VILLA ROMANA DE CARRANQUE
- Discovered in 1983 and excavated as of 1986 and turned later into an Archaeological Park.
- Although it is a construction of the end of the 4th century, we include it on our page for its Greek cross shape inscribed in a square completed by four compartments in the corners of the moduie of the basilica, that may be considered as the most ancient precedent of the churches with centralized plans of later periods.
- The excellent reconstructions of the buildings of Villa de Carranque that we include in this file have been developed by Balawat.com and taken from Página Oficial del Parque Arqueológico de Carranque..
Since the conversion of Constantino in 337, the authority in Spanish cities started to pass on from the Roman elites to the representatives of the high hierarchy church, that, together with a reduction in safety and in quality of life in the cities that the growing decline of the empire was generating, it boosted along the 4th century the displacement of big landlords to their possesions and, consequently, the buildings of the same large villas with all the complementary edification of service constructions. That was the period with the largest building effort in Spain since the middle of the 4th century until the middle of the 5th century
In order to spread an excellent example of this kind of late Roman villas in Spain, discovered by serendipity, halfway between Toledo and Madrid in 1983, the government of Castilla La Mancha has developed an interesting recuperation project and valuation of the multiple remains therein contained, adding an interesting interpretation centre that now, turned into the Parque Arqueológico de Carranque, has become one of the places of great interest in Spain to know the way of living and the characteristics of art in general and specially of the architecture that existed in our country by the end of the 4th century, in the last phase of the Roman Empire.
Through the information on an inscription found in the villa’s main bedroom, we know that the villa belonged to Materno Cinegio, who was prefect of the East during the government of Teodosio the Great between 384 and 388, the year he died, and that his body, burried first in Constantinopla, was moved to Hispania one year later by his wife, a fervent devout.
The ensemble preserved is formed by a large basilic, considered to be the most ancient one of those existing in Spain that have been built for Christian worship; a small building with a square plan and a semicircular apse, that has been called “The Ninfeo”, a large Roman villa that preserves an excellent set of tiles and a series of service buildings, among those, two mills on the bank of the Guadarrama river, and part of the infrastructure of water transport. To all of that, a parking has been added at the other side of the river and a new bridge that gives access to the new centre of interpretation, that shows a collection of pieces found in the excavations and describes the historical evolution of the place and from where, the rest of buildings may be visited.
1. Villa de Materno
It is a large Roman rural villa built in stone and brick, square plan of around 1000 m2, structured around a big central yard, from which the different large rooms may be visited; all of them paved with tiles, some of great beauty and very well preserved. The access is from a portico with arches upon columns, located between the square towers. The villa, one of the most luxurious that we know in Roman Spain, as it corresponds to its owner’s category, had all sort of services, like running water and heating. Today the whole villa has been excavated except the service constructions that existed around. The remains of the ensemble have been covered for protection reasons and walks upon them have been fitted out for the visitors.
Contemporary to the rest of the constructions and presenting the same building techniques, was a small one almost square plan temple; 9m by side, with a triangular pediment upon two columns with big capitals attached to the wall in the main facade and gabled roof that also leaned laterally upon three columns at each side and with a semicircular chevet at the opposite side of the entrance door. The building was built upon a pedestal of around 11m by side. In its interior there was a decorated fountain that was placed on the highest part of the environment probably for the distribution of water in the premises. Whilst the nave was covered by a barrel vault, the apse’s vault was possibly a semi dome vault. The whole building was covered in its exterior with white marble and the interior had a plinth of green serpentine and paved with tessera tiles in different colours.
With its 62m long was the largest building of the ensemble. Built during the phase that intended to make Christianity become the official in Spain, by a family of fervent followers of that worship, to the extreme that Materno is remembered in History as “the scourge of pagans”. This building has been considered as the most ancient Christian basilic among the ones known so far in the peninsula. As we have mentioned, Materno died in 388 and his wife moved his body to Hispania one year later, therefore it seems certain that at least the adjacent mausoleum existed already in 390. In fact, this is an authentic classical Roman basilic, which dimensions give an idea of the importance of its promoters, but built for Christian worship in a period when the Eastern influences would not appear until the 5th century with the arrival of Arrian Visigothics and Christians from the north of Africa that brought along lithurgies from the Coptic and Syrian communities.
Built in limestone with interspersed courses of bricks, a great part of it was burried over one meter under alluvion debris, though a stretch of the chevet wall has been preserved, located at the northeast as in that period the canonical orientation for Christian churches was not yet followed. The church has five perfectrly differentiated areas:
- Vestibule. Placed in front of the building and perpendicular to it. It was a compartment of 53m long by 6m wide, finishing on its east side with a semicircular chevet and closed in the opposite side, where a small mausoleum is attached, though without communication to it.
- Atrium. It consists of a large yard of 34.20m by 11.50m flanked by two covered corridors, supported by twelve four meter high marble columns from quarries flom Turkey and Greece. Attached to the vestibule walls and the central body, in this case, supporting a triangular pediment, there were four columns of the same type but higher than the lateral ones.
- Church. The access was from an elongated vestibule and closed by two semicircular zones at the ends. The whole building was decorated with marbles, porphyries and tiles and had the shape of a Greek cross to which four compartments were added in the corners of the cross, covered by lobbed vaults and two of them ending in small semicircular apsidioles, generating a nine compartment plan forming a square to which the vestibule was added.Whilst the arms of the cross supported barrel vaults, a high lantern raised over the crossing which was also covered by a lobbed vault, decorated with a large work of tiles. This covering system of the nine compartments plus the two semicircular lateral apsidioles, must have generated externally a very complete ensemble and well balanced with roofs, out of which, the nave’s ones would have been gabled roofs, and a four-valley pitched roof and higherthe one of the central lantern and gabled in corner the ones of the two compartments that close the square, which turn the church of the Villa de Materno in a possible precedent of churches build much later, like Santa María de Lebeña or San Miguel de Tarrasa, which crypt has besides a similar structure to the mausoleum we find here.
- Mausoleum. A small building of centralized plan of some 9.5m by side, four-lobed, with a similar shape than the mausoleums of Centcelles and La Cocosa. Located at the northwestern end of the main lobby, although not communicated with it, it is supposed it had a funeral purpose, where probably the remains of Materno were burried when they were brought from Constantinopla. Its only access was gained from a complementary building attached to the basilic on the northern side of the atrium.
- Complementary building. Built around a central uncovered yard, it had accesses from its northwest face and from the north lateral of the main atrium. It had several service large rooms and included the only access to the mausoleum.
Both, for the size and the structure of the basilic, built as an only and complete ensemble, probably between 383 and 388, as well as for the richness of its decoration, where there are Christian symbols from the multiple remains of lithurgical furniture and for the open commitmert of its owners to the Christian religion, there is no doubt that we are in front of one of the first important Early Christian temples that had been built in the peninsula. Besides, the remains also show that it went on being used in Visigothic, Arabic and later periods and, as we have seen, it is possible that its structure had an influence in the design of other churches in the forthcoming centuries.
In summary, we can consider the ensemble of the Archeological Park of Carranque, not only as an example of how a sample of our lesser known history must be recuperated and presented to the public, but also as the major example we have in Spain so far of the first Early Christian art few years before the implantation of the Visigothic monarchy..
According to the latest theories, the building considered as a Paleochristian basilica would really be the “palatium”, high civilian building, which would later be reconverted for religious use.
Also, it is now thought that the construction near the house of Materno, considered initially as a nínfeo, could have really been a mausoleum.
Other interesting information
Access: Leave Madrid by R-5; take exit 15 towards Toledo by AP-41. After 1 Km, take direction Carranque, and there follow the indications to access a road of some 5Km that ends in the Archeological Park.
Coordenadas GPS: 40º 11′ 17″ N, 3º 57′ 21″ W.
Information telephone: Parque Arqueológico de Carranque, Carretera Carranque-Madrid, Km 34, 45216 – Carranque (Toledo). Tel.: 925 54 44 77.
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com.
Visiting hours: Tuesday to friday: 9h30-14. Saturday and sunday: 1o-14h. Monday closed. Interpretation center is closed
Historia de España de Menéndez Pidal: Tomo III
Ars Hispanie: Tomo II