Monday, 2 March 2009

Beyond the Work of Giants.

Saturday 28th February

Spiral were leaving Riello this morning to take a long road home back to their village in La Rioja and I went along for a day's detour west to the Roman town of Astorga and onwards to the ancient gold mines of Les Medulas just outside of Ponferrada. It was a fun day, post -project release for Spiral, new adventures for me.

Marta, who joined the company as an archaeologist, explained how much of what we think as Roman achievement actually happened on the Iberian peninsula. Seneca was from the peninsula, as was Hadrian. As we drove she told us great stories of guerrilla warfare and the Lusitanian hero Viriathus who terrified the advancing forces with his fearless and occasionally foolhardy heroics. When the Roman Emperor put a price on his head, he turned up at his camp to collect the money himself. Cool as... or what?

The mines themselves were fantastic and provide a living embodiment of the notion of 'undermining.' Hundreds of miles of aqueduct brought water to the region to flooded pre-bored tunnels causing the very collapse of the mountains themselves. The deposits were then washed down streams to filter out the gold. What incredible feats of engineering? What gives you the imagination needed to move mountains? Pliny described it as ' far beyond the work of giants.' Workers were recruited from local tribes, who gave their employment in return for being allowed a certain degree of cultural autonomy. Despite local knowledge the job was fairly lethal and hundreds died. The site is now an orchard of wonderful mature chestnut trees.

As the light faded we climbed up to a viewing platform and looked down of the man made landscape shimmering orange and pale below.

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