Bustiello mining town

Bustiello mining town

A lesson in labor history

Bustiello mining town

A lesson in labor history

It is populated, which in the past wanted to be an arcade for the worker, is fertile ground for sociological analysis. Its magnificent state of preservation reveals its founding principles and its utopian initial approach, which turned out to be a pretext for the ideological submission of the workers. Bustiello is the quintessential example of industrial paternalism in Spain. Within its limits, this ideology was exercised in an exceptional and exemplary way. To visit it now is to come face to face with that reality as if no more than a century had passed since then.

Photographs by Roberto Álvarez Espinedo.

Latitude: 43.1886559 Length: -5.7689810
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It was built between the years 1890 and 1925 by the Spanish Coal Company whose presidency held Claudio López Bru (II Marquis of Comillas), a fervent Catholic who inherits a large Indian fortune and who projects this industrial colony, modern and idyllic, as a deserved home for the "good workers". We are talking about paternalistic philanthropy for all those who work hard and have good conduct. The mottos of the marquis were quite clear in this regard: work and savings, hierarchy and order. Thanks to these principles (and his heritage), he firmly led large companies such as the Compañía Trastlántica Española, the Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas, Ferrocarriles del Norte (currently Renfe), the Banco Hispano Colonial or the Sociedad Coalera Española. The latter was essential to supply coal to its own ships and trains.

Paternalism and social control

At the end of the XNUMXth century, the Spanish Coal Company already had wells in the municipalities of Aller, Mieres and Lena. The mining families of the Caudal valley lived poorly with the wages of their work. Labor exploitation was the order of the day and generated deep discontent that led to the appearance of a combative socialism with related unions. The company then tried to forge a unionism to its measure to avoid the propagation of revolutionary ideas. Right at this moment the figure of the II Marqués de Comillas appears, facilitating that yellow unionism through the Catholic Workers Union (SOC). An attempt at social control well defined today and known as industrial paternalism, a phenomenon that was already present in the 1939th and early XNUMXth centuries, but which in Spain gained a lot of strength after the triumph of the so-called national side in XNUMX.

During the first years of Francoism, the practices of this paternalism and its main features were becoming evident, such as the isolation of the working community with respect to other populations, the attempt to build a microcosm dominated by authoritarian-religious principles, the enormous permeability between work and life, a strict internal segregation in the towns; where self-sufficiency was also encouraged, seeking a rigorous employer control of entry and exit.

The II Marqués de Comillas opted for this paternalism. He designed an urban project from scratch. Its privileged workers would live with all the comforts and advances. The house would be the cornerstone of his garden city, the key to attract and fix the worker before disciplining him. Twenty magnificent semi-detached houses with an orchard, supplied with all the services, would make an orderly and "happy" life possible; rewarding the hard work of the mine.

What is the mining town of Bustiello?

The construction of the town was one of the maximum expressions of the industrial paternalistic ideology in Spain. Given the poor living conditions at the time, enjoying a mining home in Bustiello was a dream within the reach of few. The houses had running water and electricity, the streets had sidewalks, were cobbled and had a sanitation system; you could do your shopping at the commissary; go to a sanatorium equipped with the best medical equipment in the area, not to mention the exclusive school for infants, the casino, the monumental church... (the latter was the first building in the town to be erected, as it was an essential condition to be able to form a new parish).

Declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in its entirety, Bustiello reflects the splendor of the coal companies of the time. Apart from its heritage value, it was also a kind of public showcase with moralizing intentions. The comfortable houses were reserved for those miners who had accumulated at least ten years in the company; model workers and exemplary citizens that the rest of the workers in the mining basins should emulate. In Bustiello there was no place for insurrections (but just in case, the town had sworn guards and free rein to exercise authority).

What can we see in the mining town of Bustiello?

Bustiello is a dream urbanization but also a true work of art of the time. Its execution had top-level professionals and a very high quality of materials. This high artistic tone was not at all common in the towns of the time, and the great interest of the Marqués de Comillas in works of art in general could have influenced such a conception. His own effigy, erected in the town square, was the work of Aniceto Mariñas from Segovia, one of the European sculptors of the time. The prestigious French engineer Félix Parent and José Revilla from Madrid also designed and directed the works on the complex, highlighting the monumental church where the architect Domenech i Montaner, father of Spanish modernism, came to participate with a Roman missal.

Many Spanish companies of the time had built houses, schools and stores for their workers and families, but in the case of Bustiello this was taken a little further, since everything responded to a well-studied overall plan and unusual aesthetic care. houses for workers they contemplated different designs according to the category of employees. In the highest area, the chalets of those with the highest qualifications, such as engineers, were built. The one belonging to Don Isidro is today the headquarters of the Bustiello Interpretation Center. From its glazed gallery it controlled the entire town: the lower level, on the banks of the Aller River, where the semi-detached houses of the workers were arranged in perfect symmetry and in parallel streets.

Church It is perhaps the most amazing building in the complex. With a singularly industrial style, it was built in 1890 and is full of details that give it a great artistic level. It has been called "little Vatican" or also "worker's cathedral", perhaps because of the exposed brick, the flat tile, the exposed screws and the industrial stained glass windows with cast iron. In its invoice there are several nods to mining activity, such as the access gate, the altar or the serial stained glass windows. Its construction followed the premises of neohistoricism, with elements of the Romanesque and Gothic tradition that spread from the bishopric and that had its best exponent in the Covadonga basilica. Its incredible resemblance to the Church of Saint Jean de Luz (France) is due to the direction Felix Parent, native of the French people. The invocation of him is under Santa Barbara, patron saint of Asturian miners since the company imposed its celebration in Bustiello. It should be noted that initially two large bronze lamps, more than two meters long each, started from the central transept, which were lit with carbide.

The casino Designed by José Revilla, it was the headquarters of the Círculo Obrero Católico that organized various activities for the workers and their families, such as theater performances (previously approved by the competent authority), cinema or choir; thus keeping them away from the bars and taverns of certain nearby towns where demonstrations and riots were orchestrated. In the casino they could meet, read the press (restricted, yes) and drink, but not alcohol as it was not allowed. It is currently a social health center.

The public buildings of the town are completed with the school, run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools of La Salle who had their residence on the upper floor (it is currently a hostel); the sanatorium also located in an elevated area and with independent access from the town. It consists of a central pavilion and three annexes with gardens, it is of a modernist design and was run by the religious "Daughters of Charity". It is currently the only property that is in a state of abandonment.

Guided visit to the town of Bustiello

To enjoy this cultural complex in the best way we must make a reservation for the guided tour. A visit that will be very enjoyable, as well as thorough and that is directed by professionals who will give us many details of great interest. The tour starts at the Interpretation Center located in one of the old chalets (the house of the engineer Don Isidro), where we can appreciate the geological and industrial importance of the mining basin, as well as the network of business firms and the curious history of the life of the Marqués de Comillas. Also the characteristics of the town from a historical, artistic and patrimonial perspective. On the ground floor of this villa, the exhibition of 8 magnificent lithographs recovered from the warehouses of a mine stands out, which, surely, constitute one of the first occupational risk prevention campaigns in the country.

The visit continues inside the church, which, as has been said, contains a high artistic value and great industrial symbolism; like the content in the carved wooden altarpiece, with images of mining and naval allegory (the main economic sources of the marquis).

The tour ends in front of the Marqués de Comillas monument located in the main square, in front of the casino and the church. It was erected in 1925 (date of his death) and represents a floral offering from a miner in gratitude for all his (paternal) work.


How to get to Bustiello: only 7 kilometers separate it from Mieres. So you can get closer using public transport. The municipal bus that covers the Mieres-Valdefarrucos line stops in front of the town.

If you go with your own vehicle you can park freely next to the Interpretation Center, where there is ample free parking.

The visit only allows access to the church and the interpretation center and has an approximate duration of hour and half.

It can be done at any time of the year although prior reservation is essential, by phone 985 42 21 85 or by e-mail:

Rate: €5 person. Special prices for groups.

Opening hours:

September to June: Saturdays, from 10:30 a.m. to 13:30 p.m. and from 16:30 p.m. to 18:30 p.m.; Sundays and holidays, from 11 a.m. to 13:30 p.m.
July and August: Wednesday to Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 14:30 p.m. and 16:00 p.m. to 18:30 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday (except holidays).
Easter holidays: 11:00 a.m. to 14:30 p.m. and 16:00 p.m. to 18:30 p.m.
Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year and from January 10 to February 14.

Text: © Ramón Molleda for Copyright Ramón Molleda

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