Munigua, Seville province
Ancient city lost in the Seville countryside
Who needs to go to South America to discover ancient cities lost in jungles? Alive and well in the heart of Southern Spain and, in common with many of the excellent ideas to come out of this part of the world, the concept was probably formulated here and then exported.
Munigua is a Roman village located deep in the heart of the Andalusian countryside and is situated to the north of the small town of Villanueva del Rio y Minas, a town that owed its existence to the product that brought the Romans here in the first place.
For this is mining country. The hills of this part of the Sierra Morena, in the north of the Province of Seville, are full of iron ore and the town was, until the early twentieth century, the epicentre of the mining industry.
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Villanueva del Rio y Minas is a sleepy town whose many ornate buildings, like a faded diva, show evident signs of decay. And like many such fading flowers, a heavy hand has dabbed superficial makeup over the cracks of time.
What struck me, having come specifically to visit the Roman Town of Munigua, is that the town appears to make no provision for perhaps its principal redeeming feature; one that would make it instantly attractive to new generations of admirers. For, even though the lost town of Munigua is located scant kilometres to the north of this town, it remains just that – lost.
Following the signs from Seville to Lora del Rio and Villanueva del Rio y Minas, we arrived at the town mid-morning. Initially, we saw no signs marking that here was located a jewel of the ancient world. However, if you looked hard enough, there were some. Small, barely perceptible signs, written in letters too small to be read from the car marked the general direction of the town of Munigua. The person who had placed them had obviously not had enough signs to mark the trial though and, after finding the last one hidden behind a fence we were directed out of town and across a river whose scant red water spoke of its mining past.
In the end, we gave up and asked someone the way. He told us to follow an unpaved road for eight kilometres until we came to a farm called Finca El Fijo where we would have to leave the car and continue on foot.
With our objective clear and, after passing a surprisingly modern arched bridge, the tarmac road petered out at the edge of the town of Villanueva del Rio y Minas and we drove into the heart of the Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Herds of toros bravo (the type that will as try to stick their horns in you as soon as look at you – this is one of those parts of the world that breeds fighting bulls as feed-stock for the bullring) grazed peacefully in fields shaded by Spanish oak trees and the rolling foothills of the Sierras undulated gently, framing the distance.
After travelling around five kilometres we arrived at the gates of the Finca El Fijo where we left the car and continued on foot. There was no car park here so the car was left, along with several others, unceremoniously at the side of the road.
It was evident that, although there was a right of way through this land, the farmer hadn’t considered that the naked juxtaposition of man and beast might have potentially created some diversion and it was thus that the theme of toros (and their aggressively female counterpart) bravo continued. We were stopped short by a magnificent bull whose muscles rippled with all the macho spirit of his species and, as he passed his gaze across us, I’m sure I saw a glint of steel at the end of his sharp horns. The problem we faced was that he was in the same field as us! Luckily for us, he had other things on his mind and, as the herd of spritely females headed towards the farmhouse and breakfast, he decided to follow.
The countryside through which we walked was Spanish dehesa. Ancient oaks dripped their dry leaves to the ground and cows grazed nonchalantly across newly rained-on grass. Because of a healthy respect for these magnificent creatures we had to take several diversions around some of them although it was more than evident that they were used to the steady stream of visitors crossing the land. Indeed, we saw more than one be-sandaled, overweight city gentleman stop to be photographed posing proudly next to a gently ruminating beast, fearless in his disdain for the fearsome reputation.
The, after walking another kilometre or so, the ruins of the city suddenly appeared on the horizon; a fortified structure whose walls, reinforced by what I could only suppose were early versions of the flying buttress, soared over the sea of trees below. This was discovery on a scale that is little imagined in Europe today and I could almost feel Indiana Jones controlling the movement of my hips we approached.
Because of the potential for vandalism and robbery, the complex in which the village fortress is located is only open for certain hours. The signpost at the rusted gate told us that the opening hours are from Wednesday to Sunday from 10.00 to 14.00 and that 13.30 is the limit for entering.
The ruins are still being excavated but some of it has been restored to give a feel of its original configuration. And, even though only the footprint of most of the buildings can be seen, there is enough for a willing imagination to recreate what life must have like for the 200 years that this was a living, breathing colony of miners and their families.
The houses form a cluster at the foot of the small hill on which the main fortress is located. There is even a small temple, which has been sympathetically restored, to indicate that even the spiritual requirements of these early settlers of an untamed land was catered for in days long gone.
I came away from the village almost holding my breath. Looking back, as the fortress that had been dominating the high ground for the last 2000 years slowly sunk beneath the crown of the trees, my mind was filled with questions about the reasons for the abrupt abandonment of the settlement; an abandonment that lasted until late in the middle of the XVIII century (1765). Was it simply that the mines became exhausted or was the reason more sinister?
Whatever happened all those years ago, the town of Munigua will remain an enigma for at least the foreseeable future.
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We came away from Munigua full of questions. Looking back, as the fortress that had been dominating the high ground for the last 2000 years slowly sunk beneath the crown of the trees, my mind was filled with thouughts about the reasons for the abrupt abandonment of the settlement.
Some secrets will never be revealed.