Turismo Prerrománico > Countries > España > BAPTISTERIO DE GABIA LA GRANDE


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Previous notes

  • 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”.

Historic environment

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 1×0.75 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, Baptisterio de Gabia Grande: Vista exterior de la cúpula reconstruidawith 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. Baptisterio de Gabia Grande: Detalle de una de las trompas que soportan la bóveda y parte del arco del ábside y la ventana de ese muro

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 Baptisterio de Gabia Grande: Hueco de acceso a las escaleras de la torreto 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

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


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