Las Medulas. Las Médulas is an area located in the region of Bierzo, its landscape is characterized by its chestnut and oak forests and red rock formations.
Las Médulas is an area located near a village of the same name, in the Bierzo region of the Province of Leon in Spain. The landscape of Las Médulas is characterized by its chestnut and oak forests and amazing red rock formations; created not by natural means but rather by man. The Las Médulas historical site was the most important gold mine during the Roman Empire. In 1997, Las Médulas was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Even before the Romans arrived to the Iberian Peninsula, the Las Médulas region was already being exploited by native inhabitants who searched for gold in the riverbeds. Under the Romans, specifically the Emperor Augustus, the site became a mine that pertained to the Roman province of Tarraconense.
The mines were operated under the administration of Pliny the Elder, who left written records about the mining operation, its output and the laborers in Las Médulas. These historical documents cite that around 60,000 men worked in the mine and extracted approximately 14,500 pounds (6578kg) of gold a year. The mine in Las Médulas operated for 250 years, meaning that over 3.6 million pounds (1.6 million kg) of gold were unearthed in the estimated 17.6 billion cubic feet (500 million m3) of earth that was moved (approximately 460 Empire State Buildings) in search of that precious mineral.
To extract gold from Las Médulas, the Romans used a system called ruina montium or "wrecking of mountains" which was a hydraulic form of mining which shaped the landscape into what it is today. This hydraulic mining system of carving tunnels in the mountain, like a giant ant hill, and filling them with water to saturate and collapse the mountain was considered the easiest way to separate and extract the gold. According to modern estimates, 300 km (186 mi) of aqueducts were carved to transport the water needed to flood the mountain by way of at least seven long aqueducts that transported water from the Río Cabo. Mount Teleno alone, at 2,000 meters (6562 ft) high, accumulated enough snow to have supplied river which in turn fed the canal system with sufficient water to complete the mining operation.
The work in Las Médulas ceased in the 3rd century when the supply of gold was exhausted. The region has since been taken over by nature, creating what is now a magnificent landscape of chestnut and holm oak trees that integrate harmoniously into the fantastic red rock formations carved out from years of mining activities.
Las Médulas is an ideal habitat for a variety of wildlife with populations of wild boar, deer and wildcats throughout the region while the bird populations are mainly concentrated around the Cabrera River basin.
Las Médulas UNESCO World Heritage Site
In 1997, the UNESCO Committee decided to include the Las Médulas mining complex in its list of World Heritage Sites citing that it is “an excellent example of innovative Roman technology in which all elements of the ancient landscape, both industrial and domestic, have survived to an exceptional degree”.