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El Castellar: a 21st century archaeological find

Marco Aurelio Esquembre Bebia
ARPA patrimonio S.L.
Director of the El Castellar Villena (Alicante) archaeological site research project (Alicante)

For 6 years we have been working at the El Castellar site. We are a multidisciplinary research team made up of technicians and scientists from the university and the private sector. We come from different areas, such as architecture, restoration and archaeology from the university realm. With our experience and knowledge, we have been involved in the investigation and recovery of this exceptional site.

Bodegas Francisco Gómez has opted for a scientific study, a rigorous recovery and an enhancement of the site. All the work we have carried out in El Castellar has been in partnership with the Archaeological Museum of Villena.

Mr. José María Soler had known for years that it was a medieval “Islamic” fortified settlement on high ground, with a massive dry-stone enclosure and no internal structures. The new excavations have uncovered a very different site.


The tasks we have carried out in El Castellar have been grouped into several phases. The first is the excavation and documentation of the existing structures. We then proceeded to recover the structures that had been lost due to land reclamation works carried out in previous years. This phase provided us with such relevant information that it prompted us to a more effective and comprehensive intervention.

A second excavation campaign included the internal habitation structures, which provided us with more precise chronological information. Finally, we carried out an enhancement project in which both the archaeological and architectural interventions were planned. At this point we propose a restoration criterion for the recovery of the wall structure as a whole. In this way, we could present the monumental ensemble to the public.

This is an exceptional finding that must be seen in the context of the dynamics in which we live today. On the one hand, we are in a process of renewal of concepts and theories, both in the scientific and technical field and in the social and cultural fields. On the other hand, we have a better understanding of the complex economic systems of the past. We are therefore in a position to interpret and understand new data and findings from a new perspective.

Yacimiento arqueológico El Castellar


Firstly, the theoretical side. The site fills a gap in the archaeological and cultural record in Alto Vinalopó. This fact calls into question the hackneyed appeal of cultural gaps used by researchers and writers on the post-Final Bronze Age and pre-Roman periods. It is a sign of sheer scientific cluelessness and lack of serious work. The Villena Archaeological Museum has tried to alleviate this situation with difficult and always incomplete prospecting campaigns.

It is exceptional because it opens up a discussion both for the period occupied by this site (between the 7th and 6th centuries BC) and for interpreting earlier periods, such as the end of Cabezo Redondo in the Late-Final Bronze Age and later periods in the Iberian world.
It opens up a debate on economic and social circuits in recent prehistory. It highlights the economic importance of Alto Vinalopó and the region of Villena at that time. It also allows us to intuitively know its geo-strategic positioning in relation to the neighbouring regions.
It raises a debate on the resources, usage, commercialisation and transformation of these lands into wealth. It gives us an insight into other changes that took place at the time, such as social and religious changes.

At the same time, it adds a new piece to the debate on whether the Treasure of Villena belongs to the local populations. In the period of colonisation, the socio-economic aspect is fundamental when interpreting its irruption and establishment. The existence of a site such as El Castellar would confirm the thesis of a rich socio-economic and cultural dynamic of the people who inhabited these lands in prehistoric times.
Secondly, this site is exceptional in terms of its structures. Taking advantage of the abrupt relief of the Sierra de Enmedio, a dry-stone wall of spectacular dimensions rises on one of the rocky outcrops. The walled enclosure has four solid towers and an elbowed entrance. On the inside, the route of the wall is marked out by a well-preserved parapet. This enclosure houses a group of houses and buildings of a civil and religious nature.

The settlement provides an interesting collection of materials from the 7th and 6th centuries BC. It is clearly ascribable to the period of colonisation during the period of Phoenician expansion.

It was a critical period in the development of our lands. This period saw the assimilation of technological innovations, such as wheel pottery and improvements in metallurgy. It was also critical for economic improvements with the cultivation of vines, olives and cereals. Cultural developments occurred with the introduction of writing. There were even religious innovations with the addition of a complex and rich pantheon, similar throughout the Mediterranean. These innovations take place in a culturally complex and culturally rich indigenous (local) society about which we still know little.

At the same time, the site of El Castellar provides new data on the process of the formation of Iberian culture. The first analyses indicate a very early and decisive introduction of oil and wine consumption. This was followed by the incorporation of the cultivation of vines, olives and cereals in our regions.

Even so, it is difficult to pinpoint the extent of this discovery. Unlike other sites, El Castellar has created a unique space of high cultural and landscape value that aims to generate a social, cultural and economic dynamic for the whole area. Thanks to the initiative of Mr. Francisco Gómez to excavate, rehabilitate and enhance its value, appropriate work has been carried out in innovation, development and research in the town of Villena.


A place to enjoy yourself…


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