Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Las Médulas is a dramatic landscape of orange-tinted cliffs, cavities and spires carved in the search for gold by Roman slaves over 2,000 years ago. Scattered in the environs are the interesting ruins of castros, fortified settlements centered around a circular home built by the native Asturs to protect themselves and defend their gold as early as the Bronze Age. The Asturs were a fiercely barbaric tribal race and, along with the neighboring Cantabros, were the last inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula to be subdued by the Romans in battles that occurred sometime around 25 BC. The Roman historian Florus described the aftermath: “Augustus ordered that the land be mined. Thus, toiling away under the earth, the Asturs came to discover their own riches in seeking them for the benefit of others.” In the centuries to follow, the site was highly productive and recognized as the Roman Empire’s largest gold mine in Hispania. Then in the third century AD, for reasons still not understood, the Romans abruptly ceased their mining activities in the area.
Las Médulas is 20 km (12.5 miles) southwest of Ponferrada in León’s easternmost district of El Bierzo. For greater insight into the area, it’s worth stopping first at the Aula Arqueológica, a visitors’ center with informative models and displays located in the small town of Las Médulas. From Ponferrada, take the N-VI west and at La Barosa turn south on the N-536. At Carucedo turn off at the signs for Las Médulas.
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