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Roman Archaeological Site Finca El Secretario

Archaeological Sites of Andalucia

Roman Archaeological Site Finca El Secretario – Fuengirola

The Roman Archaeological Site “Finca El Secretario” is located in Avenida Nuestro Padre Jesús Cautivo 71, in the town of Fuengirola.

Finca El Secretario Thermae
First Approach

The excavations developed from 1991 have uncovered a thermal building of small dimensions (approximately 540 m2), whose excellent preservation makes it the most complete found in the province of Málaga so far.

Such remanins correspond to private baths (balnea) bound to a villa whse vestiges, yet without excavation works, have been detected on the other side of the bypass road, less that 30 metres away.

We do not know if both buildings, villa and baths, were part of the same architectural unit, since the works on the motorway (Fuengirola bypass), destroyed all archaeologica evidences. In spite of this, it is very probable, because of the difference in height between both and because of the appearance of the staircase section discovered in 1987, that they correspond to independent constructions although communicated by a flight of stairs.

Description of the building

It is located in the lower area of the site, taking advantage of the slope of the hill to ease the natural entrance of water and the construction of its buildings, with an almost imperceptible terraced arrangement.

The access to the baths must have been situated in the northeast area of the building, the worst know for being partially under the motorway. A stone paved platform gave way to a small hall richly decorated with paintings on the walls and polychrome mosaics with geometric patterns on the floor.

Next to this, a courtyard with arcade, directed to bathers towards the different areas of the building. Its walls were embellished with marble skirting boards and, the ambulatory (perimeter corridor) as well as the central space presented polychrome mosaics with geometric patterns of the floors.

In the side of the courtyard, and delimited by two small fountains (in the shape of an exedra) decorated with wall mosaics framed with marine shells, we find the apodyterium / dressing room. We arrive there ascending a step covered with marble. There is a polychrome geometric mosaic on the floor and a masonry bench adjoined to the wall.

In the south side, we can see the lavatory and small cold water pool. We descend to both by means of steps or tiers that take you down the slope existing from the courtyard. The lavatory had brick benches, on two of its sides, under which a water current dragged the excrements towards the general sewer.

In the east, we find another cold water pool, covered with marble plates.

To the west of the courtyard we come the the heated area, which is composed of four rooms:

  • The first of them is the tepidarium / lukewarm room. It presents one of its sides in the shape of an apse and the floor has not remained, letting us see the hipocaustum. Probably this room served as apodyterium in winter.
  • The second, located to the south of the previous, is a rectangular room in wich a circular pool is found. Since we have not detected any heating system, it could correspond to the frigidarium/cold room.
  • The third is a rectangular room, with marble floor. It could also be another tepidarium or, due to its proximity to the oven, a sudatorium / steam or sweating baths. In this room we can appreciate the remains of the false wall partitions through which the hot air went by.
  • The fourth, and last, is the caldarium / hot room. It has two alveus (pools): one of them rectangular, covered with marble plates and the other in the shape of and exedra.

To the north of the heated area we found an open space, possibly with gardens and with a remarkable slope. It gives way to the courtyard with arcades and the service area. In its northern most side we can see evidences (reamins of a bench, floors and wall painting) that show us that it could have been partially covered. All this suggests a resting or recreation area.

The service area is located in the west and south of the building. It is compossed of two ovens and their corresponding auxiliary rooms.

In the north, and in a higher area, stands the water deposit, castellum aquae. It is a small building compossed of six tanks, diminishing in size from west to east, and originally closed. Water would be led from some spring or creek, for its decanting and thereinafter channelled towards the baths.

Furthermore, the enclosure has a complete sewage system for the evacuation of water.

These baths had their maximum relevance around the 3rd century A.D., in the Later Empire. In successive years they were submitted to different reforms that affected fundamentally to the functionality of their buildings.

From the IVth century A.D., their facilities were remodelled for a new use related to the fishing industry until their definitive disappearance in the 5th century A.D.

Photo below: Ayto. de Fuengirola


The Roman Baths
Social aspects

The first times…

In the beginnings of the Roman Republic (VI th-Vth centuries b.C.)…Romans limited their corporal hygiene to the daily wash of their hands and legs, after work, and only had a complete bath once a week. They also enjoyed bathing in quiet waters, rivers or lakes.

In the winter days, in those houses with cistern and drainage system, Romans used a small room (lavatrina) provided with a basin, tub or bath (labrum), where hot baths could be had, taking advantage of its proximity to the kitchen. Only when the usage of the hot bath was daily and general, the most privileged houses began to incorporate a bathroom (balnea), imitating the Greek pattern.

The public baths. The thermal baths

Along the 2nd century b.C., the private baths (balnea), of moderate dimensions and with a resticted number of clients, live together with the first public baths (balneae). Among the latter, some had been built by private companies to be profited with the income (balnea meritorious) and some others built by rich citizens for the people, and afterwards by the emperors (thermae). The thermae (thermal baths) belonged to the State, but they were rented for a certain amount of money to an entrepreneur (conductor), that had the right to charge a modest price for admision, generally a quadrans (a quarter of an as, the as amounts to 0,03 cents. of Euro). The children were admitted free of charge. Some wealthy citizens or magistrates could assume, for a period of time, the payment of the fares, which meant the free admission to the thermae.

In the year 33 b.C. in times of Agrippa, there were 170 public baths in the city of Rome and in the middle of the IVth century A.D., they were more than one thousand (among which there were eleven large thermae). The thermae, in addition to having various rooms devoted for the bath, contained gardens, promenades, palestrae, resting rooms, gymnasstics and massage rooms an, even libraries and museums. Among the largest we could mention those of Trajan, with 100.000 m2. built in 109 A.D.; Caracalla, 140.000 m2, built in 217 A.D. in which 3.000 people could be bathing at a time; Diocletian, with 150.000 m2, built in 305/306 A.D.

The timetable

The thermae in Rome were opened from noon until dusk. The opening or closing time was signalled by a sort of “gong” similar to the sound of a little bell. The time of higher attendance was the eighth hour (four in the afternoon in winter and five in summer), after working hours.

In those establishments which did not have specific rooms for women, different times were set. Women used to attend in the first hours of the day and men from the eighth hour until the eleventh or twelfth hour (seven or eight in the evening).

The modesty. Men and women

The Romans of the II century b.C., people with auster and strict customs, were very modest. For instance, it was not well seen that a father was shown nude before his son-in-law or his son, and consequently it was considered improper to bathe in public. However, when time went on, the pleasure for the hygiene became stronger than the modesty.

Soon, the nudity stopped being a problem, to such extent that women could bathe with men. Normally, there were independent sections but they always had the chance of encounters in the palestra, of shared baths in the darkness of the hot rooms or in the only and large cold room (the pool in the open air).

The unavaidable excesses and scandals, together with the pressure of the most puritan society, motivated the intervention of some emperors as Hadrain, Marcus Aurelius or Severus Alexander, who imposed different timetables. But the success was scarce until the Christians achieved in the Council of Laodicea (320 A.D.), the total prohibition of the use of the thermal baths by women.

A contrasts world

At the fixed hour the public baths opened their doors to people of all class and condition (rich and poor, magistrates, guards, strangers, working people, …). Previously, it was necessary to wave throuhg all kinds of small merchants that were proclaiming their goods (combs or perfumes, drinks, towels or sandals…) amidst thepeculiar smell of burning wood and the steams.

The bathers went inside carrying with themselves various objects, oil bottles, strigili (bent irons to rub their bodies), soda (because of lack of soap) and various cloths to dry the body. The wealthiest  people were accompanied by servants who helped them during the bath, massaged them or were watching the clothes. The poorer people had to rent the services of the personnel of the thermal baths.

During a short while, in which the ordinary social order was abalished and the people were seen without any hierarchy or post, the clients wandered around the different bathing rooms admiring the grandiosity of the rooms or the beauty of the different decorative elements. Finally, they concluded the session promenading by the gardens and porticos, attending to some concerts or representations or reading in the library of the thermal baths.

Roman Archaeological Site "Finca El Secretario"

The Ritual Tour of the Baths / The heating system

The ritual tour

From the end of the 1st century b.C. the people attended to the baths to wash themselves as well as to maintain their physical balance and, furthemore, to experience a pleasure that they had always been very fond of. The Romans had discovered in Greece the positive effects of the alternation between heat and cold. The contrast produced by the increase of the corporal temperature, through hot baths or physical exercise, and the cold water produced a stimulant effect that the physicians of those times considered very favourable to fight against the diseases.

For many bathers the four was preceded by preparatory exercises that took place in the palestra. In an open courtyard, normally covered by sand and surrounded by arcades in one or more sides, the clients practised gymnastics or athletics or participated in their favourite games (ball games, fencing, races..). All of them were played in garments (a robe or tights) except the wrestling combats in which the nude body received an aintment composed of oil and wax (ceroma), and them a powder layer was applied to prevent the body from slipping between the hands of the opponent.

There were users that did not visit the palestra and went directly to the apodyterium (dressing room), where they joined the sweaty sportsmen. This room, located near the entrance, was surrounded by benches adjoined to the walls and, on the head´s level there were recesses without doors where the clients left their clothes before going to the circuit of the baths.

The first step was the access to the tepidarium (the lukewarm room), where the atmosphere temperature was normally from 25 to 30 degrees. Once there, the bathers sat in benches while their bodies acclimatised to the tempertature change.

Once the perspiration had begun they could move to a hotter room, the sudatorium (to have sweating or steam baths). if there was not such commodity, they went directly to the caldarium (room for hot baths) where the temperature rached 55 degrees. There were one or several pools (alveus) filled with water, at a temperature of about 40 degrees, with tiers or steps where the bathers sat in the water or just had repeated water aspersions. Whe the heat was very high, it was time to enter the labrum (basin or smal tub) that was filled with cold water. There were also people  who spent some time cleaning the dirt of their bodies with the use of the strigilis.

After abandoning the caldarium they returned again to the tepidarium to soften the transition before getting into the last room, the frigidarium (cold water room), provided with a pool where the clients swam in fresh water.

Roman Archaeological Site Finca El Secretario - Fuengirola

The heating system

The first public baths were heated using braziers whose dimensions and number were adapted to the importance of the establishment. But this heating was not effective since they gave off large quantities  of carbonic gas and the heat was not sufficient to provoke the perspiration.

In the beginning of the 1st century b.C., a rich industrial entrepreneur, C. Sergio Orata, imported from Asia Minor the heating system through the floor (although Romans considered him the real inventor).

The technique consist in making a circuit of hot air under the floor and inside the walls. The hot air was generated by the combustion originated from an oven (praefurnium). To fulfil this objective, very innovative constructive ideas were put into practice. The first of them was to slightly lift the floor (suspensura), supporting it on a great number of pillars, usually made of brck, uniformly distributed. In this way, and underground chamber about 60 cm. high was created (hipocaustum), letting the heat move around the heated rooms. Another innovation consisted in creating hollow walls, with special bricks, to permit the air circulation and the evacuation of the heat and the smoke towards the roof, where holes let the smoke go out. This way of making the heat pass through the walls let to taking great advantage of the heat.

The new heating system implied very positive aspects. On the one hand, it pertitted a regular warming of the rooms and a natural graduation of the intensity of the heat depending on the proximity or distance to the oven. On the other hand, it avoided all contact of smoke with the bathers.

The oven was located in a cellar within a ventilated service room and with sufficient space to store the wood, communicating with the hipocaustum through an opening on the wall. The water was led from the main cistern to the cold water pools and to the boilers, installed above the oven, and from there, it was channelled towards the hot water pools.

Depending on the size of the building, several ovens could be built in order to provide the greater possible comfort to the bathers. In this case, the main oven was placed next to the caldarium, the room that would need more heat intensity.

Roman Archaeological Site Finca El Secretario - Fuengirola

Pottery – Kilns

The Pottery production

The important development of the fishing industry results in a growing demand of pieces of pottery, indispensable in the production process as well as in the storage and the marketing of the products of the sea. This need is going to increase the number of potter´s workshops (figlinae) in the surroundings of the salted fish factories.

These centres were established seeking certain conditions for good result in production: the abundance of freshwater (creeks or springs proximity), the existence of clay deposits and the location of the facilities in a protected place away from the wind. We must also mention the presence of a bearby forest to provided fuel for the kilns.

The pottery complex was composed by an assorted number of facilities: kilns for the baking of the wares (of different size and typology), buildings for the storage of the manufactured pieces, dependencies for the potter´s wheel work, deposits and channels for the water, decantation pools…

The production fo these potteries was very varied, from common pieces (casseroles, bowls, pots, mortars, pitchers, earthenware bowls, small flasks, lids, dolia…) to building materials. But undoubtedly the most outstanding production of them all was the amphora.

This vessel was made with certain uniformity in its formal characteristics (great size, differentiated neck, two handles, pointed bottom, …) and it was very cheap and liable to be manufactured in any kind of clay. It was an ideal container for packing and transportation of salt, of the salted fish pieces, of the garum….

The pottery production in Fuengirola / The pottery in Roman Archaeological Site “Finca El Secretario”

The only pottery production centre found in Fuengirola so far has been excavated in the site of Finca El Secretario. It is closely related to the salted fish factory built next to it and, therefore. It would be part of the same industrial complex.

By means of the archaeological proyects, we have been able to detect five kilns; three have been totally excavated and one partially uncovered. Except one of them, of small size, the rest of the kilns present the same typology: circular ground plan and central pillar. Such pillar, in small diameter kilns, is sufficient to support the horizontal plate of the grid.

The kilns present the access corridor and the combustion chamber, having lost all evidence of the grid and baking chamber. The walls and the central pillar have been built with brick and the then plastered with clay. All the remains are perfectly encased in the arglilaceous bed.

Some aligned walls, very badly preserved, appea near the kilns. They could have been built to avoid the loss of heat.

The formal features of the kilns of this pottery tell us about a very extended type in the Baetica (Andalusia), aminly in the manufacture of salted fish amphoras, of the 2nd centuries A.D.

The Kiln

The Roman kilns present an assorted typology, although they are roofed in common formal elements.

Basically, the kiln consists of three parts: praefurnium (access corridor), fire chamber (or combustion chamber) and baking chamber.

The praefurnium is used for the fueling of the kiln. Fire is made in the entrance and the hot air draught passes through the fire chamber, ascending and filling the baking chamber where the pottery pieces are carefully piled.

The roof of the fire chamber (grid) corresponds to the floor of the baking chamber and it usually presents a series of holes to distribute the heat. Smoke and gases escape through several shafts made in the upper part of the vault of the chamber.

Roman Archaeological Site "Finca El Secretario" - Kiln

Roman Archaeological Site "Finca El Secretario"

Salted fish factory

The fishing industry and factories of salted fish

The fishing starts to be the aim of commercial development from Phoeniciam times (6th century b.C.), cecoming and important source of income for the oligarchies settled in the cities of the Andalusian coast, especially from the cmmercialization of fish saling throughout the Mediterranean since the fist decates of the fifth century b.C. in the Punic era.

The inhabitants of the coast knew how to take advantage of the geographical peculiarities  of the region (the climate, the salinity of the waters, the permanent and favorable conditions), and the riches of the marine fauna (tunas, bonito, prigate tunas, coballas, red mullet…).

The arrival of Romans will bring about the consolidation of this industry, both in the urban environment (in state or communal hands) and in the rural (in private hands). A faithful reflection of the latter is the proliferation, throughout the coast of Malaga, of “villas” with industrial facilities dedicated to fishing and to the processing of catches from the 1st to the 5th century AD. At the same time, these centers are promoting the emergence of other industries such as salt mines.

The salted fish factories and their derivatives, were established near the seashores and out of reach of the tides. The fish was transported to a cutting room. This room was concrete (lime, sand and gravel) for a better cleaning. Later it was piled in tanks (pools) at ground level for salting (pieces of fish and layers of salt were stacked successively in equal proportion), leaving it twenty days before ending the salting. Finally it was passed to clsed amphorae for commercialization.

The tanks area would have been covered with a roof to protect the salted fish from the sun, avoiding a too rapid evaporation or that the rainwaters diluted the brine and provoked the rotting.

Some adjoining rooms would be used for the amphoras storage, for kieeping the fishing utensils or for the manufacture of the “garum”…

The Finca El Secretario factory

So far, the arcaeological works have brought the light a small factory with three different spaces that are adapted to the hillside.

The fist of them, bigger in size, constitutes a large room without central pillars in which the bases of the wall pillars that would support its roof have been preserved.

The second space, narrower that the first, included the only recognizable access to the building. It is constituted by a staircase section of four steps that corresponds to the difference in level with the exterior. Inside, eight tanks disposed in two series of four, two of them presenting a modification of their original ground plan consisting in a separation wall.

The tanks are encased in the natural ground to facilitate their filling and to assure a greater resistance to the pressure produced by the fish and the salt. Their angles are rounded to avoid cracking and the contact zone between the walls and the bottom is reinforced by a quarter of a circle. The walls, made of masonry, as the rest of the building, are covered by several mortar layers (opus signinum) to assure their impermeability. They do not present any evacuation system.

The third space constitutes a room of smaller dimensions, perpendicular to the previous room, without central pillars and with terraced walls following the slope of the hill.

The interpretation on the use of these rooms is still doubtful and future archaeological interventions would try to make it clear. However, we can venture the following hypothesis.

The Garum

This sauce had a great reputation in Roman era not only in cooking by its nutritional qualities, but also as medicinal recipe due to its curative effects.

The garum was made in the factories taking advantage of the waste and scraps of the fish (viscera and other offall) that were soaked in brine during several weeks in tanks of reduced dimensions. In occasions, to accelerate the process. It was transported in pots to hot rooms where it was heated on the fire to activate the evaporation of the brine. Its flavour was different depending of the fish used or if it was made with prawns, oysters or any other mollusk, giving rise to a variety of formulas or recipes. Among them, for its undoubted documentary value, we could cite the recipe contained in the “Geoponics” (treaty of the imperial era on agriculture) in which we describe the domestic way to obtain this product:

Viscera of fish is put in a container and it is slated; small fish are added (some kinds such anchovies and red mullets are decribed. All that is seasoned with salt in the same way and it is left to come down in the sun, stiring frequently. One this mixture has been reduced by the heat of the sun, the garum is separated as follows: In the container we sink a large and thick-holed basket. The garum penetrates through the tiny holes od the basket and this filtered liquid called liquamen is collected.

The garum was  an essential sauce to flavor the food.

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