Paleochristian Basilica Vega del Mar
Paleochristian Basilica Vega del Mar – Marbella
The Paleochristian Basilica Vega del Mar is located in C/ Eucaliptos (stree) in San Pedro de Alcantara, municipality of Marbella.
In 1915-1916, while planting eucalyptus in the area, the remains of the basilica where found and a first archaeological excavation took place being in charge Mr. José Martínez Oppelt.
From 1929 to 1930, there was a very intense archaeological activity period acting on The Vaults, Vega del Mar and all its surroundings. Especially interesting where the works centred on the basilica carried out by the archaeologist Mr. José Pérez de Barradas as they defined the extension of its structure and excavation of 148 graves. The material culture remanins extracted during this works possess a remarkable significance.
Description of the Monument
The building has a basilica floor plan made up by a central section or hall in square planning with three aisles divided into four stretches by pillars, an two opposed apses with a semi circumference layout. Next to the apse of the altal, two rooms are located one of which has an extremely interesting baptismal font with a four-lobbed floor plan to be used at the immersion rite, next to a rectangular one of smaller dimensions.
Attached to both north and south of the prayer room there are two constructive sections, s atriums or porticos, to be used not only as entrance halls to the temple but as part of the course of the catechumens and clergy to the rooms attached to the west apse. The chevet of the temple faces the northeast.
The construction of the basilica is modest in the way it was built, standing out the not very specialised brickwork with a clear economy of means. This way, the walls were erected using pebbles and boulders gathered from the nearby rivers and mixed with lime mortar.
The diverse scholars who studied the temple in Marbella expressed different opinions when adjusting the chronological origin and evolution of the building. This way, the desagreements have to do particulary with the foundation of the basilica and the constructive phases that could later affect the atriums and even the two remaing apses. The most remarkable opinios from the investigators and scholars are the following:
- Pérez de Barradas, places the construction of the basilica in the last third of the IVth century. It would be destroyed at the beginning of the VIth century as the result of a big seaquake.
- Schlunk, places the construction on the second half of the VIth century based on other existing architectural parallels.
- Hübener, dates the complex in the second half of the VIth century based on the chronology of the first tombs related to the basilica.
- Palol, dates the temple by architectural parallels in the VIth century and the restructuring of one of the side rooms to the apse into a baptistery in the second half of that century. He dates the necropolis in a wide time range from the IVth century till the Vith-VIIIth.
- Fontaine, insists in placing the construction in the second half of the VIth century although, he dates the west apse time before.
- Schlunk and Hauschild, refer the construction of the basilica with one only apse (western) durning the V-VIth centuries, and by studying the ceramics found in the necropolis they place the southern atrium in the VI-VIIth centuries.
- Ulbert, defends the unity of the temple as an original work with two apses. This author refers to a later phase where the construction of the northern atrium and other additions, like the pillars of the east apse and smaller walls, took place.
- Posac y Puertas, last group research published explains a diachronic conception of the basilica, where the origin of the opposed apses structure would be situated at the beginning of the VIth century and the southern atrium, the construction of the four lobbed font and the enclosure of the eastern apse would take place in the middle of that same century.
In the beginning the rite of baptism was carried out by inmmersion, that is imitating the way Christ was baptised. The physical space where the baptismal font was located, in this case three pools, is known as baptistery. It could be placed inside the temple, usually at the feet, or in detached buildings conceived as a singular place. The aim to distinguish this space from the rest of the temple is reflected by delimiting its way to the central area with a wall.
This rite was full of a strong symbolism, shown in the baptismal font, with an external four-lobed floor and in the shape of a cross inside, and in the course the catechumens (non-baptized believers) should flollow.
After giving up sin, they entered the pool from the west to exit facing the east, reinforcing the contrast of the kingdom of God (east) against the kingdom of Darkness (west). The future Christian submerged three times invoking the father, the son and the Holy Spirit. In this ritual water had a purifying nature, it gave those baptized the nature of new people, it freed them from the past and prepared them to be able to receive the Christian message teachings.
In the VIIth century, the rite of baptism changed to be carried out by sprinkling holy water on the head.
The Cemetery of Our Ancestors
During the Roman Empire, the coast of Malaga was home of numerous settlements. Even thought there are no remains from any of them, the basilica must have been related to at least one of them which could have been the town Cilniana mentioned by different sources.
This temple was built next to a Roman necropolis (town of the dead in the olden days) which soon became the focus of attention for Christians; the cultural use added to the funerary use since the basilica fulfilled the desire for a cult building where to rest.
The funerary ritual used was the burial, placing the corpse on its back wrapped on a shroud or inside a coffin.
Some burials show grave goods such as rings, belt buckles and vessels, which bear witness of the presence of Visigoth and Byzantine cultural elements.
Even though most of them are anomymous tombs, the tombstones show information about some of the people buried there. Like Firmana, a girl who lived and died in the area.
Almost two hundred burials have been found. As the archaeological planimetry shows most of them are located around the temple, although there is also a large number inside. The latest works show that there is quite a wide chronological sequence, III rd century-VIIth century AD. The most usual typology is the following:
- A) Grave with tegulae in ridge shape structure.
- B) Grave with marble slab structure.
- C) Grave with boulder walls and covered by slabs.
- D) Grave with brick walls and covered by slabs.
- E) Group of attached graves.
After the Edict of Milan in the IVth century A.D., Cnstantine the emperor favored the Church and encouraged the construction of its temples. Christianity ceased to be persecuted and became one more representative of the offical roman world. An already existing roman civil building was taken as a model for the new constructions, the basilica. This building responded to the needs of cult and hierarchic organization adopted by the church. There was no uniformity in the way to build them but they all followed a previous directing scheme with the objective of concentrating and transmitting the symbols and the message of the new religion.
The church (ecclesia) was conceived as a meeting place for man and God; therefore its architecture involved a great symbolism.
- Apses in Omega shape. The last letter of the Greek alphabet, symolizes Christ as the end of sin.
- Central Aisle. Reserved to the clergy.
- Side Aisles. One for men and one for women.
- Doors. The side entrances symbolize the spear injury on the side of Christ´s body.
- Altar and possibly Martiryum.
- Baptistery. With several baptismal fonts.
There are almost no traces of the inner pavement of the basilica or the original coating of the walls on which fragments of deep red decorations can be seen. Bricks appear solving jambs and corners, as on the pillars framing the west apse. Ashlars were used in the square pillars. The voussoirs in the arches were made of stone and were found together with some pieces of marble in bases and columns during the first excavations. In regard to its inner appearance the roof must have been made of wood, being the central aisle possibly higher than the side ones.