Sunday, December 10

The curious case of Munigua, the tiny city of Baetica with a giant temple

A dozen kilometers from what is now the Sevillian municipality of Villanueva del Rio and Minas the visitor comes across one of the most unknown Roman archaeological complexes in Andalusia: Munigua, the Municipium Flavium Muniguense that the Romans built in the 1st century AD in an area where an Iberian enclave had already existed since the 4th century BC. The city was built with a republican design already outdated and exceptional outside of Italy but, above all, what is most striking is that for its tiny size (about 150 people) it had a surprising number of public buildings. Hence the question: what is that piece of temple doing crowning the hill on which this small city sits?

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Munigua, also known as Mulva, presents another singularity, and that is that it has been in charge of its excavation for more than 60 years Madrid Department of the German Archaeological Institute. And precisely the one who has been the director of these works for a quarter of a century until his recent retirement, the archaeologist Thomas Schattner, is the one who has brought the site back to the forefront with a recent publication with the seal of the University of Seville, which is accompanied by other volumes that are being edited by the Ministry of Culture on aspects such as the hot springs and the forum, the economy of Munigua and the buildings on the city’s hill. All the works also contain 3D recreations that help to get an idea of ​​what the small city was like.

Schattner acknowledges that yes, that “so much religious, public and official architecture for only 150 people” is striking, which he interprets in code that this complex with a forum, baths and several temples was a point of reference for the entire region. “Today 70% of the population lives in cities, but in ancient times it was the other way around, there were more people in the countryside”, hence when speaking of Munigua, we must also speak of its territory. Of course, due to the signs of activity, the figures are not to go crazy either, because around 850 could live in the surroundings of the city, which together gives us a total of a thousand people.

The grandeur of the sanctuary

“The Roman cities in Hispania were very small compared to those in Gaul and Italy,” explains Schattner. Built on a promontory, in his opinion “what is exceptional about Munigua is the greatness of the sanctuary above”, because it was also built in 70 after Christ following a model from the Republican era, somewhat outdated because it emerged -exclusively in the Lazio area – between 170 and 180 years earlier. This architectural type of sanctuaries on terraces is ancient, although it continued to be practiced in Roman architecture for centuries.

This implies that there was a “direct line” between Lazio and Munigua, “whoever financed it had to have known this architecture” which, he insists, “is too big for the needs” of the enclave. The building, which “fits perfectly into the landscape”, is the only example with these characteristics, not only in the Iberian Peninsula, but also outside of Italy.

The connection between these two distant areas could have been economic and based on iron and copper mining, since in relation to oil (the great product exported by Baetica) two dams have been found that were far from producing industrial. The mining thing was something else, because Munigua was at the time “the largest producer of metals in the Sierra Morena. There they had to earn money for the temples”, summarizes Schattner, who points out that deposits with 20,000 tons of slag have been located.

What were the roofs of the buildings like?

The now published work is proposed as a guide for the visitor that, at the same time, is an update of all the archaeological investigations carried out in Munigua. And when it comes to 3D recreations, the archaeologist considers that, although “archaeology is not an exact science”, a fairly reliable reconstruction has been achieved.

The challenge, he points out, is knowing what the upper floors of the buildings were like. “We have a clear idea of ​​what the buildings were like, where the doors and windows were, how they received the light”, but the real difficulty lies in the roofs: their slope, their height… “We will never know that because there is a lot of uncertainty , which leaves room for interpretation”, and hence more than one “theoretically possible” proposal is made.

Schattner emphasizes that when making recreations –which the expert Heliodoro Ruipérez has been in charge of– “the most difficult thing is knowing the height”. There Vitruvius lends a hand with his ten architecture books, which give many clues, although “we will never have absolute certainty” and in fact these reconstructions come to be a chimera of what the buildings could have been at some point in his life. .

A landscape with white and red tones

And what were they like? Well, they had a whitish or cream plaster as can also be seen in Pompeii; “It was more of an eggshell color than Andalusian white.” With its red stripes and its roofs of the same color, the complex had to contrast quite a bit with the green of an environment that “was as it is today”, because they already fed their bread ovens with cork oak and holm oak wood, dominant species in the area. current landscape. What has been most difficult to imagine is what the forum (“the most devastated”) and the baths were like, while the terraced sanctuary has been the easiest to rebuild.

Despite its tiny size, the truth is that the memory of Munigua was already recovered in the 16th century, when Ambrosio de Morales included the city in his history of Spain for Felipe II thanks to the contributions of Alonso Chacón, a Dominican who studied ancient inscriptions on the ground. “It was one of the earliest recognized Roman sites in Andalusia”, which did not prevent the small city from being buried by lack of interest in later centuries. And so things continued until the German Archaeological Institute in Madrid requested the first excavation permits, in the mid-fifties of the last century.

Not a single building is known from the ancient Iberian Munigua, known since the 4th century BC. Here Rome would later locate one of the more than 400 cities it founded in Hispania, one of the smallest but at the same time one of the most curious due to its singularities… and with a piece of a temple on top of the hill.