me this place, I will definitely go there.

    • Anna Karla Almeida

      Dear Mariana!
      Portugal power yeah! Happy that you like it!
      We have a lot of things to share in unlimited sectors of heritage! big hugs

      • mariana martinho

        Hi Anna,
        I wanted to let you know that I visited this place last week and it is indeed beautiful! I was only able to do a walking route and it was not possible to enter any private space. However, I shared the knowledge from your article with the ones that were with me and it was very interesting! Thank you!

        • Anna Karla Almeida

          Ah really!? Maybe because it was an excursion of the Industrial Heritage course of the Universidade de Evora. I’m happy that they liked it! And I hope that next time this amazing place could be able to be all visited! Hugs!

  7. Michael Swift

    Thanks for putting this on record. I organised a visit to see the railway system on 6th June 1963 when we saw the mining operations and port at Pomerao, and were entertained to dinner at the company guest house – a memorable experience. It was, however, a long, hot dusty drive from our previous visit at Rio Tinto.

    • Anna Karla Almeida

      Thanks, Joao, the CEMSD have great work and the digital collection of the Mines.

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