The Phoenicians began to visit the Iberian Peninsula’s coasts in the 9th c. BC. They came searchingfor raw materials, mainly metals, which they obtained through exchange with the local population. These traders,known for their navigation techniques and as cultural transmitters between East and West, founded a number of trading posts on the coast. They chose high places on river mouths and islands near the mainland. They sometimes built powerful forts to protect, store and reship their trade goods.
The earliest signs of Phoenician presence in the River Segura’s estuary date from the 9th c. BC. It must have seemed an outstanding landmark. It was marked by a coastal hill, where Guardamar Castle now stands, that was not only a visual reference for sailors but a hilltop where a sanctuary could be established. The foothills were a privileged natural environment with shallow draft waters, which allowed the Phoenicians to anchor their ships. To the west and south there were several mountain ranges, rich in metals, where some native villages stood. That was absolutely necessary to engage in trade relationships. Very close there were several lagoons to obtain salt, essential to preserve the food which had to be carried in long sea journeys.
On a small hill in the southern River Segura estuary, they found the perfect place to raise one of those primitive factories known as ElCabeço Petit de l’Estany or the Little Hill over the Pond. Quite a few recent studies indicate the site was a coastal port, now 2 km from the coastal line because of the river sediments.The settlement appears heavily fortified in its southern access. It hadverydissuasive walls that emphasised the presence of local communities outside.
On the rocky surface, Phoenicians developed an agile and flexible town plan, which they had already done elsewhere, in some cases in very distant places. The fortification was powerful and functional. It accommodated a small human village that could defenditself without great problems. In addition, it offered the needed space to store trade products.
Thisfortification reflects atypical eastern Mediterranean model. Some very similar sites have been discovered in Lebanon and Israel such as Khirbet Qeiyafa or the biblical Hazor. It adapts to the ground with a constructive cadence and metric system unknown till then in Iberia. For its construction, the latest architectural techniques were used: plumb walls, hollow towers with benches, parapets, squares, and square houses following a metric system that was based on an organic measure, the elbow (0,52 m), which they had learntfrom the Egyptians. The wall has two parallel linens, including some rectangular spaces with a door that allowed them to store amphorae, wineskins and other objects or raw materials found.
The powerfulwall casemates and bastions, a quarter of which still stands,tell us that the relationship with local tribes was not always friendly. Inside the casemates, archaeologists have found remains of “durum” wheat and barley, reporting which were the cereals cleaned within the walls. We can deduce that their fear of danger was constant. A small earthquake ruined the town in the mid-8th c. BC, which was beginning to grow and house more and more people. Most of them were natives but many were also from mixed marriages. The first rectangular wall collapsed partially, invading some of the streets with stone and rubble. It was never built again.
The inhabitants of this old Phoenician town built buttresses and slopes, still visible today, since they tried to continue living there. However, many decided it was time to find a better location closer to the open sea. In addition to the earthquake, the Cabeço Petit de l’Estany began to seem rather small, and the siltation of the River Segura made berthing extremely difficult for ships. This combination of factors marked the migration of its people to La Fonteta, the newPhoenician City, where another wall was designed, to withstand the region’s high earthquake risk.
Excavations indicate that a group of craftsmen were still living in the village during the 7thc. BC. They produced metal objects in their furnaces and forges. Although it was partially abandoned the wall still stood, with a large brace to hold both sides. A ladder was used to enter the citadel. At this point, they built a large circular house with adobe benches where they pursued their craft. The enormous growth of neighbouring La Fontetawas the reason why this Phoenician settlement was abandoned and ruined. This is how the memory of a village of great significance,in the history of the western Mediterranean, fell into oblivion.
A few centuries later, in the 1st c. BC, a family of Roman peasants built a small house on the ruins of the old Phoenician settlement. Surely they knew not what was lying beneath them. El Cabeço Petit de l’Estanywas forgotten and slept beneath the soil until a quarry almost destroyed itentirely in the late 20thc. Nevertheless, thedetermination of archaeologists and the interest of the people of Guardamar have been able to retrieve it from oblivion. It is today a part of the rich cultural heritage of the town.
The site now has international recognition thanks to the research carried out by the Archaeological Museum of Guardamar and the University of Alicante. It is a highly protected site and an essential scientific and cultural resource.