jueves, 29 de abril de 2021


Text and Photos : José Manuel Serrano Esparza 

Manuel Gómez Parra, a legendary miner of the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine in Cerro Muriano (Córdoba, Spain) kindly offered the following interview. 

Manuel Gómez Parra holding between his hands a large quartz with abundant and exceedingly beautiful octaedric and cubic fluorite crystals, drawn in 1986 from " El Chaparral " gallery in Cerro Vértice Mine (Cerro Muriano).

- Where were you born ?

Manuel Gómez Parra

I was born in Almodóvar del Río (Córdoba) on February 7, 1948. My parents were Antonio Gómez and Carmen Parra. 

- How old were you when you started being interested in mining?

Manuel Gómez Parra :

I began to feel passion for mining when I was eighteen years old. 

- When was your activity as a miner set in motion ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

It was in the lead mine at the Finca Cabeza Pedro, inside the Francés and Corchetillas pit, in Almodóvar del Río (Córdoba). 

Manuel Gómez Parra in front of the big quartz, granite and fluorite quarry of Cerro Vértice (Cerro Muriano) on April 10, 2021, twenty years after his last visit to the area. This great professional miner and excellent person worked in this zone, that he knows deeply, throughout eighteen years of his life, between 1971 and 1989. 

- Which was the origin of the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine in Cerro Muriano ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

During mid March of 1969 the eminent mining engineer Esteban Márquez Triguero found the " El Chaparral" fluorite vein in the area of Cerro Vértice (Cerro Muriano).

The tremendous knowledge and experience of the mythical prospector born in Torrecampo (Córdoba) on April 25, 1932 made possible the genesis in the zone of Cerro Vértice of an impressive seam that would turn within time into one of the most important fluorite deposits in the world. 

A further image of the large quartz with abundant and very nice octaedric and cubic fluorite crystals drawn in 1986 from " El Chaparral " gallery at the Cerro Vértice Mine in Cerro Muriano (Córdoba).

The finding was highly relevant, since fluorite is a very coveted mineral of hugely significant application as a flux in the iron and stainless-steel metallurgy, as well as being used as a source of fluoride and hydrofluoric acid, in the enamelling of ceramics, in the manufacture of some types of optical glasses, in the making of glass fiber, in the obtention of zinc and magnesium and even in the creation of the optical elements of top-notch quality binoculars like the Zeiss Victory FL, introduced in 2004 (which meant a turning point in the reduction of chromatic aberrations) and the Victory HT binoculars (also featuring fluorite lenses, and whose launching into market in 2012 brought about the genesis of a light transmission beyond 95% for the first time in history). 

In addition, it is an incredibly beautiful mineral, highly appreciated by collectors and presenting a wide range of colours in nature.

And the allurement of the different crystalline shapes and tonalities it can display is truly spectacular.

Esteban Márquez Triguero clearly grasped the huge potential of " El Chaparral " vein and sold the mining rights of Cerro Vértice area to the firm UNISUR, S.A for a million dollars. 

From scratch, UNISUR S.A was aware of the great profitability that both Cerro Vértice Quarry and " El Chaparral " steam could generate, in addition to spawning major possibilities of creation of a number of employments for people residing in the area. 

During 1970, Cerro Vértice area was a hive of groundwork, initial prospections, all kind of tests and so forth.

And in 1970 the exploitation of the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine began, particularly in its " El Chaparral " vein. 

- When did you join the work at the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

It was in October of 1971. I had been working at a lead mine in Almodóvar del Río (Córdoba) for many years.

In 1969 I earned roughly a salary of 4,000 pesetas a month, which was good for the time, but in early 1971 UNISUR S.A contacted me to explain the great mining project they wanted to fulfill at the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine, asking me to work for them.

They offered me a salary of 10,000 pesetas/month, more than double in comparison to what I earned at the lead mine in Almodóvar del Río, so I didn´t think it twice and arrived at Cerro Muriano in 1971 with my wife Teresa de los Ríos. 

Therefore, I have been living in this village, which I love with all of my being, for half a century. 

Twenty years after his last visit to the area of Cerro Vértice (Cerro Muriano) in the year 2000, Manuel Gómez Parra approaches to the entrance of one of the access galleries to the fluorite veins.

- Why did UNISUR S.A encourage you to join their project at the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine near Cerro Muriano ?

Manuel Gómez Parra

UNISUR S.A had leveraged an engineer and a facultative assistant of mine at Cerro Vértice since 1970, but they told me that they needed a highly experienced miner in the scope of inner mining through sublevels and calling the shots inside the galleries.

At the time being I had remarkable experience as a driller, blaster and organizer of working teams, so I probably fitted to the professional profile they were looking for, in which was also required a constant verification of security measures, among which was included not only the shoring, but also many more things like the perfect alignment of the guiding pipes and fixing them to the side walls whenever possible, without forgetting the periodic checking of air and oil leaks. 

The admired miner Manuel Gómez Parra near the entrance of one of the access galleries to the fluorite seams of Cerro Vértice Mine. Born in Almodóvar del Río (Córdoba) in 1948, he worked during sixties in a lead mine of his home town, until in 1971 UNISUR S.A, knowing his outstanding flair for mining as aell as his great experience, savvy and intuition inside the galleries, hired him for his Fluorite Mine at Cerro Vértice, where he made a raft of tasks at the highest level, becoming an indispensable man, to such an extent that the company decided in 1971 to rent the 300 m2 Cortijo Tres Puentes, near the mine, in order that Manuel Gómez Parra could live within it with his wife and children, being at every moment very near the galleries and fluorite veins, optimizing his key labour for the profitability of the mine. A humble man imbued with sound principles, the unselfish character of this veteran miner, always striving after helping and teaching his fellow professional miners, together with his very special sense of humor, made him win from the very beginning the affection and respect of the inhabitants of Cerro Muriano, a village in which he has been living for half a century. 

- Which were the different assignments made by you as a miner ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

Blasting, perforating, working with the spade, handle the locomotive to approach the wagons to the pit and many others. 

                                             Manuel Gómez Parra next to three huge quartzs in the area of Cerro Vértice (Cerro Muriano). 

- How many years did you work at the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine near Cerro Muriano? 

Manuel Gómez Parra : 

Eighteen years, from 1971 to 1989. 

- Have you always lived in Cerro Muriano ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

No, from 1971 to 1989 I was living in the Cortijo Tres Puentes, a stone old big house featuring 300 m2 and located near the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine, which was hired by UNISUR S.A to its owner Josefina de la Torre Escobar in order that I could be as near as possible to the galleries, so optimizing the supervision of many things. 

Besides, at very few meters of the cortijo was one of the stops of the two buses that UNISUR S.A had to transport both the mine workers of the different shifts and their children to the school : one coming from Córdoba and the other one from Espiel. 

This cortijo had its own way for car entrance, a water well and a small pigsty made with bricks.

It was a wonderful time. I lived in that large house with my wife and my sons and daughters for eighteen years, until in 1989 I moved with my family to Cerro Muriano, where I have lived since then. 

Manuel Gómez Parra walking across one of the access paths to the galleries of Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine, near Cerro Muriano. This historical miner knows each meter of the zone by heart and has preserved an unbridled enthusiasm on remembering his stage as a professional miner working here during seventies and eighties.

- Which was in your opinion the management relevance of the exploitation of the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine by UNISUR S.A ?

Manuel Gómez Parra

Manuel Gómez Parra holding between his hands a large size fabulous smoked quartz drawn from " El Chaparral " gallery of the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine (Cerro Muriano) in 1980. The lovers of geology know well the fascination generated by minerals, but also have in high esteem the hard work behind those so marvellous minerals, because the way of pulling them from the earth is risking life inside a mine, and as discerning collectors know, each mineral is utterly unique, in the same way as its breathtaking presence and elegance where the worlds of art and nature meet. 

Yes, that was always one of the most distinctive traits of this mine. Its smoked quartzs are fairly beautiful, as a consequence, among other factors, of the earth colour and the special clay of the area. 

Image of another smoked quartz drawn from " El Chaparral " gallery of the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine (Cerro Muriano) in 1982. The beauty of the smoked prisms in this stunningly beautiful mineral is truly impressive.

Quartz is the most abundant mineral in the zone. There are a lot of varieties of it : amethyst, milky, grey, reddish, smoked and so on.

Fluorite mostly pops up embedded in massive quartzs, many of which are very big.

It was always like that since the discovery of fluorspar ore in the Cerro Muriano district within " El Chaparral " and " Perseverancia " veins in 1969. 

Fluorite usually appears in the shape of cubic crystals on a smoked or milky matrix. 

- How were drillings made ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

Very carefully, because it was by far the most important toil to define the resources and reserves of the area.

Security measures were extreme, both in the perforations of pure extraction of fluorite mineral and the prospections, complemented by hydrogeological, geotechnical and economical viability studies.

In addition, it was necessary to have a deep knowledge and proficiency in the different methods of mineral drawing, ventilation and shoring, together with the handling of the mining tools, etc. 

Another image of the big quartz teeming with very nice octaedric and cubic fluorite crystals, extracted in 1986 from " El Chaparral " gallery at the Cerro Vértice Mine (Cerro Muriano). Fluorite is one of the most versatile minerals, with manifold applications including ceramics, glass, enamels, chemical industry, metallurgy (as a flux in the production of iron and stainless-steel, to remove impurities), and even optics at its highest level, since the quality of this mineral is so huge that it is used in the design and manufacture of first-class photographic lenses delivering very sharp images, like for example the well-known Canon L autofocus professional objectives for 24 x 36 mm format reflex digital cameras, getting advantage of the excellent transmission of infrared and ultraviolet light accomplished by the synthetic fluorite made by Canon (greatly emulating the properties of natural fluorite) included inside their optical elements, in synergy with its very low refractive index and low dispersion. That´s to say, vast majority of the white colour very big teleobjectives used by professional photographers in competitions like Champions League, Football World Cup, NBA, FIBA, Olympic Games, etc, boast fluorite optical elements ground with outstanding precision.

- What colour was the fluorite drawn from Cerro Vértice Mine ?

Manuel Gómez Parra

It was generally green or yellow, associated to massive quartzs, though they sometimes appeared with other tonalities.

- Were more minerals found apart from fluorite and quartz?

Manuel Gómez Parra

Yes, sometimes we came across barite, galena, chalcopyrite, iron oxides, manganese oxides and orthoclase in small crystals. 

- The galleries of Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine were always famous. Which are in your opinion its most defining virtues ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

They are very large and deep galleries in which a great number of fluorspar and quartz tons were drawn for many years. Inside them there are fluorite crystals within quartz geodites and also crystals with smoked prisms.

But since the end of the mine activity in 1989, there have been some cave-ins inside these galleries because of the proximity and expansion of the quarry, so it is very dangerous to go into them. 

Even, a young collector of minerals who went into one of the galleries of Cerro Vértice Mine died in 2008 as a consequence of a cave-in of rocks, and it was decided to close the access to these galleries.

Those galleries belong to the old exploitation of fluorite made by UNISUR S.A and in which I worked during eighteen years, so they haven´t anything to do with the open-cast quarry currently existing at a distance of approximately 900 meters from them. 

Another image of the big quartz with very nice octaedric and cubic fluorite crystals, extracted in 1986 from " El Chaparral " gallery at the Cerro Vértice Mine (Cerro Muriano). The beauty of fluorite is so impressive that there´s even a gorgeous American Fluorite Museum in Rosiclare, Illinois (United States). That´s why both the firms dealing with minerals and the mineral galleries have got dazzling fluorites in their collections, since this mineral species is usually the favourite one among worldwide enthusiast collectors within this enthralling domain, because it comes in almost every possible colour and the phenomenon of fluorescence is derived from the mineral fluorite. 

- How was made the extraction of fluorite mineral at Cerro Vértice Mine ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

It wasn´t an easy toil whatsoever, because the fluorite mineral appeared embedded in massive quartzs or granite, so we had to steadily prop up difficult side walls, shoring up each excavation or perforation with wooden beams or metallic frames to avoid risks.

After the drawing of both the fluorite mineralizations inside granite rocks and fluorite with quartz by means of blast holes (since the vein had a width between two and three meters, depending on the zone), the mineral was ground up in a coterminous plant and milled with a ball metallic grinder until it reached the exploitation washeries. The fluorite went up to top of the water after been mixed with some reactives, the gravimetric separation was then carried out and a floating circuit was developed in such a way that a CaF2 enrichment of 96,5 % was attained, until getting the final product, which was of very high quality and boasted a remarkable refractive power. 

Fifty or sixty wagons of mineral were drawn in each shift. 

- Which was the reason for the cease in activity of the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine in 1989 ?

Manuel Gómez Parra

During late eighties, new emerging countries in the fluorite sector like Canada, Mexico South Africa and China came in. 

The key chance of Cerro Vértice Mine was the reference-class quality of its fluorite and the handcrafted dynamics of many of its extraction stages and subsequent treatment of the mineral.

But these new rising actors in the scope of fluorite market had many more economical resources than us and could offer cheaper prices, so it was increasingly difficult for the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine to be able to compete.

Furthermore, the fluorite distribution network of the aforementioned countries was very powerful, since they had abundant cash-flow to invest and great staffs in different continents. 

But the fluorite quality of the Cerro Vértice (Cerro Muriano) Mine, particularly its famous and very pure seam " El Chaparral ", was always a world benchmark, in the same way as the unmatched beauty of its fluorites on quartz and smoked quartzs. 

And from a diachronic viewpoint, the also extraordinary fluorite geodes of La Collada and Berbes mines in Asturias must be highlighted. 

Moreover, Spain has usually been in the fifth place among the fluorite producing countries at an international level, and the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine always had great miners like Manuel Puerto García " Caracoles ", Manuel Durán Sánchez, El Zapatero de Espiel, Antonio Ortiz Ortiz, José Almansa and many others. Even, In Cerro Muriano we have got Rafael Obrero Jurado, who is a recognized and highly experienced facultative assistant of mine. 

- Which were the tools and mining gear used in the different galleries of Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

The most widespread tools were the pneumatic hammer drills manually used by miners and whose auger was hollow inside to take out the detritus it created, as well as including water to get rid of the dust.

Besides, we used jumbo heavy machinery (featuring hydraulic articulated arms and very useful to make holes enabling to introduce the explosives with which tunnels were excavated) requiring highly qualified workers, because during seventies and eighties when the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine reached its productive apex, there weren´t any computerized operating systems yet. 

- Which instruments did you use during your professional career as a miner? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

The pneumatic hammer drill, the mineral loading machine, the locomotive for the mineral wagons, the spades and many others. 

- How did you overcome the fear of death when being at so many hundred meters of depth inside the mine?

Manuel Gómez Parra

All jobs have got their risks to a greater or lesser extent.

When my working mates and me were inside the mine we din´t think about that, we weren´t aware of it. We simply tried to do our best. It all greatly boils down to attitude. 

It was a very hard physical work, in shifts of eight hours per day, and we tried to reduce risks as much as we could, constantly supervising security measures in every stage of perforation, shoring and extraction. 

But we deemed it as a one more trade. 

- Which were your working shifts at the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine near Cerro Muriano? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

There were three shifts, depending on the days : from 6:00 h to 14:00 h, from 14:00 to 22:00 h and from 22:00 h to 6:00 h.

Id est, some weeks I worked in the mornings and others in the afternoons and evenings or at night, though I was mostly in the morning shift. 

Manuel Gómez Parra with the miner´s helmet he used throughout seventies and eighties inside the Cerro Vértice Fluorite Mine (Cerro Muriano). Each mineral drawn from the mine often hides an impressive human and technological story, because mining involves the excavation of large amounts of waste rock to remove the desired mineral ore.

- Which has been in your viewpoint the significance of mining in the History of Mankind ? 

Manuel Gómez Parra

Mining has undoubtedly been a key factor in Mankind progress, to such an extent that without it we wouldn´t be able to understand the history of human being on earth as we know it, because from the most remote times the vast amount of mineral raw materials became something fundamental for the evolution of our species, with a steady search for new products that defined life in the most different societies, continents and epochs.

Therefore, it´s no wonder that presently, to name only some examples, the industry of ceramics, stainless-steel, copper, aluminium, a wide variety of ornamental objects, etc, have had their origin and development in mining. 

As a matter of fact, almost everything we use nowadays stems from minerals, even in the sphere of state-of-the-art digital technology, like for instance the high-end smartphones including the coveted coltan, a rock including two minerals : the columbite and the tantalite, combined in non definite proportions.

On the other hand, minerals obtained in mines like iron, manganese, selenium, calcium and others, are fundamental ingredients in human nutrition, so foodstuffs rich in them help strengthen the cells, fight against viruses and boost the immune system. 

And the unabated improvement of the mining technology has made that both modern society and economical markets greatly depend on the mining which provides the minerals. 

- In addition to your amazing professional trajectory as a professional miner, you have always very known in Cerro Muriano for your remarkable talent as a mechanic and in the field of electronics. Was this a parallel vocation to your miner´s soul ?

Manuel Gómez Parra

Yes, since my childhood I was fascinated by mechanics, the engines of cars and motorcycles and electricity. Little by little and in a self-taught way, I gleaned good knowledge that I could put into practice thanks to the confidence of the people from Cerro Muriano village and its surroundings, who trusted me and whom I am very grateful.