Las Médulas

Las Médulas




Location: 20 km from Ponferrada, El Bierzo   Map


Description of Las Medulas

Las Medulas is a beautiful region near Ponferrada, El Bierzo famous for its picturesque red hills and Ancient Roman ruins of gold miners settlements. Today it is designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical value as well as splendid man- made geologic formations. Las Medulas Map LayoutLas Medulas was famous for its gold deposits since the time of Antiquity. This was one of the main reasons why Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus invaded these lands in 29- 19 BC, subsequently adding them to growing Roman Empire as a province of Hispania Tarraconensis. Las Medulas sandstone hills quickly became one of the most important sites for gold production in the empire. Evidence of human presence is still visible throughout a region. Landscape of Las Medulas is largely due to Roman industrial technique known as Ruina Montium. In Latin it can be roughly translated as "wrecking of mountains". It was achieved by digging narrow shafts in the mountains. Water was poured from the top. This caused increase in pressure that would fragment sandstone. This technique was described by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (33.21) who also served as the procurator of Hispania Tarraconensis at the time. This method will later be known as the effect of a Pascal's Barrel. Roman got the gold, but they left scared landscape of strange formations. Over time they were covered by lush vegetation and animals moved back after human abandoned these lands.


Pliny the Younger

"What happens is far beyond the work of giants. The mountains are bored with corridors and galleries made by lamplight with a duration that is used to measure the shifts. For months, the miners cannot see the sunlight and many of them die inside the tunnels. This type of mine has been given the name of ruina montium. The cracks made in the entrails of the stone are so dangerous that it would be easier to find purpurine or pearls at the bottom of the sea than make scars in the rock. How dangerous we have made the Earth!".


Ancient Romans established a huge industrial complex in the hills of Las Medulas. There is no sufficient source of water for 60,000 free workers that worked in these hills so military engineers had to constructed 77 aqueducts to bring water to the area from Cabrera and Eria rivers some 100 km away. Their remains are still visible today. Some of them can actually be hiked by tourists. Historical record indicate that at the peak of its use Las Medulas produced 20,000 Roman pounds (one Roman pound or libra is equal to 328.9 grams) per year with a total production of 5,000,000 Roman pounds or 1,650,000 kg of gold. Las Medulas was abandoned due to invasions of barbarian tribes that attacked and killed workers.