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.
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
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.
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…?!
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.
A wonderful day!