Turismo Prerrománico > Phases > Visigothic > Byzantine > VALENCIA LA VELLA


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Historic environment

The Hispanic archaeological heritage is still a source of great surprises at the beginning of the 21st century. The astonishment is that we are referring to an extensive site, of about 5 hectares built on a raised and stepped terrace between the right bank of the Túria river and the Barranc dels Clavills, only accessible from the western side, which is located just 16 km from the city of Valencia, approximately in the center of the third metropolitan area of Spain. It is a Visigothic city that is called to be a reference point for a historical stage that is still too invisible in our collective imagination.

In the middle of the s. VI, a new fortified settlement of some size arose, València la Vella. Its construction, ex novo, involved a great building effort. In addition to the large walled enclosure, three neighborhoods have been located, several public buildings in the lower part and another in the citadel. It must have been the center of power of the Carthaginensis province in the 6th and 7th centuries.

The site was abandoned at the end of the s. VII or early VIII. At the same time, another monumental nucleus was created, the important center of power of Pla de Nadal, about 2 km . from Valencia la Vella. Its most notorious element was the great palace in the central courtyard, but the various buildings that appear around it indicate that it would be a complex yet to be defined. Valencia la Vella must have served as a quarry.

València la Vella, already mentioned in archival documents and in novels from the 14th and 15th centuries, was only a literary evocation of the past until, at the end of the 1970s, its western area was razed and lowered with heavy machinery to lift a Renfe bridge. There was no protection framework and the events gave rise to emergency excavations between 1978 and 1980, carried out by the Servei d’Investigació Prehistòrica (SIP ) of the Diputació de València, in collaboration with the University of Valencia.

Since 2016, the Riba-roja de Túria Town Hall and the Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica have been promoting a project research based on archaeological excavations and summer training courses. The results obtained allow, despite being still in an incipient phase, to be optimistic and suggest that the entity and the level of conservation of València la Vella will make this enclave a very important protagonist in the investigation and socialization of the Visigothic archeology of the next years. Not only because of its capacity to generate knowledge, but also because it is embedded in the communication network of the metropolitan area. In addition, this nucleus is located within the Turia River Natural Park and enjoys double urban protection (BIC and specific park regulations) and heritage interest: historical and natural.


València la Vella is still, in part, a great unknown in Valencian archaeology. Due to the enormous visibility and extension of the walled complex, it had been interpreted as a significant place. Initially, its vestiges were associated with some Iberian, Punic or Roman city mentioned in classical sources, especially Pallantia. The SIP excavations rejected these hypotheses. Subsequently, Miquel Rosselló specified his chronology in the Visigothic period, as recent actions have corroborated.

The new topographic documentation, more recent architectural and stratigraphic findings have provided enough information to introduce València la Vella in the scientific debate on newly created urban processes and the geopolitics of the Valencian area and the whole of Visigothic Hispania. In the current incipient state of research, at the moment, the questions far outweigh the answers.

It was a strategic enclave protected by walls and natural defenses, controlling a nearby river passage, plus the land route that followed the river course, a natural communication path between the coast and the interior.

The walls are its most characteristic feature. The topographical survey indicates an approximate perimeter of 1 km. Its layout, slightly trapezoidal, was adapted to a fluvial terrace sloping from the escarpment of the river, from which it protruded between 24 and 41 m. It is made with a double masonry face bonded with lime mortar and, inside, a rubble made of a mixture of poor lime, decomposed natural marl and stones. It reaches a Maximum preserved elevation of 3 m and its width ranges between 1.80 and 2.00 m. The enclosure was reinforced by numerous square towers of similar rigging. They measured 3 x 3 m and their walls interlocked with the walls of the wall. Nine towers have been identified and a much higher theoretical number calculated, another nine only in the southern part. They are solid structures with the same filling as the canvases of the wall. There is no evidence of spolia of Roman buildings, not even in the corners of the towers.

Everything indicates that the implementation of the walls, as well as their location, followed strict military parameters. All the materials, stones and marls, come from the environment, prodigal in quarries until today. The main excavated area shows a kind of intervallum separating the houses/workshops from the defenses, and an internal stairway accessing the patrol passage was even seen, in a unitary way when the wall was raised. A small perpendicular street leads to one of the towers. Likewise, the main route of arrival to the city runs parallel to the wall, increasing the defenselessness of those who tried to enter in case of conflict. All added up, it indicates a considerable spatial and constructive organization.

Hypothetically, the construction of the walled perimeter is considered as a unitary work and, perhaps, executed quickly. There is no evidence of construction phases or spolia. On the other hand, the buildings inside do present at least two phases, and profusely used ashlars and architectural elements that would be looted from the nearby and abandoned Roman city of Edeta, 12 km away.

At the eastern end of the site, which is the lowest area, where the junction of the ravine with the river takes place, there is a large bastion of ashlars, largely destroyed by a trench and a machine gun nest from the Civil War, which it controlled the land and waterway from Valentia. The nature of the natural fortification of the site is highlighted by its fortification in the Spanish Civil War, from which there are many remains of bunkers, trenches and underground galleries.

The excavations and geophysical surveys point to an organized urbanism, terraced and adapted to the natural orography. Due to both the topography and the recent identification of two internal enclosures, the settlement was divided into three zones or “neighborhoods”: the upper one or citadel, which was an elongated crescent-shaped elevation, the intermediate one, below the previous , and the lower, the most extensive, which occupied the eastern half. What remains is an unknown area of the western end, devastated at the end of the 20th century. This side, the only one accessible from the outside, would constitute one of the fundamental entrances and would be at the same level as the upper part of the city, as indicated by aerial photographs prior to 1978, thus forming part of the upper district.

The upper part, which directly overlooks the steep slope of the river, would be a citadel. It was presided over by a large construction, in the course of excavation and delimitation, from which a large pavement of opus signinum (lime mortar with crushed ceramic) has been exhumed. Its rectangular shape and west-east orientation was already perfectly distinguishable in aerial photos from 1976 and other previous ones. It must have been one of the main buildings, both due to its dominant position and its good architectural entity, of “classical construction”, with retaining walls and well-made and consistent pavements, on which numerous tegulae have been recovered. On the east side of this rectangular structure, one can see the remains somewhat deteriorated in height, due to being on the top of a hillside, but clearly visible in plan, of a rectangular or square space that adheres to that side as an apse. The ashlars of the southwest corner of the building are also visible among a large collapse of masonry.

This elevated citadel, which topographically and visually dominates the entire site, was delimited by an interior enclosure, of which several of its walls are beginning to be identified, including a possible tower, the study of which has been made difficult by the abundant intrusive vegetation that exists.

The western half of the settlement, directly below the citadel, is a gently sloping intermediate zone, regularized and organized into possibly symmetrical spaces, compartmentalized by peripheral masonry walls. It is delimited at its lower end by a powerful wall of similar dimensions to the exterior. It could have been a large productive and residential area, in which silos, small ovens and vestiges of glass manufacturing have been found.

In the center of the southern part, next to another main entrance, geophysics has identified a large esplanade measuring 60 (east-west) by 30 meters (north-south), interpreted as the civic square for reception and redistribution towards

To the north, although it barely peeks out from a sounding, and from some hidden alienated ashlar, there is another large building parallel to the square, as the great burial mound 50 meters long and 20 meters wide that occupies this entire side suggests. Only a small part has been exhumed, a section of the outer wall, which was made using the opusafricanum construction technique, in which large vertical ashlars alternate with masonry, and it is typical of monumental public constructions, such as this one. Its ashlars, looted from Roman constructions, are also gray-blue dolomitic limestone from the nearby Sierra Calderona, characteristic of Edeta, Saguntum and Valentia at the time of the Roman Empire.

On the steep slope above the river, below the irregularly preserved northern enclosure, are some discontinuous sections of what appear to be the walls of an opus caementicium channel from a kind of aqueduct that surrounds the site on this side. A detailed study is yet to be carried out, something complicated by the thick vegetation and the steep slope, which has caused both its invisibility and landslides for a good part of its route.

Despite being in a preliminary state of the project, important data is already available on fundamental aspects, such as its foundation date, established from 560/570 thanks to the ceramics recovered in the construction levels associated with the wall, the we must add a coin from the Ostrogothic king Totila (552) and 2 tremisses from Leovigildo, which are the main reference post quem. Ceramics from the occupation level indicate that the heyday and most of the activity took place in the s. VII. The abundant numerary, more than 300 pieces, with abundant Byzantine representation and, above all, a large number of minimi, point to an active monetary economy.

There is no destructive evidence. Everything indicates that its abandonment was progressive and that it took place between the end of the VII and the beginning of the VIII. This suggests that the two large Visigothic sites of Riba-roja de Túria, València la Vella, of an urban category, and the complex presided over by the Pla de Nadal palace, They were not contemporaneous, but consecutive. This recent proposal raises new perspectives of analysis to understand the territorial transformation with the arrival of Islam in 713.

València la Vella is an exceptional and basic site for reconstructing the history of the Valencian territory between the sixth and eighth centuries. From the middle of the s. VI, it is here where the greatest effort and investment in this area can be seen, at the same time that in Valentia the construction activity was paralyzed and it was barely seen in the s. VII. The construction, ex novo, of València la Vella involved a great building effort, which could only be assumed from the public initiative. The great question remains as to which state entity is behind the creation of this great fortified settlement. The foundation of València la Vella had always been considered the work of the kingdom of Toledo and that, due to its unquestionable military nature, formed an essential part of the defensive system in a border context between the Visigothic world and Byzantine expansionism. All this in the scenario that followed the Renovatio imperii of Emperor Justinian. As the excavations progress and the archaeological data increase, which increasingly show a very elaborate urban planning, another possibility is beginning to be glimpsed, which is none other than to give the alternative to another hypothesis, that of assuming that it was the Eastern Romans. those who created the deposit, which would be in the limits of the empire and the Cartaginense province.

This assignment, however, would be ephemeral, between 555 and 580, since in a few decades it would pass into Visigothic hands.

In this context, the founding of València la Vella was a very significant episode related to the Byzantine occupation of the Spanish southeast and, later, with the reorganization of the Visigothic state. Other fortified centers appear “on both sides of the border”, confirming that, beyond human, commercial and cultural permeability, there could have been a will to stabilize and control said limits or, rather, areas of influence.

These indications reflect an important constructive dynamic articulated around defensive nuclei fostered by the Byzantine invasion and the consequent Visigothic reaction, especially in the reign of Leovigildo. It is not easy to attribute the initial authorship of the fortifications, as well as to identify possible changes of ownership.

In any case, the founding of València la Vella was the result of transformations typical of a border area. In this sense, the findings of the Roman Circus of Valentia are interpreted in relation to its incorporation into the Eastern Empire in the middle of the 6th century, a fact that would be complemented by this new great fortified center 16 km away.

Only obtaining new results in València la Vella or new stratigraphic contexts in Valentia will make it possible to advance this theory which, if fully confirmed, would represent a substantial change in the geographical perception of the ancient Byzantine province of the Iberian Peninsula.

Albet Ribera for URBS REGIA

Other interesting information

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