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Las Medulas and Lugo

SPAIN | Thursday, 2 June 2011 | Views [1329]

Las Murellas Romanas, Lugo

Las Murellas Romanas, Lugo

The Roman Empire covered a vast area from Turkey to Spain.  Two Romans sites, Las Medulas and Lugo, lie between Leon and Santiago de Compostela.  We decided on day trips to visit the sites: west from Leon for Las Medulas and east from Santiago for Lugo.  The conquered lands supplied slaves for labor and the Roman food staples; wheat for bread, olives for oil, and grapes for wine.  According to Pliny the Elder, the area near Leon provided another necessity for the empire – gold!

Las Medulas seemed worth visiting but first we had to do some math.  Question 1: which costs less, two round-trip bus tickets from Leon to Ponferrada + two round-trip bus tickets from Ponferrada to Carucedo + a taxi to the site or a 90 euro car rental?  Question 2: what is the probability that all those connections would work out?  The answer is we saved us 50 euros using the buses and, as if by divine intervention, all the connections went smoothly.  Of course we had to walk four kilometers back from the site but it was downhill all the way.

From 100 t0 200 AD the Romans used high-pressure water to literally wash away the hillsides of Las Medulas and expose the gold, a feat that required 400 kilometers of aqueducts and channels to bring water to the area.  The Romans collected over 6000 kilograms of gold before the mine was depleted, quite a fortune in those days.

All that remain today are the red sandstone hillsides and cave-like mine entrances.  The entire area is scattered with gnarled chestnut trees and it was a wonderful place to be on a warm spring day.  It’s too bad we had to rush to make our bus connection to Ponferrada and back to Leon.

About the same time the Romans were mining Las Medulas they were occupying Lugo.  Lugo could hardly have been more different than Las Medulas.  The old city is encircled completely by “las murellas romanas,” the Roman walls.  Whereas Las Medulas requires imagination to see what once was, the walls at Lugo are complete.  We reached Lugo with a single bus trip and were surprised to find the wall just across the street from the station. 

That the walls are still standing is a bit of a miracle.  Most other ancient sites we have visited, from the pyramids in Egypt to the Temple of Artemis in Turkey, have been either vandalized or demolished for building materials.  I don’t know how Lugo managed to survive intact but now that it is a World Heritage Site it should be protected forever.

It took us less than thirty minutes to walk along the top of the wall entirely around Lugo.  The Romans constructed ramps to the top and recent inhabitants have added stairways.  The walkway along the top is wide enough for a chariot or two, but today is used mainly as a jogging track.

The walls are ancient but the city inside is modern.  We walked past fashionable eateries and upscale shops, even a mall!  Homes and shops have been built right into the wall in some places.  They look as if they have been there forever, but who can tell?

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