‘Las Medulas’ is a historical site located near the town of Ponferrada in the ‘El Bierzo’ region of Spain. The site was once the most prominent gold mine in the ‘Roman Empire’, which was used for nearly two centuries for the extraction of the gold deposits using an exceptional technique based on hydraulic power.
The extensive mining that prevailed here for two centuries left this place embossed with a unique cultural landscape, cast by severe human intervention & drastic natural erosion. Red clay clad mountains, dotted by the eroded gullies, aqueducts, cliffs & underground corridors, all engulfed by chestnut trees, together make up the remarkable landscape of this site.
The site now stands as a historical evidence of the technological superiority possessed by the Romans. The breathtaking landscape of this site, consisting of towering red cliffs surrounded by lush green foliage has now become the most haunted yet the most beautiful destination in the peninsula, which magnetizes the hordes of tourists every year. In the year 1997, this cultural heritage of Spain was inscribed in the list of ‘World Heritage Sites’ by UNESCO.
‘Pliny the Elder’, who was the procurator in the region during 74 AD, had described the brilliant mining technique employed by the Romans. The technique was named as the ‘Ruina Montium’ & it was involved damaging the mountain using ample use of the waters! It was a hydraulic mining technique wherein the water was supplied by inter-basin transfer. Nearly 7 long aqueducts were used to flood the galleries carved into the mountains with a tremendous amount of water. The water was collected from the streams of the nearby La Cabrera district located in the higher mountains.
For washing the ores, smaller streams were used to extract the heavy particles of gold which used to get collected on the riffle tables. Mining would begin with the construction of aqueducts & lakes above the mineral conduits & the ‘hushing’ technique would be employed to flood the deposits. Opencast method would be used to extract the metal. The method consisted of setting fire against the rock & cooling it down suddenly by water which would develop huge crevices in the rock. Mechanical force would then be employed in order to break the rock & the debris would get carried out via same water aqueduct used for flooding the rock.
It is estimated that 20,000 Roman Pounds of gold would be unearthed each year. The mining involved nearly 60,000 free workers, who had extracted around 5,000,000 Roman Pounds (1,650,000 kg) of gold in the span of 250 years!
SIGNIFICANCE OF LAS MEDULAS:
Systematic study of ‘Las Medulas’ was carried out after 1988 by the research group named- ‘Social Structure & Territory Landscape’. The excavation & the survey of the pre-Roman & Roman settlements in the vicinity provided many valuable insights of the ancient mining techniques used by the Romans! Parts of the aqueducts are still in good shape at some places. Rock-cut inscriptions can also be seen at few places.
‘Las Medulas’ now constitute one of the most famous visited tourist destinations in the province of ‘Leon’. The site can be best viewed from the viewpoint of Orellan, located 8 km away from the site. The ‘Archeological Learning Center’ present in the town of ‘Las Medulas’ provides the tourists with all the necessary information related to this incredible historical place. The site is worth visiting for all those curious souls who have an obsession for the history of the great Romans!