Scientific trips – Gold, silver and crystal: the Roman mines in Spain

2000 years ago, Hispania was the El Dorado of the Roman Empire, and the mines of gold, silver and other metals were the engine of its power.

Imagine some indigenous people who do math with some bright yellow nuggets they find in rivers. Then armed foreigners come from far away, who enslave the indigenous people and make them work in the mines, extracting the gold and silver that they will take back to their country.

What happens is that, this time, history is not located in Africa, nor in Latin America, but in what are now Spain and Portugal, the territories that the Roman Empire had under its yoke for the extraction of gold, silver, iron. , lead. and other metals. Although garimpeiros also worked in these mines, slave labor was the engine of the industry at the time.

Loading ingots, Mosaic at the Bardo Museum, Tunisia

Roman mining had nothing to envy to the modern in destructive and polluting capacity. Currently, under the Greenland ice, three kilometers deep, air bubbles contaminated with lead fumes from mining have been found in Roman Hispania.

The advance of Roman mines meant cutting down many forests to obtain wood to support mine galleries or as fuel for smelting and forging. This increased erosion and led to desertification in these areas.

Metals such as gold are sometimes found in the form of nuggets carried by rivers, but if you follow the river towards the mountain it is normal to find a vein. The Romans tore down entire mountains in search of these junctions, and the devastation produced continues to this day in landscapes like Las Médulas. Here, with the gold depleted, nature once again conquered the broken rocks, giving rise to a visual spectacle of orange stone and vegetation.

These are the Roman mines you can’t miss in Spain:

Las Medulas, Leon, Spain

The gold rush existed in northern Spain long before the Wild West. Las Médulas is a depot located near the city of Ponferrada, in the region of El Bierzo. Here was the largest open pit gold mine in the entire Roman Empire. The Cultural Landscape of Las Médulas is classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, but what we really see is a mountain destroyed by the frantic search for yellow metal.

In fact, in Latin the technique used was called ruin a lotdescribed by Pliny the Elder in 77. This hydraulic mining consisted of drilling deep galleries and flooding them with water from a transfer between basins so that the rocks would disintegrate. Seven long aqueducts tapped the region’s streams, which were later used to wash alluvial gold deposits.

Large-scale production did not begin until the second half of the 1st century. Again according to Pliny the Elder, 20,000 Roman pounds (6,560 kg) of gold was mined each year and involved 60,000 free workers. In little more than two centuries, the gold ran out and the green returned to the marrow between the mountain scars.

Rio Tinto, Huelva

Red River

Rio Tinto and Puente Gadea (Villarrasa) Photo: Jose A.

The waters of Rio Tinto are bright orange due to very complex chemistry. These are extremely acidic waters with very high levels of iron sulfides and heavy metals, including iron (the most abundant), copper, cadmium and manganese.

Read Also:  Brussels threatens to suspend TikTok Lite in Spain and France

Minerals, especially copper, silver and gold, have been mined for approximately 5,000 years in the Río Tinto area. The Tartessians and Iberians started mining minerals in 3000 BC, followed by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Arabs. Of course, the Romans did it in style. In 2017, the remains of the Roman city of Urium were excavated, located on the land of the Atalaya Mining company that currently operates the mines. More than 40 Roman gold and silver coins have been found, mostly from the time of Nero and Trajan, between the 1st and 2nd centuries.

Although the river represents a very hostile environment for life, some microorganisms classified as Extremophiles, including bacteria and algae, thrive in these conditions, which has made it a study site to understand how life could exist on Mars or the moons of Jupiter and Saturn .

Arditurri Mines, Gipuzkoa

arditurri mines

Mines of Arditurri. Photo: Gipuzkoa Provincial Council

The Arditurri silver mines are located near the town of Oiartzun in the Basque Country. In the heart of the Aiako Harria Natural Park (Peñas de Aya), an immense granite massif, the Romans built more than two kilometers of galleries that can be visited today, as the explanation remained active until 1984.

From these mines the Romans extracted galena with silver or silver ore. However, this mine did not run out so quickly and was in operation almost uninterruptedly until 1984. What we can visit today is a mining complex where the drainage gallery converges, one of the most important in Europe, built by the Romans. to prevent flooding, with more modern LED extensions.

The exploitation system here was different: the Romans dug vertical wells connected by galleries with a slope that allowed the water to flow. In 2008, the interpretation center in the building where the mining laboratories operated was opened to the public, with an interesting exhibition on mining through history.

Mines of Bellmunt del Priorato, Tarragona

Inside the Eugènia mine in Bellmont del Priorat. Photograph: Angela Llop

These lead mines were already explored long before the arrival of the Romans in the Iberian Peninsula, there are traces that indicate that lead was already extracted from the surface between 3000 and 2000 BC. 210 BC From that time on, only the lamps used by the miners remain, as the mine continued in operation until 1972. The period of greatest prosperity occurred between 1920 and 1960, contributing to the growth of the municipality. THE mining museum city ​​organizes visits to the first gallery of the Eugènia mine.

Sanabrio Cave, Cuenca

Did the Romans have glass windows? Glass was already known, but its use in windows did not become common until after the Middle Ages. The windows of the Romans were made of “Lapis Specularis”, a crystallized mineral from gypsum, translucent or transparent, easy to cut with a saw. These mineral sheets were mounted on wooden frames to make windows.
Well, the largest Lapis Especularis mine in the empire was in a place called Cueva del Sanabrio, about 150 kilometers from the ancient city of Segóbriga, and next to the current Saceda del Río, in the province of Cuenca.

In the Sanabrio caves can be visited two mines and observe this crystalline material in its natural state. The work of the miners contributed to the splendor of the Roman city of Segóbriga, as the exploitation of this precious material lasted more than two centuries.

Quo Science Travel section sponsored by Hyundai

Recent Articles

Related News

Leave A Reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here