Archaeological Route: Iberians in Jaén, Spain
Notice: Many links on the present post go to websites which are only available in Spanish (labelled with: SPA). All Visiting Centres (or Interpretive Centres) linked to the organisation Viaje al Tiempo de los Iberos do have introductory videos in English. Some museums described herein do not have information panels or labels in English yet.
- Introduction and video (Viaje al Tiempo de los Iberos)
- A bit of geography and history (Iberians and Romans in Jaén)
- Route 001: From Cástulo to Sierra Morena
- Route 002: From the Sierra de Cazorla to Cástulo
- Route 003: From Cástulo to Jáen
- Trip 001: Porcuna, the Iberian Ipolca and Roman Obulco
- Image Gallery
A few days ago I presented a summary on the Iberians in the Iberian Peninsula indicating a number of places which should be visited to know a bit more about these people, their history and their way of living. There are several geographic areas in Spain with an abundant cultural-tourism offer concerning Iberians. Today I will talk about just one and I will turn it into an archaeological route, actually four, based on the sites that the organisation of Viaje al Tiempo de los Iberos (SPA) [A Journey to the Time of the Iberians] spreads. However, I will leave some of my own impressions, since I’ve been travelling around these place.
The Diputación Provincial de Jaén (SPA) (Provincial Council of Jaén) in close collaboration with the Centro Andaluz de Arqueología Ibérica (Andalusian Centre of Iberian Archaeology) of the University of Jaén, developed this interesting route that accompanies us on a trip that leads to different corners of the Jaén province, where we will find some of the most representative aspects about the Iberian culture in the Peninsula: oppida (fortifications), sanctuaries, necropolis, tombs of princes, and all kind of Iberian art and their material culture.
For those who speak Spanish, to get started, I suggest to watch the video below produced by the Diputación de Jaén. It lasts about 40 minutes, during which you will get in contact with some of the places described later on.
Now, my intention is to outline three archaeological routes and one archaeological trip focused on these sites. All three routes have in common a visit to the Iberian-Roman city of Cástulo, a site that in recent years has surprised us, especially the discovery of the Mosaico de los Amores (The Love Mosaic), and an extraordinary Iberian-Roman Lion sculpture. Of course, that mosaic is a Roman work, not Iberian. As you can imagine, although the route is focused on the Iberians, it is difficult not to talk at some point of the Romans, who as should be expected, also occupied this country and left an important trace on it.
The trip is intended to be followed in a day, and each route could be done in the space of two to three days, spending between one and two nights in the province of Jaén. Take into account that we have to add the trip back and forth from our own homes or origins. Although I talk of two days, it does not mean that you cannot shorten or lengthen your stay, according to your own interests. The province of Jaén has many other cultural and scenic attractions, which you may not miss. It is easy to fall into the temptation of staying a few more days in Ubeda or Baeza (both are World Heritage cities), in the Sierra de Cazorla or in the capital Jaén.
To enjoy your trip go on quietly. Let your imagination run wild, think of how they would look like: landscapes, walls and towers of the oppida, the ceremonies and life in those distant times, but, as I say, times that are much closer to us than we think.
Here I go. I will start with a short introduction on the geography and history of this region. Afterwards I will describe the routes and the trip.
If we come from the centre of the Peninsula, and move southwards along the current motorway A-4, we will cross the vast plateau of La Mancha, running into the beautiful mountains of Sierra Morena. Beyond the pass of Despeñaperros begins Andalusia, and the Jaén province welcomes us. We look over a completely different landscape than the one we left a few miles back, a landscape of hills and olive trees, millions of olive trees. Jaén is without any doubt the realm of olives, from which a high quality oil is extracted. Certainly, I do not know whether this would be the landscape that Iberians saw, between the sixth and first centuries B.C. It should be contrasted with historiography and palynology (the study of pollen). I know that in the city of Rome there is a hill called Testaccio. It is an artificial mountain, an ancient Roman garbage dump, composed primarily of oil amphorae. Apparently 90% of them come from the Roman province of Betica, which coincides roughly with the present Andalusia. Part of Jaén then belonged to this province, and it is conceivable that, at least in Roman times, olive trees were present, and would be one of the sources of wealth of the region, surely also in Iberian times. But what we can see today are much more trees than before. The province of Jaén is also characterized by its topography and geographical position. It is located in the upper river basin of the Guadalquivir, the most important river in Andalusia, which rises in the Sierra de Cazorla. On the other hand, we are in an area surrounded by mountains, except to the west, downstream of the Guadalquivir: Sierra Morena to the north, the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas to the southeast, and Sierra Mágina (near the Subbaetic System) to the south. Finally, this area was an important ancient road junction. From here (The Guadalquivir Valley) you access the Spanish Meseta (Plateau) and here passed the Via Heraclea, later called Via Augusta, linking Andalusia with the eastern coast (Levante).
On both sides of Sierra Morena, at Despeñaperros, lay the country of the Oretani Iberians. The north side is often called the Germanic Oretania and the southern, where is now the province of Jaén, the Iberian Oretania. It is not easy to attribute an Iberian origin to the northern Oretani, because we are in a frontier area, and close to the Celtic Carpetania. To the north of Despeñaperros we will find the remains of ancient important Oretani cities as Oretum (SPA) (Granátula de Calatrava), the Cerro de las Cabezas (SPA) (Valdepeñas), and the oppidum under the Alarcos Castle (SPA) (Ciudad Real), the latter three in the province Ciudad Real; or Libisosa (SPA) (Lezuza) in Albacete. Nonetheless, most academic experts consider them Iberian cities.
Anyway, the area that interests us now is the southern part, and when the Carthaginians arrived in the second half of the third century B.C., the Oretani lived here and their capital was Cástulo. The oppidum of Cástulo became famous with the arrival of these Carthaginians, that discovered not only the geostrategic importance of the region, but they also were aware of its mineral wealth, if we follow the passage of the Natural History of Pliny (NH, 33, 31, 96-97 ) in which he mentions the Baebelo mine, where Hannibal yielded 300 Roman pounds (librae) of silver daily. The Punics (Carthaginians) managed to control the area through personal alliances as might be the marriage of the Oretani Princess Imilce and Hannibal Barca, although we cannot really rule out that they imposed their power by military force. During the Second Punic War, Cástulo that was initially allied with the Carthaginians, decided to change sides and passed to the Romans, becoming a civitates peregrinae (a not Roman town) free and immune, acquiring, more or less 200 years later, in imperial times the condition of municipium.
|Friday||Night||Baeza or Úbeda||Tourist Office Baeza (SPA)
Tourist Office Úbeda (ENG)
|Night||Baeza or Úbeda||Tourist Office Baeza (SPA)
Tourist Office Úbeda (ENG)
BRIEF ROUTE DESCRIPTION: FROM CÁSTULO TO SIERRA MORENA
Following this route you will encounter Cástulo’s heritage, the proper archaeological site of Cástulo, its Interpretation Centre and the Archaeological Museum of Linares, almost entirely devoted to this site. After we will visit another important Iberian oppidum, Giribaile in Vilches. Finally we will travel to two of the most famous Iberian sanctuaries in the province of Jaén: The Cueva de la Lobera (The Wolves’ Cave) in Castellar, and the Collado de los Jardines (The Gardens Pass) in Santa Elena. In Castellar there is also a museum dedicated to the Iberian art, where we can admire a considerable number of evocative bronze votive offerings (bronze figurines). I suggest that you spend the two nights of the route in Baeza or Ubeda. Both are beautiful cities, with one of the most spectacular Renaissance ensembles in the Peninsula, which have been awarded the World Heritage recognition. Accordingly, if you do not know them yet, I recommend you to extend the length of your stay. Though talking of archaeology, we cannot close our eyes to these marvels.
Day 1 (Saturday): Oppidum of Giribaile, Archaeological Ensemble of Cástulo
After spending the night in Baeza or Úbeda, we will begin with a visit to the Centro de Visitantes del recinto fortificado de Giribaile (Giribaile Visiting Centre) in Vilches, where we will get in touch with this magnificient site. A previous appointment is required to visit the Centre (vide: brochure (SPA)).
With the knowledge gained, we can now approach the Giribaile settlement, located about 15 km south of Vilches. Access is by a dirt road, having to travel about 4 km from the A-312 entrance to the top. Although you can pass with a conventional car, an off-road or 4WD car would do better. It is not a suitable road for buses. Located between the ancient Via Heraclea (roughly coinciding with the A-312) and the current homonymous reservoir, the oppidum of Giribaile is situated on a hill from which it dominates a large landscape. The hill is divided into two platforms, one to the north and another to the south, the latter also called main platform. The silhouette of the twelfth century Almohad castle, in the northern corner of the first platform, although very ruined, still preserves several towers and some huge blocks made of rammed earth used in its construction. Traces of a Bronze Age settlement have been found, but it was in the Iberian period (between the fourth and third centuries B.C.) when the oppidum flourished. Its name could have been Orissia. Maybe the city was abandoned as a result of the conflict that started between Carthaginians and Romans in the Second Punic War. Ashes were found in situ which might point to a violent destruction. There are also sources that affirm that the abandonment actually occurred at the time of the Sertorian Wars during the first century B.C. The next material evidences found here are in any case already medieval. In the Iberian oppidum, which would have had an area of about 15 ha, several structures are still visible, from which I would highlight the collapsed southern walls on the main platform, along with the foundations of possible houses of that period. Other striking buildings are the cyclopean wall to the east of the Moorish castle and a sanctuary to the south of it. Excavations are in progress. They will slowly give us more light on the past of this interesting place.
After the visit to Giribaile, I recommend to have lunch in Linares, 25 km from the site. In the afternoon we will continue with a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Linares (MALI). This museum is dedicated almost exclusively to the aforementioned Iberian-Roman city of Cástulo. I suggest a visit to the museum before going to the site, because in the museum are objects that belong to structures that are not currently visible on the site, but are part of its history, such as grave goods found in the orientalizing Iberian necropolis of Los Higuerones or the Estacar de Robarinas. Apart from an interesting collection of Roman inscriptions and other Roman or Iberian artifacts, there are materials from the first inhabitants of the town of La Muela (Bronze Age). Among the orientalizing objects there is a tiny bronze sphinx and a bronze thymiaterion (a kind of incense burner) . Another unique piece, which already has a prominent place in the museum, is the fabulous Iberian-Roman lion (SPA) found at the end of 2013 close to the walls.
After visiting the museum we will have to go to the site of Cástulo, located about 8 km south of the centre of Linares. At the entrance, you will find an ample space for parking. Next to the parking you will have the opportunity to visit the Interpretive Centre, where you should stop for a while to learn a bit more about the history of the oppidum of Cástulo at the time when the Carthaginians arrived, through panels and a video projection. Then we turn to the site itself. As happens with most Roman cities on the Peninsula, coinciding with their decline, they ended up being abandoned, looted and turned into profitable quarries from which to draw material for the construction of other buildings. Cástulo dit not escape this trend and cities like Linares, Baeza and Úbeda benefited of its stones. The plundering in any case did not happen only coinciding with the end of the Western Roman Empire and during the Middle Ages, it also continued during the Renaissance and in more recent times. What is still left of the ancient Cástulo? To tell the truth just a memory of what it was, because we will not find outstanding structures, no theatre (although there are evidences that it existed), an amphitheatre or a circus, and of course, you can’t see anything that could be considered Iberian. If it was there at some time in history, it disappeared or its remains are buried. What is valuable in Cástulo is its history, which could be enriched when someone tells us a story when guiding us through its remains, its Roman walls, its water tanks or the Domus del Olivar with its baths. However, Cástulo was a very important city, it may have been the largest Iberian oppidum in the Peninsula. It would have also been the last river port in the upper basin of the Betis, the current Guadalquivir. Although heavily mutilated as it became a quarry, under the layer of soil created for centuries after the abandonment and collapse of the adobe walls of its ancient Roman houses, some humble, other rich, archaeological treasures are hidden, such as the recently discovered Mosaico de los Amores, the adjacent geometric mosaic or a new Roman necropolis. A very good news is that soon (at the end of this month or at the beginning of the next) the roof that protects the Mosaico de los Amores will be completed. Thus we will be able to visit it regularly. We can be sure that Cástulo is and will be a box full of surprises.
Once finished our stay in Cástulo, we would go back to Baeza or Úbeda to spend the night.
Day 2 (Sunday): Iberian Sanctuaries of the Cueva de la Lobera (Castellar) and the Collado de los Jardines (Santa Elena).
In my opinion, and it is a very particular view of my own, as to this route I would highlight the Iberian sanctuaries. Do not think you are going to find great buildings comparable to a Greek or Roman temple with walls, columns, pediments, pronaos or naos, no, instead you will see some beautiful scenery or cave. And these natural buildings are the ones that really give meaning to these sanctuaries.
We will begin the journey today departing from Baeza or Úbeda to join the road A-312 to Castellar. Here we will visit at first the Museo Ibérico (Iberian Museum) which houses one of the largest collections of Iberian votive offering made of bronze figurines. It actually should be called the museum of votive offerings. There are a great number of bronze votive figurines found in the neighbouring Cueva de la Lobera (The wolves’ cave). There are various motives represented. Some are original and other reproductions of the most famous ones that are kept in other museums, as may be the Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya (Archaeological Museum of Catalonia). We will find ladies or gentlemen begging, warriors, men with large penises, pregnant women, etc. These figures would be deposited in the sacred places with a request for healing, protection or fertility. To reach the Cueva de la Lobera we have to drive outside the village to a parking from which it takes about a 20 minutes walk. We will see a set of semicaves and rocky shelters in the place called Altos del Sotillo. As I said before, it will be the cave itself and its environment that might impact us. If on the afternoon we are not too tired and we plan to return home passing by Despeñaperros, I recommend a visit to the Sanctuary of the Collado de los Jardines (The Gardens Pass). It is located, an hour and a half drive from Castellar. From the motorway A-4, there is a detour to Aldeaquemada. After 6 km we will find the parking of a Visiting Centre of the Nature Reserve, which is currently closed. A path will lead us to the Santuario del Collado de los Jardines which is 500 meters away and about 70 meters below. We will see a rocky shelter, in reality a great rock wall, that shines with a copper colour at sunset. Next to that wall, protected by a grille, there is a hole in the ground that was the cave sanctuary. Thousands of votive offerings where found over here, which are now scatterred throughout numerous museums and private collections. Again we won’t find any structures, but a marvellous landscape. Going back to the car we can also access the Iberian village on the top of the mountain. There is not much to see, and we will need an expert eye to detect the shapes of the buildings. However, it is worth to climb up to the top to watch the splendid sights around us.
|Friday||Night||Cazorla||Tourist Office Cazorla (SPA)|
|Night||Baeza or Úbeda||Tourist Office Baeza (SPA)
Tourist Office Úbeda (ENG)
Day 1 (Saturday): Iberian Burial Chamber of Toya, Úbeda and Baeza
As to that new itinerary I suggest to start in the beautiful village of Cazorla (SPA) at the entrance of the homonymous sierra. If you do not know this village, you will experience a true desire to stay here for a few days more, and that is not strange because Cazorla, La Iruela and the wonderful Natural Park of the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas, located behind the village is well worth it. Therefore, only for this time our stay here will be just incidental. In the morning we will leave towards the neighbouring Peal de Becerro. Here we will go to the Centro de Visitantes de las Tumbas Principescas de Hornos y Toya (Visiting Center of the Princes’ Tombs of Hornos and Toya) to get to know something of the life of these princes, their funeral ceremonies, and the grave goods they left. We will see a large scale reproduction (1:1) of the Hornos Tomb, because the original grave could not be visited yet. The central target for today will be reached with the visit to the Cámara Sepulcral Ibérica de Toya, (Iberian Burial Chamber of Toya) a magnificent tomb, that consists of three chambers, a central one and two lateral, all covered with perfectly squared stone slabs on the floor, walls and at the ceiling. There are some banks alongside the walls on which the grave goods were deposited. The main part of these grave goods (craterae and other ceramic objects and the remains of a wagon wheel) is currently deposited at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid. Even if it is small compared to the pyramids of Egypt, it is a little gem. I will leave for another occasion a visit to the Roman villa of Bruñel (SPA) nearby the town of Quesada.
Now we will be probably hungry. I would recommend to drive to Ubeda and have lunch over here. On the afternoon it will be easier to walk to the Museo Arqueológico de Úbeda (Archaeological Museum of Ubeda). It is a small museum that could be watched in the blink of an eye. It is located in a fourteenth-century Moorish house, containing several halls with pieces ranging from prehistory, going through the colonizations, the Iberian and Roman up to the Visigoth and Muslim times. There are interesting pieces like the head of a Silenus and a Roman lion whose left paw steps on a human head. There are one similar lion in the Archaeological Museum of Linares, that also houses the recently discovered marvellous Iberian-Roman lion, larger than the other two, but with the same iconography of the human head in its claws. It may have an apotropaic or protective character related to a funerary use, or to any other circumstances where a protection is required (the mighty lion that protects the head, symbolizing the body of the deceased). It may also be related to the cult of the skull, which is typical Celtic, and not exactly Iberian, and there might be other hypotheses about its meaning. Afterwards we can spend a time walking through Úbeda admiring its Renaissance buildings or move to the nearby Baeza and wander through its streets, where you will be amazed too. If we go to Baeza, we can pass in the evening by the Plaza del Pópulo where we will see the famous Fuente de los Leones (SPA).(The Lion’s Fountain). It consists of two lion sculptures and another one of an ox. The three are of Iberian-Roman origin. From their mouths sprouts the water from the fountain. There is also a central column on which the statue of a woman rises. According to tradition it would be Imilce, Anibal’s wife. The set of sculptures come from the neighbouring Cástulo. Imilce’s head was destroyed during the Civil War (1936-39) and rebuilt later. Now it’s up to you to spend the night in Úbeda or Baeza. Both cities are really charming.
Day 2 (Sunday): Cástulo. Archaeological Museum of Linares
The route of this second morning is common to the itinerary planned for the afternoon of the first day of Route 001, so I refer to it. We would visit the Archaeological Museum of Linares and the Archaeological Ensemble of Cástulo. A quick visit, after leaving Baeza, to the cyclopean walls of Ibros (SPA) will be added. It is a good example of this type of fortification. Today we can see a corner of the wall 12 and 13 meters long on each side, respectively, and about 5 high.
If we had still time enough and we drive towards the Meseta, we could also take a look at the Iberian Sanctuary of the Collado de los Jardines in Despeñaperros.
|Friday||Night||Linares||Linares Tourist Office (SPA)|
|Timetable Arab Baths (SPA)|
|Night||Jaén||Tourist Office Jaén (SPA)|
|Timetable Castle of Santa Catalina (SPA)|
Day 1 (Saturday): Cástulo, Archaeological Museum of Linares, Museum of Jaén
During the morning we will repeat the Castulo Route (Archaeological Museum of Linares and Archaeological Ensemble of Cástulo). On the afternoon we will head to Jaen, where we would have lunch. Here we will visit the Museum of Jaen and his formidable Iberian sculpture collection, which comes from especially two sites: the necropolis of Cerrillo Blanco (SPA) in Porcuna and the Hero Sanctuary of El Pajarillo (SPA), Huelma. The Museum of Jaén is both an Archaeological Museum and a Museum of Fine Arts. Without underestimating the Fine Arts, which are beautiful, here I will focus on the archaeological side. That part is mainly exposed on the ground floor. Just after entering the building we will find a covered courtyard where the fabulous collection of the Hero Sanctuary of El Pajarillo is exhibited, a set of sculptures that formed a huge monument that would serve to deify a hero. The most interesting sculpture shows the head of a wolf (SPA), an animal that should have been very appreciated by Iberians. The other important sculptural group from Cerrillo Blanco (Porcuna) is located in the basement of an adjacent building (leaving the primary building to the left side). This set of Porcuna is outstanding, because no similar one has been found from this period. Sculptures were deliberately broken, but their figures are recognizable or at least interpretable. It is not known why they were destroyed, but they were buried in a family burial tumulus around 400 B.C., though the sculptures would be older. The museum displays a 1:1 scale reproduction of the burial chamber of Toya, it has several Iberian materials, as for example a chest discovered recently in an Iberian necropolis in Arjona (which cannot be visited), another masterpiece of the Iberian art. Some Roman pieces are exposed such as some mosaics of the Roman Villa of Bruñel or from Santisteban, the bust of a Roman lady with a stylish hairstyle known as «honeycomb (SPA)» or the late Roman sarcophagus of Martos. Now that we’re tired, I suggest to go out for tapas in Jaén, where I would also spend the night.
Day 2 (Sunday): Jaén, Puente Tablas and Cerro Miguelico
Today we can visit the formidable oppidum of Puente Tablas just 3 km east of Jaen in the so-called Cerro de la Plaza de Armas. At the time I was writing this article the site was still closed, but it is being refurbished to open shortly and works are well advanced. It is expected that both the Visiting Center and the site itself be opened to the public in September 2014. Until this happens, I suggest an alternative route visiting Jaen. I personally love the Castle of Santa Catalina (SPA), now partly converted into a Parador de Turismo, and would not miss the Arab Baths (SPA) in the Villardompardo Palace. Coming back to Puente Tablas, it is a medium sized oppidum, which would be inhabited between the seventh and third centuries B.C. It has powerful wall with up to eight bastions and a single gateway. Inside the enclosure a palace area and a large number of sockets of compartmentalized rectangular houses have been identified. Due to its proximity to the city of Jaén and its good musealization I do not doubt that it will be a fantastic reference point on the route of Viaje al Tiempo de los Iberos (A Journey to the Time of the Iberians) in Jaén.
On the afteroon I recommend a visit to the striking cyclopean walls of Cerro Miguelico (SPA) in Torredelcampo (SPA). They are the remains of an oppidum, of which apart from the impressive walls, little is left. However, the walls could be Roman from the Republican period and not necessarily Iberian. They are located in a suburban park next to the Chapel of Santa Ana.
|Saturday or Sunday||Morning|
Day 1 (on a Saturday or Sunday): Archaeological Ensemble of Porcuna
This weekend break is intended for a one morning trip visiting the Museo Arqueológico de Porcuna (SPA) (Archaeological Museum of Porcuna) and the Necrópolis ibérica de Cerrillo Blanco (SPA). (Iberian necropolis of Cerrillo Blanco). The museum in Porcuna is located in the Muslim tower called Boabdil tower. Even if it is not very big it contains several interesting pieces of Iberian and Roman times. I also recommend to visit the roof of the tower from where you will enjoy great views of the town and its surroundings. The Ayuntamiento (Town Council) of Porcuna exhibits part of the museum’s pieces. There you will find reproductions of the sculptures from the necropolis of Cerrillo Blanco. The originals, as mentioned above, are in the Museum of Jaén. After seeing the museum you should go to the Interpretation Centre of the Iberian Necropolis of Cerrillo Blanco located 2 km away from the town’s centre. I strictly recommend to call in advance the museum in order to fix a date for a joint visit of the three spaces (Museum, Town Hall and Necropolis). (Vide: brochure (SPA)). The Interpretation Centre of Cerrillo Blanco informs us about the burial customs of that time, on the arrangement of the tombs in the grave mound (tumulus), the different chronology of the burials, and especially the discovery and interpretation of the sculptures found here. After having seen the Centre, we will have to climb to the necropolis, to watch this amazing collective grave. In the town we could also find remains of the ancient Roman town of Obulco, but the access is restricted.
¡ENJOY YOUR TRAVEL!
Archaeological Ensemble of Cástulo
Puente Tablas, Jaén
Peal de Becerro
(C) Luis del Rey Schnitzler (2014)