Las Médulas, a landscape unique in all the world
Come and see one of the strangest marks left on Spain by the Romans. It isn't an aqueduct, nor is it a circus, an amphitheatre or a bridge. It is a huge work of engineering which permanently transformed an area of mountains in the province of León, in northern Spain, creating a weird and wonderful landscape that now has the World Heritage designation: Las Médulas. Explore this old, open-air mine, the largest in the whole Roman Empire, whose interior was once home to tons of gold. An outing not to be missed.
The unique, reddish outlines of Las Médulas are just 25 kilometres from Ponferrada, capital of the El Bierzo region. This is one of the main attractions in this part of León close to the border with Galicia. The landscape is unique in the world, a place where nature and history come together: these reddish mountains were excavated and rearranged by the Romans over nearly two hundred years, who extracted up to 800 tons of gold from within them. A monumental, complicated system of channels was used to take advantage of the force of running water through galleries, lakes and tunnels to demolish these clayey mountains and create this unique setting.
In order to fully understand this landscape and its process of transformation, the best thing is to explore one of the routes across it, whether on foot, by bicycle, or even on horseback. The trails are well signed and fairly flat. Places you can discover include the caves and grottos where gold was extracted, and other places such as Carucedo lake. You will also find old metallurgical villages such as Orellán, and even Asturian iron age settlements such as Castrelín de San Juan de Paluezas and Borrenes.
When you go on excursions we would recommend you take water, suitable footwear for walking and a change of clothes - the red dust of the area will easily impregnate the fabric. If you decide to go into the caves, and there are spectacular ones to visit like Cueva Encantada or Cuevona, you will also need a torch. Pay close attention, because inside the galleries you can even see marks left on the walls by miners almost 2,000 years ago.
Any time of year is ideal to discover Las Médulas, although it is in spring when the contrast of colour and light is at its most spectacular. A good way to start exploring these hills, covered in chestnut trees, is with a visit to the Archaeology Centre, at the entrance to the village of Las Médulas, where models and projections will help you understand how these mountains were perforated. Guided tours also leave from here. One of these excursions takes you to the Orellán Viewpoint, a privileged location to enjoy the view of canyons, tunnels and reddish peaks in all its splendour.
El Bierzo is a region on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, with picturesque villages such as Villafranca del Bierzo. Before you go, you should sample the local gastronomy - special mention should be made of botillo, a spiced, cured meat, chestnuts, peppers, wines and liqueurs. The perfect way to round off an unforgettable trip, without a doubt.More information:
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