When the Forestry Engineer, Francisco Mira Botella found astone with an Arabic inscription on it, he would have never dreamt that the discovery would have such an important repercussion almost a century later. In 1897, at the beginning of the Guardamar Dunes Reforestation Project, he found the foundation plate, hidden in half-buried stones. Without knowing it he had discovered the Dunes of Guardamar Umayyad Caliphate Ribat. Later on, this site played a key role in the study of Islamic domination of the Iberian Peninsula. Thanks to this find, another even older site was discovered known as La Fonteta (8th-6th c. BC), of great value for the study of Phoenician colonisation.
In 1984, in the very same place of Mira’s discovery, excavations began to study the site. In subsequent campaigns, whilst archaeological remains were searched around the ribat, a well preserved wall, 4m to 5 metres thick, was found. After certain doubts concerning its dating, the conclusion was that, under the ribat and the sands, a walled Phoenician town had come to surface. As a matter of fact, it could be the best preserved city of oriental influence in all the Western Mediterranean. The conclusion was that the IslamicUmayyad Caliphate ribat, that Mr. Mira had found by chance,had been built with superficial materials of a Phoenician town jutting up from the sands surface.
THE TERRITORY IN THE 8th c. BC.
It is not possible to understand the history told by the site’s archaeology if we don’t analise, first, how the environment surrounding these stones was 3.000 years ago. Almost nothing of what we see now looks like what it did when the Phoenicians arrived in the 7th c. BC.
The first thing is that all the sand around us, and the pine trees planted by Engineer Mira in the early 20th century, were not here. The coast line was much nearer La Fonteta, with the sea line not more than a hundred metres away.
In the north side of the settlement there was an estuary in what are now the River Segura and all the inland farming area. There, this ancient settlement was organised around the inland lagoon. Both the Cabeço Petit de l’Estany (The Little Hill over the Pond), Guardamar Castle Hill and La Fonteta are all close to this sheet of water. In this way, La Fonteta is a repetition of the Phoenician model of a city related to trade on the Iberian Peninsula’s coast. That is, sheltered by the natural port of a river’s mouth, the Phoenician ships and the products they transported found a perfect harbour for trade and a refuge from hard weather.
WHAT BROUGHT THE PHOENICIANS TO GUARDAMAR?
The Phoenicians originally came from present day Israel, Syria and Lebanon. During several centuries they founded trading cities, which spread all over the Western Mediterranean. They arrived to our coasts as early as the 9th c. BC, where they found the metal needed to keep up this commercial structure. They had a great command of sailing techniques, which helped them to widen, little by little, a process of colonisation of the Iberian coast. This is the case of Guardamar where they first settled in the Cabeço Petit de l’Estany (Little Hill over the Pond) towards the 9th c. BC. After this settlement was abandoned they moved closer to the coast line, where they builtLa Fonteta, a bigger settlement sheltering a growing population.
The new site enabled them to control sea trade and establish a new trading route upstream the river. Even more so, the walled city of La Fonteta ensured safe trade.
INTERPRETATION OF THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS
After years of research and after the passage of two different archaeological teams (one composed by P. Rouillard, É. Gailledrat andF. Salaand the other led byA. González Prats), quite a few conclusions were reached thanks to the La Fontetaexcavations. The first is that only a small part of this extraordinary city has been dug. Some researchers believe that over 8 hectares of the city are still hidden under the sands (over 19 acres), although there are doubts about the real extension of La Fonteta.
Another conclusion is that we are in one of the Phoenicians cities, which can give us more information about the passage of these people in the Iberian Peninsula. The state of preservation is extraordinary and it is full of objects of all kinds: ceramics, metals, ostrich eggs and objects belonging to the metallurgical industry, funerary steles, amulets and even jewelry.
Last but not least, researchers have concluded that the settlement has three different phases. The most ancient one begins in the mid-8th c. BC with a housing system with adobe walls and roofs held by wooden posts. These houses did not last very long. The second phase dates towards the 7th c. BC when a powerful wall is built: 4 to 5 metres thick and almost 10 metres tall, with outstanding bastions and a “V” shape pit. This proves the need to protect the trade settlement of La Fonteta from enemiesoutside. The building systems become more and more complex. Stone and mud is used, with everything plastered in mud although adobe buildings are not abandoned. This means constant repairs have to be carried out,especially after the earthquakes, which can be traced in the walls of La Fonteta. Excavations have uncovered part of the wall, with canvass walls over 4 metres tall still standing. There are also the wall’s annex chambers and we can guess what should be a block of houses and the town’s plan. Metallurgical activity has been reported in the excavated rooms. The building systems improves as time goes on, with better coatings and floors, especially in the last phase and abandonment of La Fonteta towards the 6th c. BC.