Roman Gold Mine in Northern Spain

Las Médulas is a spectacular landscape about half an hour south of Villafranca del Bierzo. The somewhat bizarre countryside is the result of the Romans mining for gold, and it is now a World Heritage Site. The local population had already found the gold, but intensive open-cast mining started in c.25BC and this became the most significant gold mine in the Roman Empire.

There is a car park at the beginning of the village, next to an information hall which we visited first before setting out on one of the many walks in the area of the gold mines. We turned off the road on to a track at the far end of the village, opposite a holiday complex.

Las Medulas gold mines
A track to the mines
Las Medulas gold mines
The mines
Las Medulas gold mines
Extensive chestnut tree groves around the mines
Las Medulas gold mines
Old chestnut trees
Las Medulas gold mines
The clay mountain
Las Medulas gold mines
Closeup to the clay mountain
Las Medulas gold mines
In the mines

A complicated process was used to extract the gold. As I understand it, the first stage was to build fires against the rocks and then split them with water. The clay washed into pits where it was sieved to find the gold. Seven aqueducts from the surrounding mountains delivered water to the site. When this method exhausted the supply the Romans turned to underground mining, in tunnels. According to historical accounts the mines produced 20,000 Roman pounds of gold (c.14,500 lbs) annually and after two centuries they were abandoned

Water system at Las Medulas (www.romanaqueducts.info)

Mirador de Orellan

We then drove  round to the Mirador de Orellán where you can look down on the mines. The sight is spectacular, and I think equally so from the Mirador at Pedrices. There are also tunnels and caves which can be visited and I think one could easily spend a day or two here.

Las Medulas gold mines
The platform at the Mirador de Orellan
Las Medulas gold mines
Looking down on the mines from the Mirador de Orellan
Las Medulas gold mines
Las Medulas from Orellan

The surrounding countryside

Looking in the opposite direction from the Mirador the mountains are green, and I assume there is more gold under the vegetation…?!

Las Medulas gold mines
The Countryside around Las Medulas

I would have loved to see more, and perhaps walk more but something is better than nothing! We drove back to Villafranca del Bierzo enjoying immensely the huge views.

The countryside around Ponferrado
Looking towards Ponferrado from Orellan
Mountains between Las Medulas and Villafranca
The mountains between Las Medulas and Villafranca
The road back to Villafranca

A wonderful day!

Further information
Las Medulas and other sights worth visiting in the area

More interesting routes in this area