Mines of Monte Loreto
Comune di Castiglione Chiavarese: via Antonio Canzio, 26 - 16030 Castiglione Chiavarese (GE)
Telefono: 0185 40 80 16
Fax: 0185 40 85 22
Miniere di Monte Loreto Miniere di Monte Loreto Miniere di Monte Loreto Miniere di Monte Loreto

Castiglione Chiavarese, the last eastern town in the province of Genoa, is positioned between the green hills and valleys of the first hinterland.  It is a town made up of many small hamlets, ancient villages showing deep and clear traces of the activity of man in close contact with nature.

It is a land of agriculture and woods, parishes and carugi, and ancient caverns used from prehistoric times.  It is also, however, a land of excavations, mines and hard work, just like many other places in Liguria.

In Monte Loreto, a hamlet of Masso, there is some evidence of man’s life and work over an extraordinarily large span of time.  The evidence is mining, for a long time fundamental in the economic panorama of the area, represented by two prehistoric mining sites and a 19th century mine.

With the Development of the natural and cultural resources of Liguria project (Level 4 of the ROP ERDF 2007-2013) the aim is to complete an archaeological-mining museum complex by continuing the preparation of the rooms of a building and making some connected historic-cultural emergencies usable.

It is an intervention that will be part of a wide ranging project, tied to the historical and museum realities of the area.  It is a project for reading the local “cultural landscape" with the signs of human activity, starting from prehistory.  In addition to the Monte Loreto site, the caves of Frascarese, a sepulchral site and living area from the Copper Age, and the discoveries of S. Nicolao, from the Neolithic Age through the Late Antique Age to the Middle Ages, well represented by the Ospitale di S. Nicolao, must not be forgotten.

A little bit of history

The whole area of Monte Loreto is a site where copper has been extracted since ancient times, especially from when metal started being worked: the Copper Age (around 3600 BC).
These caves are the oldest copper mines in Western Europe.

Active for more than two millenniums from the start of the 4th millennium BC, the mines started being used again in the Late Antique period, after a period of inactivity. They were also exploited in the modern era (17th century), and then, lastly, starting from the mid-19th century until the first decades of the 20th century. During the second half of the 19th century, the Monte Loreto mines also produced a significant quantity of gold (about 10% of the national production for several years).
A gold nugget weighing more than 800 grams was extracted from one of these mines, and for several years was the biggest nugget ever found in Italy.
The site has been the centre of six archaeological excavations carried out by the Office for Archaeological Heritage and the Archaeology Department of Nottingham University; it has turned out to be one of the most scientifically interesting areas in Europe, also for its substantial archaeological integrity.

The intervention

The emergencies are in a very large area. There are trenches and extraction wells from the prehistoric period that are intersected, but not cancelled, by a thick weave of tunnels and wells from the 19th century. Late-antique structures for melting the minerals can still be seen.

The site is divided into three sections: the first shows evidence of prehistoric mining activities with trenches, wells and fissures that are several metres deep, intersected by tunnels from the industrial period; the second shows the prehistoric and late-antique use of mines, with working surfaces and trodden surfaces highlighted; the third is a mine from the 19th century that extends for several hundred metres into the rock basalt, showing digging rooms, connecting wells and test tunnels.

The intervention aims at restoring the nature of, and also cleaning, the external sites and the pathways. They will in addition be made safe, to make the area completely usable.

The building that will become the exhibition centre represents the explanatory tool, the key for reading the archaeological museum complex. It is a building of about 270 square metres wide that has already been renovated for these purposes, with adjacent properties already prepared for equipment and furnishings.

The different tunnels and excavation areas are in a state of decay because of negligence, atmospheric and natural agents, and as such they cannot be used. The 19th century tunnel has been in a state of decay since work stopped in it (about 100 years) and cannot be used. This is why the bottom has to be repaired, and a lighting system installed, why the entry stretches to the wells have to be made safe and explanatory signs have to be installed.

The exhibition areas will be prepared in the rooms of the building by placing display cases, caskets, display stands, panels and by creating settings.


The whole area of the high Val Petronio is full of historical and archaeological evidence which, along with the museum linked to the Monte Loreto caves, create a unique route that follows human history in these valleys.

In the Frascarese area there are two grottoes, a rare example of eastern Ligurian karst, that have been used by men since the prehistoric age: the “Grotta delle Prima Ciappa” was used as a tomb about 4500 years ago, and the “Grotta delle Fate” was a sepulchral site, but also a living area from the Middle Age.

On Monte San Nicolao, instead, an excavation campaign has identified the presence of a Roman hospitale, used throughout the whole Middle Ages, which hosted pilgrims and wayfarers until 1590, when it was destroyed by a fire. The building, which can be dated back to the 12th and 13th centuries, is cross-shaped, with three circular apses in the horizontal arm, next to the little church that completed the building, the original layout of which can still be seen.

This hospitale was quite well-known and used during the Middle Ages because it was on a “strada Romea”, a crucial connecting point between Liguria, Emilia and Lunigiana. It could be reached from Piacenza and Parma through the Centro Croci crossing or from Sestri Levante through the Bracco ridge. Travellers could then continue along the “via Francigena” which, passing through Luni and Lucca, continued toward Rome.


Continuing along B road 523 of Cento Croci in the province of La Spezia, you enter Val di Vara whose chief town is Varese Ligure, one of the most beautiful Italian villages, awarded the Orange Flag (Bandiera Arancione) by the Touring Club.

Built on a wide green valley, the small town is positioned around a lovely “borgo rotondo” (round hamlet), a complex that was urban and defensive at the same time; it is tightly closed around the very central square, piazza Fieschi, which was given this name to honour the powerful local feudatories who, from 1161, established their power over the area. The hamlet ends at Varese castle, proof of its importance during the Middle Ages.

A speciality of Varese Ligure is the great attention paid to the quality and authenticity of the agriculture and rearing: characteristics that have turned Val di Vara into a true Valle del Biologico (Biological Valley). Waste segregation and using clean energy, healthy air and food, a large network of trails, with great welcoming and accommodation capacity make Varese Ligure and its valley a desired and sought-after destination in the Ligurian tourist panorama.

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