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Friday, July 12, 2024

Archaeologists Call For The Protection Of Madrid’s Most Valuable Roman Site

Archaeologists assure that Carabanchel's archaeological site could be Madrid's first roman archaeological site which could change the city's history

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SPAIN. Madrid: The Professional College of Archaeologists of Madrid (CPAM) has submitted in the General Direction of Cultural Heritage of the Community of Madrid a proposal to declare the Carabanchel archaeological site a BIC (Site or Place of Cultural Interest).

Carabanchel is a peripheral neighborhood in Madrid where a Roman story lies hidden under the ground of the Eugenia Montijo archaeological site discovered in 1819. This archaeological site includes the old prison’s open field, the area of the chapel, the graveyard, and the Eugenia Montijo metro. The CPAM’s press release states that the open field of the archaeological site “has been abandoned for years due to economic interests” which is the reason why they urge a total protection that will allow an analysis in depth of the archaeological site, in order “to recover and to share with the citizenship this exceptional historical heritage in the center of the peninsula and the only one of its kind in the city of Madrid”.

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Value of the Eugenia Montijo archaeological site

Carlos Caballero, the Professional College of Archaeologists of Madrid spokesman, explains that there have been several excavations that have proven the site’s value. In 1999 Eugenia Montijo’s metro excavation “confirmed that indeed the roman site extended to that area (from the open field – known as the Eugenia Montijo archaeological site – until the metro), and, also, we confirmed that – the metro area that occupies part of the site – has a series of remains from previous and subsequent historical ages from the Roman times”.

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Laura Fernández, an archaeologist that is working on a doctoral thesis about Carabanchel’s archaeological site, highlights that an archaeological site with other historical findings gains importance. Normally, an archaeological site is a place where there has been a certain population for a certain period of time. Over time, sites are abandoned, and the population moves to another place. Laura Fernández explains that “what we have here is a living site. We have remains from the Ice Age to this very moment. We have Iron Age, Roman, and the chapel which is a Mudejar chapel (the oldest building in the Community of Madrid). Also, Laura Fernández assures there has also been a “presence of the civil war with the use of an old prison in the site during that period”. 

Roman findings have been appearing over time

The chapel of Santa María de la Antigua is a mudejar chapel from the 13th century. During renovation works of the chapel, Carlos Caballero and other archaeologists had the opportunity to study a series of findings. Mainly, these were a couple of Roman ceramics that the graveyard’s gravedigger gave to the archaeologists. Moreover, Carlos explains that they also “were able to confirm with other findings exactly the same as in the Eugenia Montijo metro excavation; that there is a long sequence of occupation from the Iron Age to the medieval or even later periods”. 

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Carabanchel’s archaeological site excavation in 2005 by Jesús Rodríguez, Plataforma Salvemos Carabanche
Carabanchel’s archaeological site excavation in 2005 by Jesús Rodríguez, Plataforma Salvemos Carabanchel.

Furthermore, in 2005, an excavation in the open field to connect Vía Carpetana with Calle Pingüino was paralyzed due to new findings. On this occasion, the hypothesis of the existence of an ancient settlement in Carabanchel became stronger. As Carlos Caballero reveals “a series of structures undoubtedly roman were found. These were a series of walls that belonged to housings”. The importance of these findings forced the suspension of the works. The remains were covered and yet “no study of the finding has taken place ever again” regrets Carlos. 

For Carlos Caballero, “There’s no doubt that there’s a roman past in Madrid. and especially in Madrid’s surroundings”. In fact, he states that there have been other findings in areas like Casa de Campo, Puente de Segovia, and Madrid’s city itself. In the words of Carlos, “undoubtedly, there has been a Roman occupation in Madrid”. This is key to understand why Carabanchel’s site has such importance. Madrid has a roman past to be proven and its biggest expression within the city is the Eugenia Montijo site. Laura Fernández points out that “the extension that the site has is more or less around 55 hectares”. This means “it could be an urban nucleus of great importance” or “a villa dependent on a city, or it could simply be a wealthy house”. 

A Roman mosaic and a unique ancient figure of Minerva

One of the Eugenia Montijo site’s secrets has been revealed for centuries (even though it is still unknown for most of Madrid’s citizens). In the Quinta de los Condes de Montijo (nowadays disappeared), about 300 meters away from the chapel of Santa María de la Antigua, the Roman mosaic of Carabanchel was discovered. Nowadays, this mosaic is exhibited in the Museum of Madrid’s Origins and it is believed that it belongs to the 5th century A.C. 

The Four Seasons Mosaic of Carabanchel in the Museum of Madrid’s Origins. Ayuntamiento de Madrid.
The Four Seasons Mosaic of Carabanchel in the Museum of Madrid’s Origins. Ayuntamiento de Madrid.

It is known as “The Four Seasons Mosaic” due to its representation of the four seasons in honor of the Roman god Bacchus. This unique finding has a surface area of 5.50 meters x 4.30 meters, and it has been made of limestone, ceramic, marble, and coloured glass paste which provides to the mosaic its red, pink, ocher, blue, black, green, and white colours. 

Another iconic item that has been found is an ancient bronze figure of Minerva. Currently, it isn’t exhibited in any museum and it is carefully guarded. Minerva represents wisdom, arts, and war. She was the defender of Rome and the artisans. Sonia Dorado, a neighbour, and Audiovisual Communication expert who has worked for the protection of Carabanchel’s archaeological site, shows with her own hands that the Minerva figure is a small sculpture. This is one of the reasons why it is so valuable because, as she explains, “being such a small relic, it has been able to survive all the damage that this site has suffered”. This piece of art was found by José María Florín between 1903 and 1906 who donated the Minerva figure to the Royal History Academy.

The importance of protecting and studying the site

The only obligation of the College is to defend the people who are professionally engaged in archaeology, but the institution has taken an important role in defending the protection of Carabanchel’s archaeological site along with a multidisciplinary working group made up of archaeologists, historians, architects, environmentalists, art historians and volunteers from Carabanchel created in 2019. Carlos Caballero explains that “archaeological heritage is part of our profession and therefore, it is still our obligation to protect it”. 

Laura Fernández next to the hermitage of Santa María de la Antigua in Carabanchel’s archaeological site. Carlos Barriga.
Laura Fernández next to the hermitage of Santa María de la Antigua in Carabanchel’s archaeological site. Carlos Barriga.

In this case, to Laura Fernández, the potential of the site’s value justifies the need to protect it. Currently, the ancient Complutum in Alcalá de Henares is the only roman nucleus found in the Community of Madrid. This area is in the northern part of the Community, which isn’t in Madrid city, therefore, the Eugenia Montijo site could be Madrid’s first Roman nucleus. As Laura states, Carabanchel’s archaeological site “is a large area that could be a second roman nucleus which is something that we don’t have in Madrid and that would have a direct importance for the neighborhood itself”.

Sonia Dorado also points out that the Eugenia Montijo site should be more valued as it had been in the past. During the 19th century the discovery “became a historical fact in Europe. There are documented sent letters in which even french personalities (such as Prósper-Mérimée) recommended studying this site”.

Lastly, Carlos Caballero reminds that “there has been a neighborhood fight in the defense of this cause in the last years to keep the site alive, and we believe that this neighborhood fight needs a boost that can be given by the College. Protecting the site would be the reward for the hard work neighbors have done”.


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