Las Médulas: The Largest Roman Gold Mine

Apr 25, 2019 0 comments

Las Medulas

This incredible serrated landscape of red mountains and green chestnut trees is the result of two centuries of destructive mining carried out by the Romans. Known as Las Médulas, this historic mine located near the Spanish town of Ponferrada was the largest open-pit gold mine in the entire Roman Empire.

The Romans began to exploit the gold deposits in this region in north-west Spain in the 1st century, using a technique based on hydraulic power. This ingenious system called ruina montium—literally “wrecking of mountains”—used water pressure to crumble down the soil and expose the gold.

The technique, which was described by Pliny the Elder in 77 AD, involves excavating narrow cavities down into the mountain through which water was forced in. The water pressure fragmented the thick rock walls and washed down the gold-rich alluvial soil to the riffle tables where they were collected. Over 6.5 tons of gold was recovered each year from these mines. After two centuries of working the deposits, the Romans withdrew, leaving a devastated landscape where the dramatic traces of this remarkable ancient technology are still visible. The area is now full of erosion gullies, towers, and underground galleries, all surrounded by beautiful chestnut trees.

Leading image by Jose Ignacio Soto/

Las Medulas

Photo credit: José Antonio Gil Martínez/Flickr

Las Medulas

Photo credit: fervazco/Flickr

Las Medulas

View of a cave in Las Medulas, Leon, Spain. Photo credit: AdrianNunez/

Las Medulas

Photo credit: AdrianNunez/


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