In the year 1780, Pedro Arnal, director of architecture of the Royal Academy of San Fernando, documented for the first time the Roman villa that is located in the municipality of Rielves. It is located on a farm known as ‘El Solado’, about three kilometers from the town. Almost 250 years later, a campaign promoted by the City Council of this Toledo town seeks to unearth an abandoned heritage that has suffered from agricultural activity for decades.
The archaeological works that have been carried out since the beginning of this month of August have brought to light one of the 19 mosaics that housed this villa, which was excavated for the last time in 1968, in a campaign financed by the Central Institute for Conservation and Restoration of the Ministry of Education and Science. In it, the existence of the mosaics and the importance of the site, which was once again buried, were attested to. Since then the farm has had an agricultural use and its owner did not sell it to the City Council until last September.
“Starting the project has not been really complicated. In a first phase we have carried out a georadar study and small surveys -in the month of May thanks to an agreement with the Diputación de Toledo-. It has cost us more to get hold of the plot”, explains Luis Vicente Arellano, mayor of Rielves, a municipality of about 750 inhabitants. “Because of weight -the owner- came to agree” to the sale of the plot, an agreement that was forged through an exchange of municipal land and an amount of around 6,000 euros.
The plowing of the land has been eroding the land that houses this Roman villa and it is unknown to what extent the site has been damaged, of which the mayor himself made a 3D reproduction in 2006. He did so just one year after arriving to the town, since he is a native of Fuensalida (Toledo), and almost a decade before becoming the first mayor of Rielves.
“When I arrived I started to investigate the town. I got two copies of Pedro Arnal’s book -one in the Library of Castilla-La Mancha and the other in the Royal Academy of San Fernando-, with plans and drawings of the mosaics measured in feet”, explains Arellano about the material of the which was used to reproduce the villa, 44 meters long in a north and south direction and 42 meters from east to west.
The only figurative mosaic, in the Royal Palace of Aranjuez?
In the largest room was the only figurative mosaic, with armed warriors in its central part. According to their hypotheses, this mosaic could have been transported to the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, because although they have not yet been able to certify it, the National Historical Archive houses a document whose title is: ‘Discovery of a Roman estate near Rielves, Toledo. It includes the expenses of the excavation and the transfer of some mosaics to the Palace of Aranjuez…’. “It is the thread that we have to pull. It was recorded in that document,” says Arellano.
The reports of the surveys that were carried out at the end of the 1960s concluded that: “From the Report that our attendees present, as well as from the plans and photographs, it can be deduced that the importance of the deposit is something that is beyond doubt.” A phrase that Arellano has repeated to himself “many times” to encourage himself to start “the adventure” of recovering, preserving and enhancing a unique heritage in the town.
Several decades earlier, in 1923, Francisco Borja de San Román, delegate of Fine Arts of the province of Toledo and director of the Archaeological Museum of Toledo, became interested in the site after learning about Pedro Arnal’s book, traveling to it and finding one of the mosaics. He was buried again and the discovery was recorded in an article he published in the Toledo Art Magazine.
“It is a case of shame for Spain, because how do we justify, before the educated world, that -the mosaics- were discovered at that time, causing general admiration, and that after a century they were buried again under the earth? What qualification deserves such abandonment?” San Román stated in the aforementioned article on the future of this site.
Lorenzana and Carlos III
In it, he points out that in the 18th century Cardinal Lorenzana was one of the first to find out about the discovery and notified the Count of Floridablanca. “Then it came to the knowledge of Carlos III, initiator of the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum”, recalls San Román in his article on the monarch who financed the first excavation in Rielves.
As described by San Román, they were polychrome mosaics with extremely varied themes and geometric decoration, located in a building whose use was not defined by Arnal but by the painter and historian Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez, who assumed that they were a bath. “Between the rooms there were certain mud walls, and below an underground construction with brick masonry piers and remains of pipes,” he adds in the article.
A few years later, around 1934, the archaeologist Fidel Fuidio Rodríguez recounted in the article ‘roman carpetania‘ who, together with Leyún Pérez de Barradas, tried to acquire the land to conserve and protect it, but -he affirms- “the situation in which the owner of the land has put himself has made us desist from all attempts at salvation and conservation”. A story similar to the one that, with a different ending, the current mayor of Rielves has faced.
In the same way, Fuidio indicates that the work started by Arnal continued for six weeks, and that in the weeks after this date “up to 89 peons and 10 carts were employed, as reflected in the accounts of the expenses of the excavations” .
For her part, Virginia García-Entero, professor at the UNED, points out in another article (‘The investigation of the Villae de La Meseta) that it would be Mª Cruz Fernández Castro who identified this site as a villa almost 200 years after the work of Arnal, “without ruling out an imperial origin.” It had “a wide peristyle, rectangular on three of its flanks and semicircular at its southern end. We have proof of the mosaics thanks to the engravings of Bartolomé Vázquez -made on the drawings of Arnal-”, she points out.
Who owned this Roman villa?
The mayor of Rielves explains that there is no evidence that can show who this town belonged to, just as “in Carranque there is.” “When it was excavated -in the 1960s- a stone was found where there was an inscription in Latin. The materials that were found were deposited in the Provincial Museum of Toledo -current Museum of Santa Cruz-, but when I went in 2005 to look for the remains that had been found, they were no longer there. There was only one glass left…”, regrets Arellano.
The inscription on one of them, shown in the following digitization, read: “Arcadio lived seven years, and rested in peace on December 9 and was a servant of Saint Vincent Martyr.”
Gema Garrido, archaeologist (Global Archeology) and director of the excavation in which more than 30 volunteers from the ‘Verano Joven’ program of the Junta de Castilla-La Mancha participate, indicated to this medium that “it is a town of some importance because of the type of pottery that is coming out”. “This villa was not built by just anyone,” says the expert, who indicates that these types of villas usually have a “main building, which is the main area, while some have mills, ovens or a production area, with structures associated with the exploitation of the territory.
“We could detect the entire village”
For the moment, in this first campaign the objective is to verify the data collected by the georadar in the entire plot, for which four tastings have been carried out. “It is a very interesting site. In Toledo we know several Roman villas but most partially -due to works that have been located-. In this case, as it is a research task, we could detect the entire town with several campaigns. It is a new piece of information to know what the population was like in Roman times”, adds Garrido.
The archaeologist points out that the material from this villa has been reused because “most of the masonry and the built materials were removed for new construction.” In addition, “there is written information that indicates that Visigothic tombs were located, so that at this time -the town- had already disappeared as a habitat area and was used for burials”, she specifies.
Regarding the tasting in which the mosaic has appeared, Garrido points out that it was excavated in the 1960s and filled in later. Volunteers who have decided to spend two weeks of the summer discovering this archaeological site are working in this part.
The work of young students to rediscover the history of Rielves
“We are starting the archaeological site from scratch. We will be 15 days. We have found part of the mosaic and in the previous days we have found tesserae. Over the years, the tractors have been eroding the land and part of the mosaic has been destroyed”, explains Diego Rueda García, a Pharmacy student in Madrid at the University of Alcalá de Henares (UAH) and a volunteer in the campaign in Rielves.
Among the activities they carry out, the young people take turns digging or cleaning the tesserae they find to classify them and, if in the future a mosaic could be reconstructed, use them to complete it.
Montse Serrano de Castro, a graduate in History from the University of Granada (UCE), is also at the site: “The archeology classes have caught my attention and I wanted to put into practice the theoretical knowledge we had acquired. It’s being pretty interesting,” she notes.
It is her first excavation, like that of Alba Abad Caballero, a student teaching Early Childhood Education at the University of Segovia. “It is my first experience like this and also in volunteering. It’s very nice. I signed up for the adventure a bit and I don’t regret the decision, ”she notes. On her side, Elisa Pérez Bueno performs her third volunteering, although she had never been in an excavation. “We did not expect to find so many things. We are happy that the mosaic has appeared.”
A future interpretation center
The future of this site, as imagined by the mayor of Rielves, is that it can be discovered thanks to the implementation of various agreements with administrations and universities. “Once it is discovered, the idea is to carry out musealization work so that it can be visited and a small interpretation center,” he says.
For the time being, once this campaign is over, in which the Global Archeology team will continue for a few more days after the youth volunteers, Arellano wants to schedule a day in which “you can see how little there is”, but which he hopes will serve so that “the importance of what we have is understood”, a past of more than seventeen centuries of history.