Arganzon (Espagne) : Fortified mediaeval village discovered


Fortified mediaeval village discovered in Arganzón

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The Cultural Heritage and Landscape research team of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) has discovered an encastellated mediaeval village beside the castle of Arganzón. The location, which was occupied in the IX or X centuries, can be considered a town of considerable importance, given it was built in a “castellated” style, one in which to date in Spain has only been recognised archaeologically at the nearby castle of Treviño.

An archaeological excavation took place during the two months of September and October at the castle of Arganzón, revealing the existence of an adjacent important medieval village. The results of the dig undertaken by the Cultural Heritage and Landscape research team of the UPV/EHU is due to be published in the December issue of the principal European journal of Mediaeval Archaeology Archeologia Medievale’ with the title, Incastellamento nella valle dell’Ebro nel X secolo: il castello di Treviño, Archeologia Medievale XXXVIII’.

The archaeological project was led by Antonio Quirós, Professor of Archaeology at the Department of Geography, Prehistory and Archaeology of the UPV/EHU and in which members and collaborators of the University’s Cultural Heritage and Landscape research team participated: Lorena Elorza, Sonia Gobbato, Carlos Tejerizo, Itsaso Sopelana, Begoña Hernández, Sandra Arroyo, Alain Sanz and Luis García.

The mediaeval village found on excavation contains an important number of buildings, outstanding amongst which are a large, rectangular tower built with walls two metres wide and still standing up to three metres; as well as a residential building made of stone blocks. Besides, much material of daily use has been recovered such as pottery and food remain, as well as some metal artefacts, including coins, personal adornment and other items.

Although lacking a more exhaustive dating, the founding of Arganzón can be established as having taken place between the IX and X centuries and it may have been that its first function was a defensive one. In fact, an Arab source tells of how, in 801, an army led by the brother of the Emir of Cordoba, al-Hakam, was defeated at the Arganzón gorge when it came to attack Álava/Araba and Castille, and which, if this is finally proven true, Arganzón would be one of the oldest castles located in the Basque Country and its surroundings.

The enclave of Arganzón has a fortified enclosure which in the Middle Ages encompassed both the castle and the village. This construction style is known as “encastellation” of the village and fell within the remit of lord of the manor model existent in other parts of Europe, but in Spain to date only having been recognised archaeologically at nearby Treviño. The Treviño settlement was also discovered by the University’s Cultural Heritage and Landscape research team – between 2007 and 2009.

About the year 1000 the place was completely transformed with the construction of a series of grand buildings as well as a village nearby. A number of the most significant buildings found belong to this period, such as the rectangular three-metre high tower and the stone building of a residential nature.

About 1350 the village was completely abandoned and the dismantling of the older structures to provide material to undertake new buildings was when the place transformed into a castle as such. Structures dating from this time are the currently preserved great tower and a deep fosse of some five metres width.

The castle was in use until the end of the Middle Ages and, subsequently, its structure deteriorated to such an extent that travellers in the XVII century going through the Arganzón Pass referred to it as an old castle. During the Carlist wars of the XIX century the castle tower was reused as a communications control point and access to the Pass, until its definitive abandonment.

At present the castle is in ruins and, prior to this archaeological intervention, they were clearly visible from the arterial N (National) 1 road, from the Conchas de Arganzón (one of its towers formed of massive fill-in taken from pre-existing structures as well as a water deposit excavated in the rock for supplying water from rainfall. The intervention which has been undertaken this year and which has revealed the presence of the fortified mediaeval village is anticipated to continue next year with the aim of knowing the origin and development of this mediaeval enclave better.