BAPTISTERIO DE GABIA LA GRANDE
- Discovered in 1920 and declared Historical Artistic Monument in 1931 and Heritage of Cultural Interest in 2002, although it has continued to belong to the heirs of the former owner of the soil.
- It was first excavated in 1922, from which most of the rests of decoration found have disappeared, and it was excavated again in 1979.
- The last research conducted has discovered rests of a Roman villa in its surroundings, for which the declaration of Heritage of Cultural Interest was broadened to the whole "archaeological area of the Roman villa of Las Gabias".
Buried at 7 Km from Granada, in the road to Alhama, we find one of the most mysterious and less studied monuments of all the pre Romanic period in Spain.
Discovered in 1920 in an area in which other remains have later appeared of what seems to have been a large Roman villa, it was immediately object of a preliminary excavation by the Monuments' Commission of Granada; declared historical artistic monument in 1931 and from then on very little progress has been developed in its study, to the extreme that it was only declared a cultural interest monument by the Junta de Andalucía only on December 10th, 2002, when the baptistery as well as the Roman villa were at the point of disappearing on account of an edification plan that had been already approved by then. Until then, its preservation had been achieved only by the interest of the owners of the land.
The monument consists of an almost square chamber of 4.20 by
3.80 m with a spiral staircase at the NE corner, from which nine steps of one
block sandstorm are preserved, forming a small tower closed by a dome vault and an access gallery of 2.10 m wide, 2.8 m high and 30.50 m long, covered by a barrel vault that has on its SE wall seven opening spaces of 1x0.75 m at 1 m height from the floor with a very pronounced low water level, through which the light would reach the gallery almost vertically.
The chamber has an apse at the SE side, somewhat elevated from
the chamber's floor, with a round arch with a voussoir series in brick excepting
the key, which is wider and made of sandstorm. There is a window on each of the
four walls, originally above the level of the external floor, that would bring
an almost zenithal light to the chamber. It seems it was covered by a pendentive
dome upon squinches, although there is not enough information to be certain. In
the middle there was an octogonal bapstismal font in white marble built-in in
the floor, of which a fragment was found in the same place, with water supply through a
leaden pipe that entered through the centre of the apse's wall, at the level of
its vault. The base of the whole plinth and a stripe of white marble flat plates
of high quality of 30 cm high have been preserved. It seems that this decoration
with white marble plates would reach 1.70 m and at that point a sort of tympanum
started, decorated with compositions with human and animal figures and vegetal
drawings. All of that under a heavily polychrome baldachin, made with painted
stucco and tiles of small glass tesseras.
A great deal of ashes was found in the excavations which walls
were blackened due to a fire; and rests of a magnificent collection of samples
probably razed for religious reasons before the Arabic conquest.
The remains appeared with a decoration clearly of oriental
style show through their variety and richness the great importance that this
monument had. Made basically with marble plates and serpentine and with glass
tesseras, forming leveled figures that set like a marquetry work. All that
decoration does not look at all common in our peminsula; something close can
only be found in the inner doors appeared among the rests of the Elche Basilic,
possibly of the same date and origin. It seems that today part of the decorative
elements found in the initial excavation has been lost; among those, a white
marble plate, broken in three fragnments and with vegetal ornamentation;
applications representing fishes, fantastic animals that show their body covered
with small circles which legs and heads were made separately; several human
heads, among them one in white marble of 90 x 75 mm; three undetermined animal
heads in gray marble, a chrismon with the Greek ípsilon, a Corinthian capital
with thorny acanthus.
Several authors have catalogued this monument as Paleo-Christian and today, according to the Junta de Andalucía, it is considered as Roman "Cryptoporticus" ¿? but in view of its structure as well as the type of masonry building, and the characteristics of the decoaration found make it more probably that we are dealing with a baptistry built during the seventy years that the Spanish southeast was under Byzantine domination, as of the year 554 when Atanagildo rose in arms against the king Agila and asked for the help of the emperor Justiniano handing over in exchange a great part of the Visigothic territory. It is important to bear in mind that even a Byzantine patriarchate was formed in Cartagena, which would explain the Greek characters in the decoration of this monument and could have been even a reason of its later desecration when the Byzantine domination disappeared in that Spanish region.
Anyway, to reach more certain conclusions it would be necessary to try to recover the remains of the decoration that were taken to Granada after the first excavation, and others to the National Archaeological Museum, where they may be preserved among the unexposed funds, and make a more thorough research in the adjoining areas and of this monument that has such special characteristics within the High-Medieval Spanish architecture.
Other interesting information
Access: Gabia (Granada), road from Granada to Motril, diversion to the
right at Km 3. GPS Coordinates: 37º 8' 28,56"N 3º 40' 22,90"W (not
Visiting hours: The owners have the keys. It is easy to contact them finding out in the village.
Fiestas y Cultura en las Gabias, año 1979: Colectivo ATALAYA
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II (Fotos 237 y 244)
L'Art Preroman Hispanique: ZODIAQUE
BOE 007 de 08/01/2003 Sec 3 Pag 853 a. 856