La Illeta Dels Banyets

yacimiento-arqueologicoEL CAMPELLO is a delightful town, in the heart of the Spanish Costa Blanca.  Situated about half an hour away from Alicante and an hour away from Benidorm, it has a population of around 26,000.  El Campello is home to a few English speaking folks – but it’s light years away from those who live, work and holiday in Alicante and Benidorm. 

As the town’s web-site – http://www.elcampello.es/index.php?s=campello_hoy&i=en – notes, it’s a ‘traditional fishing village which has known how to transform itself, without losing its roots, in to a first rate tourist town.’

Indeed, it’s where a lot of Spanish folks go for their holidays.  And it’s easy to see why – there’s over 14 miles (23 kilometres) of beautiful beaches which are effectively given a ‘manicure’ early every morning.  In addition to this the whole beach front is immaculate.  In fact it’s so neat and tidy you’d be hard pressed to find any litter at all. 

If you’re into history and culture, one of the highlights of El Campello is an archaeological site known as La Illeta Dels Banyets, sometimes known as the Queen’s Bathing Pools.

Earlier this year my wife and I visited the town.  We were aware of the La Illeta and wanted to visit it.  We were really lucky as our visit coincided with the twentieth anniversary of the opening of El Campello’s Tourist Information Office.  To mark the occasion, some visitor attractions were open free of charge – including the La Illeta.  Happy days!

I’ll let the town’s aforementioned web-site explain the significance of the site:

Located in a small peninsula, at the foot of the Watchtower, an archaeological site can be found which is, without a doubt, the most important of the Mediterranean. These lands were separated from the coast by an earthquake of an unknown date, and during the 30’s of the last century were artificially reunited with the land. The first excavations were carried out by F. Figueras Pacheco between 1931 and 35 and, during the decade of the 70’s, by E. A. Llobregat. These works confirmed the existence on this site of different civilisations and cultures, with the Roman, the Iberian, and the Bronze Era being the most significant, and so we can date the site as being over 5,000 years old.

From the Iberian era vessels, weapons, tombs and ceramic remains have been found, as well as singular buildings which lead us to believe that significant production and trade activity took place in relation to other Mediterranean cultures between the second and fourth Centuries B.C.

From the Roman era small thermal baths have been found which belonged to a disappeared agricultural village and, linked to this and to others nearby, some fish-farm hatcheries cut into the rock. Despite the erosion, the pools can still be made out, connected to the sea, in which the fish were farmed. These constructions (els Banyets) give their name to the site because according to word of mouth tradition they were the bathing pools of a Moorish queen.

The site is currently supervised by the Museo Arqueológico de Alicante (Marq), which is in charge of is museumisation.’

We both found La Illeta really interesting.  There were detailed information boards everywhere.  Even by the plants – which somehow are able to survive the reasonably arid conditions in this part of the world – had information boards!  It provided a fascinating glimpse into the past.  We both found ourselves thinking that we have it really easy compared to the lives our European ancestors lived.

My wife was particularly interested in the wine making area which dated back to the Iberian era.  As a wine lover, she wondered how our ancestors ‘came across’ wine.  Indeed, how did they work out how to make it – was it completely by accident or did someone deliberately set out to do it?  I’m not really into wine at all, but even I started to wonder if wine has always tasted the same or did it evolve over the years? I presume environmental changes and modern production methods would have some bearing on the matter – if so, is there any way that the ‘original’ taste of wines throughout the ages could be recreated?

During our time on La Illeta we came across one of the assistants talking in French to a young girl.  We presumed she was an archaeology student as she was taking copious notes whilst the assistant was going into great detail and both were taking a very close look at some of the ruins.

We really enjoyed our time there.  However, I thought that maybe even a small ‘living history’ museum near the site would have been useful.  I would have really like to seen full size mock-ups of the buildings, characters in various period costumes and maybe an audio visual display providing a history of the general area. 

La Illeta is one of the most prominent features along the El Campello coast line.  Others include a modern marina, nautical club and fish market.  Overlooking this area is La Illeta Watchtower.  It’s a very impressive and a fairly substantial defensive position dating back to the sixteenth century and built to warn against raids from Berber Pirates.  As mentioned earlier, some form of museum could provide a link between all of these features – a real delight for all history buffs and culture vultures!

La Illeta is well, well worth a visit.  However, a word to the wise – it’s surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea which provides a lovely – but deceiving – breeze.  Believe it or not it’s easy to get roasted by the sun without actually noticing it.  Our tip is to use plenty of the highest factor sun cream you can get hold of – you have been warned!

Reviewed by John Field

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