Just outside Ponferrada, a two-hour drive from Leon, Las Médulas is an ancient gold mine of the Roman Empire: that’s why you should visit it.
In Spain, near the city of Ponferrada and an hour and a half from Leon, Las Médulas is a unique landscape in the world. The surrounding area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its appearance is somewhat reminiscent of that of the great American parks.
La Médulas was, in the past, the largest gold mine in the Roman Empire. An extraordinary testimony, among the most important left by the Romans in Spain. And it does not matter that it is not an amphitheater, an aqueduct, or a bridge; precisely for this reason it is even more curious.
The majestic engineering work has in fact transformed the mountains giving life to a real open-pit mine, the result of that mining technique called Ruina Montium and described by Plinio Il Vecchio: the mountain was drilled for the insertion of large quantities of water that slowly pushed it down. This technique would later become the Californian hydraulic mining technique. And, the canals to carry the water here from the Sierra de La Cabrera are still visible today. Adding even more charm to the place.
According to Plinio Il Vecchio, 20,000 pounds of gold were extracted from Las Médulas a year, with 60,000 workers employed in excavations that – in 250 years – produced 1,635,000 pounds of gold. Numbers aside, it is the landscape itself that steals the heart. Here, 25 kilometers from Ponferrada which is the most important city in the Bierzo area, famous for the Camino de Santiago, unmistakable reddish silhouettes pierce the sky. They are mountains of red earth, dug and modeled by the Romans for over two centuries.
By walking or cycling one of the many itineraries (all well marked), it is possible to admire all the grandeur of the work and discover fascinating places: the caves, the cavities from which gold was extracted, and the Curacedo lake. But also Roman metallurgical settlements such as Orellán and Asturian encampments such as Castrelín de San Juan de Paluezas and Borrenes.
When to visit Las Médulas?
The most beautiful contrast is in spring, but you can come here all year round, to this corner of Spain.
The starting point is the Archaeological Hall, at the entrance to the village of Las Médulas: this is where the guided tours start, but you can also choose to walk the paths independently.
The most suggestive? The one that leads to the Orellán viewpoint, a privileged panoramic terrace with a landscape of gorges, tunnels, and reddish peaks that – in Europe and beyond – is a real rarity.