Phoenician settlements in Guardamar del Segura

Published by Basilio on

The Phoenician they were a town of merchants coming from the current Lebanon that created a vast commercial network in the Mediterranean, competing with the ancient Greeks. They practiced coastal navigation so they created a multitude of settlements along their trade routes. From these they established relationships with tribes and city states with which they exchanged processed products in exchange for raw materials and precious metals. From the 9th century B.C. they settled on the coasts of the Spanish Levante in order to trade with the Iberians. Finding in the Sinus Ilicitanus an ideal place to establish a settlement of importance.

Sinus Ilicitanus

Phoenician settlements in the Sinus Ilicitanus
Phoenician settlements in the Sinus Ilicitanus

The current area of the Vega Baja del Río Segura was a large lagoon into which the Segura and Vinalopó rivers ended, later called by the Romans Sinus Ilicitanus. It was shallow but sufficient for setting the Phoenician ships. The lagoon allowed to protect the boats in winter from the storms of the Mediterranean. In addition, there were many Iberian settlements with which to trade. Initially, the Phoenicians traded luxury items such as fine pottery, cloth, spices, and ivory in exchange for precious metals and supplies.

The cultural contact between the Phoenicians and the natives Iberians caused the cultural development of the latter. The Iberian settlements evolved to form walled cities. They also developed the script inspired by the Phoenician alphabet. The most important case in the geographical environment of the Sinus Ilicitanus was the Iberian city of Ilici, the current Elche. That reached its greatest splendor in the 5th century B.C.

Coastline Sinus Ilicitanus 9th-4th century BC Guardamar del Segura
Coast line 9th-4th century B.C. Guardamar del Segura

Phoenician settlements were docks, they were also fortified in order to protect merchandise and supplies. The oldest remains correspond to an Emporical Sanctuary located on the current hill of Guardamar Castle. There are also indications of Iberian presence. The first settlement in the area that is known to exist is the Cabezo Pequeno del Estaño deposit. Later they would move to the Port City of La Fonteta.

Small Tin Head

Site view

The Cabezo Pequeno del Estaño deposit was built in the 8th century BC as a commercial settlement within the Sinus Ilicitanus. It was located in a strategic environment from which they could trade with all the coastal settlements of the Albufera. The settlement was walled with two parallel canvases that were occupied internally with casemates. Used as warehouses where they kept the amphorae with the grain. Its construction followed a pre-established plan. Being one of the first buildings in Spain built from a project. It stands out the use of the measure of the Egyptian elbow (0.52 cm), widely used in the Middle East at the time.

In the middle of the 8th century B.C. an earthquake knocked down part of the settlement, being later rebuilt, reinforcing it with buttresses and slopes. However, the shallow depth of the estuary where the ships docked meant that, as commercial traffic increased, they decided to move the settlement. Founded the Port City of La Fonteta.

Interpretation of the settlement in the 8th century B.C. Visible on a sign explaining the site.
Access stairs to the fortification
Interior fortification Cabezo Pequeno del Estaño. 8th century BC
Inside view of the Fortification, you can see the buttresses and slopes used to repair the structure after the earthquake.

Port City of La Fonteta

View of the wall of the Port City of La Fonteta
View of the wall of the Port City of La Fonteta

The port city of La Fonteta was founded in the late 8th century B.C. when the commercial enclave of Cabezo Pequeno del Estaño was moved. Its new location on a peninsula at the entrance to Sinus Ilicitanus provided it with a deeper port for ships and access to both the lagoon and the sea.

The excavations show some large walls, with a stone base that would reach about 5 meters on which an adobe or mud wall would rise. Being the height of the walls close to 10 meters. In addition, the wall was surrounded by a moat.

Hardly a small portion of the complex has been excavated, and part of the settlement served as the basis for a medieval fortification (La rábita Califal). It is estimated that the urban layout could have reached eight hectares, being one of the largest cities in the Western Mediterranean in the 7th century B.C. The archaeological findings corroborate the importance of the city, finding fine Greek ceramics, ostrich eggs, ivory or Egyptian scarab.

Remains of metallurgical activity have been found in both noble metals and copper or iron. This finding is of utmost importance given that it is very likely that the introduction of iron metallurgy in the area was carried out through these Phoenician settlements. It should be noted that for people who were unaware of iron metallurgy, this metal was more valuable than gold since its only sources were meteorites.

The decline of the city occurred in the 5th century B.C. Coinciding with the disappearance of the trade routes that supplied it when conquering the Phenicia Persians. On the other hand, the city of Ilici grew, replacing La Fonteta in importance and influence in the area.

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