Trimouns: the largest talc quarry
in the world
The talc quarry is situated at 1800m altitude above the Ax valley.
It was established in 1905 and produces 400,000 tons of talc per year.
There is one guided tour per day from mid-May to mid-October — enquire
at the tourist office in Ax-les-Thermes. More details at bottom of this page.
Talc, a hydrated magnesium silicate, is the softest stone on our planet. It's hydrophobic, inert and composed of layers. The seam at Trimouns was formed 300 million years ago in a fault between two masses of rock, one composed essentially of mica schist and the other of dolomite. In this fault, the rock was ground by the pressure of the two masses, allowing the infiltration of water containing large amounts of magnesium. The magnesium attached itself to the dolomite to form magnesium silicate : talc. In the same way, the mica schists were transformed into chloride.
According to recent analyses, we know that prehistoric man used talc in cave paintings (for example in the drawings in the cave at Niaux). In excavations around the cathar site at Montségur, figurines carved from talc were found that date from the 12th century.
But exploitation of Trimouns on even a small scale began only in the early 19th century. The soft, white stone was ground in flour mills and the resulting talcum powder brought to Toulouse to be sold to druggists and apothocaries. Until 1860 it was transported by mules (the difference in elevation is 1000 m between the quarry and the village 15 kms away). In 1888 mining began on a more organised scale and ox carts were used.
It was the development of paper mills that launched the industrial era for Luzenac. The arrival of the railroad in the Ax valley in 1988 and the installation of the first air transport in 1903 helped the business to develop.
The corporation Talc de Luzenac was founded in 1905 and entered the Paris stock exchange in 1908.
The quarry is a grandiose spectacle--everything is gigantic: on huge terraces, enormous machines uncover, extract, sort and transport the talc with the peaks of the Pyreneen chain as a backdrop.
The vein of talc is covered by useless rock that must be removed -- 8 tons of rock for 1 ton of talc.
The quarry is situated in the commune of Luzenac in the high Ariège; it employs 310 permanent workers and 110 seasonal workers. Because of its high elevation the activity at the quarry is restricted to the period from April to November but the factory functions year round using the talc extracted during the warm months.
Visits to the quarry are available from mid-May to mid-October. Visitors are taken on a coach tour within the site with an official guide. Bring warm clothes and binoculars.The 15 km journey from Luzenac to the quarry takes about 45 minutes. For information on tour schedules, consult the Ax tourist office, tel. 05 61 64 60 60
Information for this article courtesy of the Société Talc de Luzenac and the Office du Tourisme des Vallées d'Ax.