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Las Medulas

Las Medulas
Las Médulas is a landscape shaped by Roman gold mining. The mining was done ruina montium, which means that hydraulic power was used to blast the rocks away. The Romans started exploiting the Iberian colony's resources in the second half of the first century AD. The production ended at the beginning of the 3rd century.

To be able to generate enough water power, roads, dams and canals had to be constructed. This work was mainly carried out by the Roman army. Water was stored in huge reservoirs, and then transported to the mines via canals. Pressure was created by opening the sluices of the dams at one end of the system. The same water system was used to wash the extensive gold deposits.

Inscription of the site by the WHC in 1997 proved to be controversial: the Delegate of Thailand opposed because "he could only consider this site as a result of human destructive activities as well as harmful to the noble cause of environmental promotion and protection." The delegates of Germany and Finland agreed with his position.

Visit August 2009

From the Mirador de Orellan I had my first look at this weird site. It takes a hike of about 800m uphill, through a wonderful green setting with lots of chestnut trees, flowers and berries. This viewpoint has the classic views, with the red peaks that you usually see on photos of Las Médulas. The mining area looks smaller than I had expected. Later I read somewhere that it is 10 square km. It looks a lot like a landscape made by erosion (like Ischigualasto/Talampaya in Argentinia, or several US National Parks).

A drive down of about 10 minutes brought me to the village of Las Médulas. You have to leave your car at the village entrance, only locals are allowed to drive on. To limit damage to the site due to overexposure, only 4 wheel drives are allowed. One of the other reviewers stated that he/she got in with a regular car, maybe that was out of season as today I saw no other way in than to walk (or join a tour).

Las Médulas is a rustic village that mostly caters to the quite large number of tourists that pass through, most of them Spanish. Signposts point to several short and longer walks in the area. I opted for a short one: the 3km round-trip to the lake Lago Somido. The quite barren landscape leaves you well exposed to the sun, not to be underestimated at 30 degrees C. However, my walk was short enough. The lake also is a result of the mining (the flooding of a canal). Supposedly several species of frogs and salamanders live here, although I didn't see or hear a thing. Also, no other tourists were on this trail, making it almost a bit eerie to walk around here all by myself.

As Las Medulas is located quite far from anywhere, I'd recommend staying overnight. Several of the villages in the area have hotels and guesthouses. This way you'll make it early into the terrain and escape the worst of the heat. The site is large enough to keep you busy for a full day: besides hiking the full circuit (11km), there are guided walks, viewpoints, archaeological remains, visitor centers and plenty of cafés and souvenir shops.


. ():
We visited Las Medulas in May 2005, but used a car to drive up and around the site. If the weather is dry, a normal car would do, you don't need a 4WD. Using the car gave us a bit more time to look at the site from various different angles and to stroll around. It is absolutely stunning that this moon-like landscape has been created by humans with hardly any heavy tool available to them.
From the top you can also see quite a number of little lakes, which are the remains of redirected rivers used to wash out the gold deposits.
An absolutely fascinating landscape.
Alastair Dumbell (UK):
This is the most amazing site, and the most impressive landscape I have seen. The sheer size of the undertaking defies the imagination when one thinks of the tools available in those far off days.
Wear good shoes and take plenty of water, although there is a spring just before you start the last slog up to the Mirador. There is a good small restaurant when you get back down, and it took me about three hours to get to the top and back via the mines. You don't have to go to the top though, just walking through the mines is a visual treat and a great experience. The infrastructure is basic, but that's part of the charm. Entry was free, but the walk through the forrest of giant chestnut trees that have grown over the old mine workings would be well worth paying for. I can only hope that all our abandoned industrial sites will look as beautiful in the distant future.
I cannot imagine anyone being disappointed with their visit or leaving Las Medulas without asking themselves some very profound questions about the history of man.

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Site info

Las Médulas
Country: Spain
Inscribed: 1997
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (1) (2) (3) (4)
Category: Secular structure, Mines

Site history:
1997 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

Site links

Official website:

In the news:
Not available

Related links:
» Wiki on Las Médulas.

Related Forum posts:
Not available

Getting there

This WHS has 4 location(s).


Aqueduct . Canals . Tunnels .
Mentioned by Pliny the Elder .
Human Activity
Gold production .
Built in the 1st century .
WHS Hotspots
Northwestern Spain hotspot .
World Heritage Process
Controversial at inscription . Cultural Inscriptions rejected as Cultural Landscapes . Industrial Landscapes .

© WHS 1997-2016