Château St Jean, 10 rue du château, 05120 L'Argentière-la-Bessée.
All year Mon-Sat 9-12, 14-17.
Mine Tour: APR to MAY after appointment.
JUN to AUG daily 9-17.
SEP tp OCT after appointment.
Adults EUR 16, Children (6-16) EUR 11.
|Light:||helmets and headlamps provided.|
L=800 m, VR=80 m.
D=2 h, 1 h underground, 20 min museum, 40 min access.
The silver mines of the Fournel valley,
Service culturel municipal de l'Argentière-la-Bessée,
Éditions du Fournel, 2002.
|Address:||Le musée des mines et les mines d'argent du Fournel, Château St Jean, 10 rue du château, 05120 L'Argentière-la-Bessée, Tel: 0492-230294. E-mail:|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.
|1991||multidisciplinary study of the mining site started.|
|1992||start of archaeological excavations on the surface.|
|1992||opened to the public.|
The veins are quartz veins in quartzite, oriented northeast to southwest, slanted about 15° to 40°, and located between 1,050 m and 1,700 m asl. They are between 50 cm and 8 m thick, on average about 1.50 m. Actually, not the whole band contained silver, only a base layer of 50 cm to 1.50m contained the ore. There were a few exceptions, where ores 13 m thick were discovered, with variation in facies like galena, ore breccia, or barren quarz and baryte.
The main ore is silver galena, galena or lead sulphide containing 2‰ of silver. Other ores are pyrite, azurite and malachite.
The mines d'argent du Fournel (silver mines of Fournel) are located in the Vallon du Fournel (Fournel valley), close to the village l'Argentière-la-Bessée which was actually named l'Argentière after its silver mines. The mines are an archaeological site which is excavated, the results are on display in the Musée de la Mine (mining museum) in the Château Saint-Jean. Actually it is located in the former stables, an eighteenth century building which was restored and is now on the Supplementary Inventory of Historical Monuments. The museum houses exhibitions on geology, especially the genesis of hydrothermal veins, metamorphism, and the formation of the Alps. There are two possible visits: the self-guided visit to the museum, which is available for individual tourists, and the mine tour, which is only possible for groups after appointment.
The mines may be visited all year round, with exceptions according to the weather. The mines are located right in the gorge, and access is difficult with much snow or after heavy rain. The underground tour takes one hour plus 20 minutes for the museum and 40 minutes to reach the mine, so the whole visit takes about two hours. The drive to the mine may be done with private cars or mini buses, but coaches cannot access the mine. The underground tour is limited to 18 participants.
The mining of the valuable ores at Fornel started during the Middle Ages. There are old adits originating from the 10th to 14th century. They show the old mining methods like extraction by fire, using adits for water drainage and for air ventilation. The ore was extensively mined during the 19th century, when some 20 km of tunnels were dug. There are numerous remains of this period above ground, like grinding machines, purification plants and other buildings needed to preprocess the ore. There is also a hotel at the bottom of the gorge which uses the former house of the director. Nearby are blacksmith and other workshops.