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Roman Cisterns of Monturque

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Roman Cisterns of Monturque

The Roman Cisterns of Monturque constitute one of the most valuable instances of Roman hydraulic engineering in the Iberian Peninsula. Since they were discovered late in the 19th Century, they are considered to be one of the better preserved works of water supply coming from the Roman Hispania.

These Cisterns were classified as Culturally Relevant of the Public Good (B.I.C “Bien de Interés Cultural”) by the Government (Decreee 81/1996, February 20th), which at the same time added to the same archaeological site the area known as “Criptopórtico de Los Paseillos” (“Gateway of the little walks”), this making up a great archaeological area. The whole of this actual zone has been provided with the highest level of legal protection which the Spanish laws on Historial Heritage can grant at present.

A protected area possessing the same level of legal protection mentioned above was likewise established in the surroundings. It was made to comprise the nowadays buried Roman hot springs discovered east of the gateway, the very gateway and a large part of the local cemetery.

Nowadays the Roman Cisterns of Monturque belong to the local Town Council, which looks after their maintenance and care. We all are, nevertheless, their real trustees under the obligation to defend the values of our Heritage and History, the actual symbols of our people´s identity.

The Origin of the Cisterns

Generally speeking, the Roman cisterns consisted of a system of receptacles where the water, carried there by means of the rain, aqueducts or even ground seams, was collected. Usually made up of several rooms, they were covered by barrel vaults and shaped by thick walls of opus caementicium, whose faces were filled with a waterproof layer of opus signinum.

The origin of these buildings can be traced back to the impluvia of the Roman domus (private houses), where there was a main courtyard or porch including a receptacle which collected and delivered the rainwater required for daily use.

This domestic system did not have, however, an alternative option during the dry months. Consequenly, the Roman authorities of the time, given that and adequate water supply for public places such as hot springs, parks and fountains had already been achieved; began very early to look for appropriate means to provide the population with water for most of the year. Public cisterns began to be thus built in the most important Roman urbes in order to have water tanks for the whole population.

Roman Cisterns of Monturque

The Great Cirstern and the hydraulic system of Roman Monturque

The ancient village of Monturque, founded upon a hill of 395 metres, was surrounded by a number of substantially lower fields and its population thus had to face many difficulties when dealing with their water provision. The great cistern was chiefly filled up by the natural water there gathered and stored thanks to the slanting position of the surrounding fields.

However, apart from the great cistern under the cemetery, at least another eight similar small cisterns can be found in Monturque.

The Discovery

The great cistern of Monturque was discovered by chance in 1885 when, as a consequence of a cholera epidemic outbreak, the local authorities had to enlarge the old, small cemetery near St. Matthew´s church. As a result of the subsequent works, these Roman remains, which were completely filled up with earth, were brought to light. In those times no scientific methodology was applied or an organized scheme was to followed, so they were cleaned and emptied out in a disorganized way, Neolithic axes, Roman pieces of pottery, vases and even a marble statue were found there, though nowadays their actual location is unknown.

Since then several theories about their true nature and meaning were offered by the local scholars and the first research fellows. In this light, it was said that they could be an instance of hot springs, military barracks, catacombs, silos or even the outbuildings of the nearby medieval castle; until they were definitely identified as Roman cisterns.

Roman Cisterns of Monturque

Deformations

Though their structure has never been modified, the cisterns have been used for many different things and have undergone some visual changes since then.

The original entrace of the great cistern, the one through which the workers in charge of the maintenance and cleaning would enter, was located exactly under the nave which we nowadays use to get into the system. The stairs used to go down did only have a single flight with a really sharp slope. The width of the canals connecting the different naves provides us with another instance of the deformations which the cisterns have suffered: most of them had been enlarged so as to make the movement of people easier.

In the say way, the eyes located over the canals and on the upper side of the vaults (so as to light the inner part of the cisterns up) had their diameters enlarged as well.

Old Uses

The way of thinking of the time when the discovery was made and the general lack of legal protection about historical and artistic monuments made the works for the cemetery to be done with the eventual addition of some rooms from the cisterns. Thus, the three southern rooms were used to provide the cemetery with a water tank, a pantheon full of niches the furrows dug in the walls to place the graves can still be seen, and a third one which was used as a great ossuary where the human mortal remains were piled up.

Roman Cisterns of Monturque


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