Archaeological routes in Ávila
The archaeological routes in Ávila or the Celtic archeotourism can be practiced in short tours visiting vettones forts, boars, dolmens …
Castro de las Cogotas: 10 km from Ávila it is located on a granite hill in the Cardeñosa area, a strategic place rich in fountains and springs, in the foothills of the Sierra de Ávila, bathed by the Adaja river and the Rominillas stream. From here we can contemplate wide views, from the Cathedral of Ávila to Arévalo.
Discovered in 1876, it is 455 m. long and 312 m. wide, with a double walled enclosure, stones driven in to prevent the arrival of enemy cavalry; and more than 1400 tombs in the necropolis of the immediate valley. It had its splendor in the 5th to 3rd century BC. All the houses have a rectangular floor plan, with masonry baseboards and adobe courses. Objects have been found, mostly made of iron, but also bronze ornaments and ceramic objects made by hand or on a wheel with openwork and comb decoration. The bulk of the visible testimonies correspond to the second Iron Age.
At the end of the 19th century, the site began to be known and aroused the interest of scholars in the area. Most of the site was excavated between 1927 and 1931 by Juan Cabré, who appreciated the discovery of a complete sculpture of a wild boar and two bulls in fragments.
The wild boar has an excellent state of conservation and its chronology can be established in the 4th-3rd centuries BC. Cabré demonstrated the firm correspondence of a part of the stone statuary with the fortified enclosures of the Second Iron Age and the livestock wealth of these populations. The latter presented an appearance not very different from that of the necropolis stelae and, remembering that some of the boars known in Ávila had Latin inscriptions of a funerary nature, he excavated the spaces between the stones, concluding that the sculptures had no funerary context. Given this fact, and given the remoteness of the castro cemetery from the place of the discovery, he hypothesized that this and other sculptures were conceived by the vettones as symbols related to the protection of livestock.
The wild boar sculpture is preserved today in the Plaza de Calvo Sotelo in Ávila (Plaza del Alcázar) where it arrived by order of Alfonso XII in 1877. next to the Mercado Grande, and one of the bulls can be seen in the church’s visitable warehouse from Santo Tomé el Viejo, next to the Museum.
Castro de El Berrueco: The archaeological site of Las Paredejas is located within the archaeological complex known as Cerro del Berrueco, between the provinces of Salamanca and Ávila, located in the vicinity of the Gredos and Béjar mountains, dominating a wide area of the Tormes valley, in the terms municipalities of El Tejado and Puente de Congosto and Medinilla (Ávila).
The richness and showiness of its findings explains why it was one of the most emblematic prehistoric settlements on the Northern Plateau. Since ancient times, it has been a place full of stories that speak of fantastic and real finds. The archaeological remains cover an area of about 5 km2 and include different sites dated between the Bronze Age and Roman times.
Surely, the communities that inhabited the hill and its surroundings played a key role in the contacts between the south of the Iberian Peninsula and the interior lands during the Iron Age. According to ancient sources, this area was inhabited by the Vettons, a people of Celtic culture of which the chronicles speak that they were allied to their Lusitanian neighbors in the fights against the Romans. Nothing is known of their language since they did not practice writing. They lived in places of easy defense, with several fortified enclosures, their society was strongly hierarchical and they cremated their dead, keeping the ashes in vessels that they buried in the ground.
The visit to the castro de Las Paredejas and the entire Cerro del Berrueco implies an interesting excursion on foot through an impressive granite landscape populated with holm oaks. The archaeological complex of Cerro del Berrueco is made up of two hills joined at the base: El Berrueco and El Berroquillo. It was declared a Historic-Artistic Monument in 1931, currently being a Site of Cultural Interest.
Castro de La Mesa de Miranda and La Osera: in Chamartín, 22 kilometers west of Ávila, strategically located at the confluence of the Matapeces and Rihondo rivers, on an extensive flat and steep hill, at 1,145 m. of altitude, it is the castro that better conserves its walls, with 2800 m. perimeter. About 2 km north of the town is the castro. Access can be made on foot, an excursion through uncomplicated terrain in a landscape of centuries-old holm oaks and stone fences. It is the most attractive for visitors without hurry, wanting to enjoy nature. It has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest.
The town’s three walled enclosures stand out, with reinforced tower defenses and a field of driven stones. The necropolis, known as La Osera, is famous for its extension – 2,230 graves – and its metallic grave goods, with more than 5,000 recovered pieces. As a complement to the visit to the fort there is an archaeological classroom in the town of Chamartín that contributes to the explanation of the fort and the historical context of which it was part. In this interpretation center they show us the life and history of the vettones in two stages: that of material life and that of the world of beliefs.
In addition, from this pre-Roman fort (4th-2nd centuries BC) come five specimens representing bulls and pigs. This data, together with the discovery of similar sculptures in Las Cogotas, served as the basis for Juan Cabré to propose a magical or religious meaning, related to the protection and fertility of livestock, the main source of wealth of these Iron Age communities . The most spectacular bull is currently preserved in the Plaza de Chamartín. Another of the sculptures has been taken to the archaeological classroom of the site, recently inaugurated in the town.
Castro de los Castillejos: The castro de los Castillejos is located in the heart of the Sierra de Ávila, in the municipality of Sanchorreja. It is an excellent area for hiking of low difficulty, being able to enjoy a healthy environment and landscapes of great beauty. It is the usual territory of the Avilanian breed of cattle, renowned within the world of gastronomy.
The town of Los Castillejos is located at 1,553 meters above sea level, on a mountainous hill, practically isolated, like an island mount, joined to the rest of the mountain range by a high hill that constitutes the watershed of the two ravines that isolate the hill. It effectively uses the steep terrain as a defense and only needs a wall in the weak sections of the two enclosures embedded between the berrocales. The town developed from the Bronze Age to Romanization.
Castro de el Raso : It is located in Candeleda, to the south of Gredos, at the foot of Pico del Moro Almanzor and is one of the most important Celtic sites in the entire Iberian Peninsula.
The excavations carried out in the site since 1970, have allowed us to know the existence of a huge pre-Roman town, signs of another previous town, an extensive necropolis and a small sanctuary. Two houses have been rebuilt to understand how its inhabitants lived between the 5th and 1st centuries BC. The people who lived in this walled town were, as the residents of El Raso continue to be today, farmers and ranchers, goats and sheep, cows and pigs. The mountains offered them abundant pastures throughout the year, without the need for transhumance. With simple seasonal transfers, which have been practiced to this day. From their cattle they would obtain not only meat, but also milk, cheeses, hides, wool, hides and fats. They help each other in their work and journeys, and in their war campaigns, with horses, in whose handling they were very skilled.
Castro de Ulaca: 35 km away from Solosancho, the Celtic fortress of Ulaca is one of the largest in the European Celtic. It is located on a flat hill in the Sierra de la Paramera at about 1,500 m of altitude, in the Amblés Valley. Towards the south a deep ravine opens with the impressive mass of the Sierra de Gredos in the background.
The oppidum was surrounded by a powerful wall that encloses an oval surface of more than 60 ha. Inside, although archaeological excavations are lacking, there are the stone foundations of square and rectangular houses, more than 250, apparently in good condition. They also stand out as singular elements of mysterious secular interpretation: a cave sanctuary and sacrificial altar, an initiatory sauna or initiation ritual, both carved in large rocks that emerge between the traces of the houses and the wall.
The conservation of the ruins as there were no later reoccupations is very good and the current distribution of structures more or less reflects the real one in the Iron Age. This archaeological route in Áse takes about 2 hours: one to climb to the summit and another to visit the site: the ascent has steep slopes and a quiet climb takes about 30 or 40 minutes. Sports shoes are highly recommended. The itinerary is marked with small granite cairns painted yellow and traces the most comfortable and advisable route. The site has been conditioned for public visits with informative posters at the most interesting points of the itinerary.
Two specimens of bulls are known. The most spectacular lay next to a spring in the place known as “Fuente del Oso” , at the foot of the Ulaca fort. It is preserved in the Plaza de la Iglesia de Solosancho. It is a large specimen (2.08 m long), probably sculpted in the 3rd century BC. The muzzle is missing and the limbs are broken above the knees. A zigzag engraving is designed on the right buttock. Another specimen comes from the surroundings of Ulaca, although its exact origin is unknown. The sculpture (1.62 m in length) lacks a head and the limbs are broken below the knees. It is preserved in front of the Villaviciosa castle.
Bulls and Boars of Ávila: When it comes to making one of these archaeological routes through Ávila and visiting old forts, we must bear in mind that Ávila preserves about fifty sculptures. Many are reused and altered, forming part of the canvases of the medieval wall that surrounds the city. Others are exhibited in the Museum of Ávila, in the visitable warehouse of the Church of Santo Tomé el Viejo attached to the previous one, as well as in streets, monuments and emblematic buildings of the city.
Twisting: In the pasture known as the“Alameda Alta”, In the municipality of Tornadizos de Ávila, there are more than twenty examples of bull sculptures aligned in series. However, the stone bulls – just like the famous Guisando Bulls – appeared in the open country, far from villages, in fertile meadows, where numerous heads of sow and cattle would graze constantly, and remembering that many other sculptures of the province did not They had a funerary character, Juan Cabré hypothesized that they were symbols related to the protection of livestock, favoring a magic of pastures and, perhaps, reproduction.
The pasture is located about 9 km southeast of Ávila, well delimited by small tesos and gentle undulations, at an altitude of about 1,250 m. Its location offers a strict visual control of the surrounding territory, open to the northwest, where it easily communicates with the valley of the river Adaja and the capital of Avila. The importance of the chosen place is also evident in view of the rich pastures located at mid-altitude, the only ones that can be used in much of the year. The sculptures configure a human topographic space. Visibility is exceptional for those who access the area from the Adaja plain and for those who move with the cattle along the ropes of the heights that close the Alameda Alta ravine.
The proposal of the Tornadizos boars as property delimiters corresponds quite well with the hierarchical settlement pattern offered by the eastern end of the Amblés valley. In this sense, we believe it is very important to refer to its probable relationship with the origins of the city of Ávila, perfectly visible from the hole. We would be looking at a characteristic example of the progressive concentration of the population and their cattle around a “central place” at the end of the Iron Age (1st century BC), close to the agricultural plain of Adaja and half distance from the richest pastures in the region.
Exactly twenty-two of these sculptures are known, eight being preserved there and the rest in the capital. We have tried to relate the area where these specimens appear with the European sanctuaries of the Celtic type, calledViereckschanzen,but there is nothing certain in this regard. Approximately half of the specimens in the group are characterized by their small dimensions and their straight, geometric profiles. In some cases they show Latin inscriptions having been interpreted from Roman chronology and as an integral part of sepulchral monuments.
Guisando Bulls: They are undoubtedly the most famous set of zoomorphic sculptures in the Iberian Peninsula. They are cited by Cervantes in Don Quijote de la Mancha and Lope de Vega also refers to these famous pieces in El mejor maestro, el tiempo. With their height and a half meters and almost 2.80 meters in length, the bulls offer an imposing appearance. They receive the name of the hill that rises in their vicinity, on whose slopes the old Monastery of the Order of the Jerónimos is located, in the municipality of El Tiemblo, and very close to the Madrid town of San Martín de Valdeiglesias. They are exposed to the open sky, probably in the same place where they were sculpted, on the border between the provinces of Ávila and Madrid. The enclosure that houses them, facing the Sierra de Gredos, is known as Venta Juradera, since in this same place King Enrique IV met with his sister Isabel la Católica on September 19, 1468 and swore her as princess and legitimate heir to the Kingdom of Castile.
The four sculptures appear aligned with their heads facing west. They are complete and very well preserved, resting on original bases that currently cannot be seen, since the statues are buried at the height of the hooves. The granite work allows to distinguish some details of the animal’s anatomy. The jaws, ears and holes for the antler, which would be false, are clearly visible on the head. The tables or wrinkles of the neck, forearms, knees, genitals, back and tail are also noted. The extremities are protruding from the block in which each pair was sculpted. On the side of some of the sculptures there are several horizontal and zig-zag engravings, and in three of them there are remains of Latin inscriptions, although only one, and partially, is currently recognized on the right flank of the bull located in the far north. It is dated to the 1st century AD. and he informs us of the inscription that was ordered made by a certain Longinus in memory of his father Prisco, of the Calaeticos: LONGINUS PRISCO CALAETIQ (um) PATRI F (aciendum) C (uravit). According to tradition, Antonio de Nebrija, the chronicler of Isabel la Católica, made the wax rubbings of the Latin inscriptions of the bulls.
The Guisando Bulls, surely, were magical indicative and protective images of the vettones meadows located in their contours. Its chronology can be established in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. although three of them, with Latin inscriptions, seem to have been reused in Roman times as tombs. The excavation that Sopranis Salto and Martín Rocha carried out in 1946 of two perpendicular trenches around it was sterile, discarding the hypothesis of a burial preserved in the same place.
The bulls were in a wide meadow that has been recently paved, fenced and prepared for the visit. To get to the Toros de Guisando from Ávila, take the road towards Toledo (N-403) and then the C-502. About 1 km east of the road, the sculptures are located. Another option is from Madrid, taking the Extremadura N-V highway and later the C-501.
Villanueva del Campillo: In the area known as “Tejera Vieja” (La Corneja farm) there are two sculptures that remained half buried in the dividing line of two properties and in a meadow which is called, significantly, “Campo del Toro” . It is planned to move the complex, once restored, to the town square.
One of the figures is medium in size, but the other has exceptional dimensions (250 cm long and 243 cm high) and is the largest known sculpture from the Vettona area and perhaps one of the largest in pre-Roman statuary in Europe. western. The sculptural ensemble is located at the northern end of a large basin very rich in pasture and with abundant springs, about 3,500 m to the left of the entrance to the Amblés valley through the Villatoro port. Its chronology can be established in the 4th-3rd centuries BC. and their function seems to be related to the protection of livestock and as territorial markers of grazing areas.
The sculptures occupy the most visible place in the basin as accessed from the port, at an altitude of around 1,400 m. They offer excellent visibility conditions, it is difficult to imagine a more central and clear visibility position. The sculptures are clearly aligned in an East-West direction with the head facing West, in such a way that they offer the maximum volume and the greatest visibility when accessing from the South, the natural way to enter the basin from the port. They are located just below the maximum elevation of the horizon ( “Cabeza de Toro” ), as the basin is accessed.
That height could have acted as a reference in the landscape to highlight the visualization of the sculptural ensemble. The large size of the sculpture – the original granite block would exceed 15 tons – absolutely unique in the whole of the Vettona statuary, it is a symbol of the power of the one who erected it and guarantees the identification of a human group with the territory it occupies. The basin dominated by the sculptures brings together the richest pastures in the area.
Many of the sculptures have been damaged by both man and time and their protection is becoming increasingly necessary in order to safeguard this rich heritage. The enhancement of the historical and archaeological heritage of the Vettones forts and the sculptures of boars not only affects the knowledge of our history and our cities, but also the landscape in which they are integrated. In recent years, a new concept of Archaeological Heritage has been configured that, among other things, has introduced new concepts such as archaeological landscapes into the discourse, understanding by such those geographies with a significant concentration of sites and monuments. The vettones and boars from Avila fit this description well.
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