Las Médulas, located in the province of León (near the city of León as well), in northern Spain is a unique landscape, carved out by time, erosion, and history that was declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
Las Médulas was once the largest open-air gold mine in the Roman Empire. The engineering work carried out to extract the precious metal altered the environment but resulted in a landscape of reddish sand, currently partially covered with vegetation of chestnut and oak. It is considered a “cultural landscape” and has the name of “Cultural Park”.
As we mentioned, Las Médulas was an ancient gold mine that was exploited by the Roman Empire for more than 2,000 years. At that time, after their war on the local Asturians tribes, the Romans discovered that there was gold in the area, which was being extracted and used by the conquered tribes.
During the period of the Roman occupation, the Asturians did not work as slaves, but as miners in the exploitation of gold.
To extract the gold that was in the interior of the mountains, the Romans decided to use the method known as Ruin Montium, which literally involved blowing up entire mountains to facilitate the final collection of the gold dust.
This method involved required a network of channels of over 100 kilometers, largely excavated in the rocks, which allowed water to be brought from higher mountains and then stored on top of the mountains that were going to be obliterated.
Dead-end galleries were created and, finally, the water was introduced in a rush, so that the compression of the trapped air made the mountain explode. Mind-bending.
The mass of clay and water that resulted after the explosion was then transported along wooden channels, and filtered with branches of heather that would trap the gold particles in the water.
Similarly, the boulders called “murias” got separated. You can still see piles of these boulders during your walk through the Las Médulas.
This method of extracting gold was used for 200 years, and during this period around 5,000 kilos of gold were extracted. Wow! With an estimated volume of earth removed of more than one hundred million cubic meters.
The volume of materials removed was so great that their accumulation at the end of the valley clogged the natural water outlets and led to the formation of the current Carucedo Lake, an area that you can also visit.
It’s crazy to think that only 2,000 years ago the clay rock formations that you see today were imposing mountains back then.
The visit to Las Médulas has two different aspects: on the one hand, the walk along the trails that in a circular route will take you through the heart of these spectacular places.
This route begins at the Visitor Reception Center located in the town of Las Médulas, where to access you must have left your car parked in the parking lot at the entrance to it.
You have the option of doing the complete circular route of just over three kilometers along the so-called Senda de las Valiñas, which will take you about two hours, or only part of it, with a kilometer and a half that you must travel in a roundtrip.
During the tour, you will pass through the most interesting points of Las Médulas, such as the La Cuovona and La Cueva Encantada exploitation galleries.
It is advisable to do explore las Médulas with the assistance of a tour guide, so you don’t miss anything.
One way to start your visit, and perhaps the best, might be to see the panoramic views of Las Médulas from the Orellán viewpoint, or you can save it for the end, after having done the circular route, but you cannot leave Las Médulas without going up to Orellán.
You can either walk up to the viewpoint from the town of Las Médulas, on a detour from the circular route, or getting there by car.
Another surprising feature of LAs Médulas is the spectacular and twisted, centenary-old chestnut trees that extend through this ancient Roman gold mine. The Roman’s not only substantially modified the natural environment but also generated a whole new ecosystem.
these trees were planted here in order to provide food for the Asturian workers and the Romans themselves, and the wood has been used as well for centuries in construction by the inhabitants of this region of León. Some of the specimens that you will see are more than 600 years old.