Discovery in the dunes!

Saturday morning and an early swim with Ignacio in Trafalgar bay. I got there ahead of time hoping to catch the first rays on the recently discovered ruins of a Roman edifice that has been hidden under several metres of sand for the last millennia. I’d heard of the discovery first from a friend and then the local news agencies got hold of the story and now the word in the locality was that the ruins just a month after being discovered would once again be buried under the sand. With no government agency able to manage the unearthed complex it seemed best to preserve it from the hordes and the stone robbers. The dunes would once again claim the 2,000 year old ruins.

Local hearsay was rife with talk of a new Baelo Claudio discovery (this is the recovered roman fishing village just a few kilometres down the coast with amphitheatre, forum and streets intact, now a major attraction in the area). The reality was very different of course, the dunes here rise 10m. above sea level and run the entire length of the bay which would have made excavations even more difficult whereas much of Baelo Claudio lies at sea level and locals often built their houses with remains of the ruins that lay scattered around open to the wind. Although I was first told that this was part of a tuna factory (where locally caught blue fin was prepared, salted and wind dried) later information from Dario Bernal the professor of archaeology at the UCA (University of Cádiz) confirms this as the site of a thermae or roman spa.

Dating back to the first century BC this thermae complex had a hot air circuit fed by a furnace that emanated through chambers in the floor and walls, the columns in the photo supported the floor of the furnace area. Professor Bernal adds that among various hypotheses that the space “was a hygiene and leisure service for the workers in the almadrabas, the salted fish factories and aquaculture in the area”.

Equally the thermae may have been privately owned belonging to a nearby villa, the smaller baths were known as balneum and although private were often open to the public for a fee. This bathhouse due to its size would have been more like a hammam style steam room than large baths with a series of different temperature pools. As nobody is quite sure whether the University of Cádiz is going to continue the restoration we may never know the extent of the buildings and artefacts that lie under the dunes.

The dog’s thinking maybe he didn’t dig deep enough to find the bone…

Just across the bay about 400m. away the same team of archaeologists is doing an in depth study of the ruins scattered around the eastern face of Cape Trafalgar. I have often sat here enjoying the view and a picnic wondering whether the remains I was sitting on were phoenician or roman. The excavations here have conclusively revealed the presence of the first known roman piscifactoria in Andalucia where fish were farmed in twelve large piletas apparently in excellent condition. I’ll head across there later in the week but here’s a link to a video of the excavations going on.

Copyright Diario de Cádiz 2021

The sun rose higher as I surveyed the ruins of the thermae. How lucky and unusual to be a witness to something so ancient and yet so ephemeral. Gone for two millenia, briefly exposed for a few weeks and then returned to the earth like some rare creature waiting to be discovered again in another few hundred years. I wandered off to meet Ignacio and we celebrated a perfect Los Caños morning with a 4,200m. swim. Ignacio scratched 5 minutes off my time but I was happy with  the result. 20 minutes per 1,000m. is the minimum speed we need for crossing the Strait of Gibraltar later in the year. At 1’20” for my 4km. I just scraped in. I just have to be able to do that multiplied by 4. What would the romans who enjoyed their spa with its view across the bay have thought of us swimming so energetically without any seeming purpose? Mad presumably… and not far wrong.

Saturday’s swim – X marks the spot of the ruin

Update 20 May 2012

Another find! On Cape Trafalgar a Bronze Age tomb (4000BC) has been discovered with the bodies of 6 children and a woman interred there. The thermae I described will no longer be filled in and more investigations have been commissioned.

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