Before the Germans discovered that the lands around Monte Amiata were full of cinnabar (the mineral that mercury is made out of) Abbadia di San Salvatore was a quiet town where chestnuts and polenta offered the most exciting business opportunities. The quicksilver rush changed all this in a split second. All the men in the town were recruited and Paolo, our proud and extremely precious guide at the mining museum, started his mining career at only thirteen years old.
"Going down the shaft was the most difficult moment of the day; it’s when you leave all the beauty outside. At 150 metres down, the dark becomes so black you become part of it. At 400 metres the smoke, dust and heat make it hard to breathe. Then you finally arrive at that point where the air is ugly. Where the air is dead". We all take a deep breath and listen to this weathered man in sheer awe.
He accelerates his speech and, in a matter-of-fact tone, explains to us how the mines worked. Then he pauses and excuses himself. "You know, all these horrible things, losing your friends, landslides, floods, explosions in the mine". The deep scars come up to the surface, despite his efforts to keep them covered.