Las Médulas is a spectacular landscape about half an hour south of Villafranca del Bierzo, created when the Romans mined for gold, and 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.
The gold was extracted through a complicated process. As I understand it, the first stage was to build fires against the rocks and then split them with water. The clay would be washed into pits and sieved to find the gold. Water was delivered to the site through seven aqueducts from the surrounding mountains. When this had been exhausted the Romans turned to underground mining, with tunnels. According to historical accounts the the mines produced 20,000 Roman pounds of gold (c.14,500 lbs) annually and after two centuries they were abandoned
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.
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!