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The irrecoverable Roman tombs of Carmona: this was the looting of the necropolis in the 19th century

Starting in 1885, the Carmona necropolis became one of the visiting places for the Sevillian bourgeoisie. Located 35 kilometers from the Andalusian capital, on May 24, more than 130 years ago, it opened its doors to the public as the first archaeological site in Spain to be museumized for visitors. The area is currently one of the best preserved funeral complexes in the Iberian Peninsula.

Its opening was carried out, in part, thanks to the initiative of Juan Fernández López and the French historian George Bonsor, who acquired the rights on the ground to search for relics of the past. The Gaul, born in 1855, had come to Spain obsessed with the pictorial art of our country, and ended up digging for archaeological remains in the city of Carmona.

They built a museum and little by little the necropolis caught the attention of experts from all over Europe. That enclosure not only housed the tombs of ancient Roman citizens, but also found sculptures, urns and even an amphitheater. The archaeological site is dated between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The most common burial method that has been observed in this area of ​​southern Hispania is incineration, although there are also burials that belong to the last years of the settlement.
In general, the Carmona necropolis stands out for its homogeneity. Historians Lorenzo Abad Casal and Manuel Bendala Galán write that this characteristic is given by the enormous presence of family tombs consisting of an exterior building, “almost always lost”, with crypts carved into the rock, which would be accessed mainly by means of a staircase. .

However, under the regularity of such a procedure, there are two remarkable finds that break with the pattern: the Elephant’s Tomb and the Servilia’s Tomb. The first is a kind of sanctuary dedicated to the cult of the divinities of Cibeles and Attis in which a statue of a pachyderm was found. As for the second, “its enormous dimensions far surpass the other tombs in the necropolis” and it is the only one in which classic marble sculptures have been found.

Previous looting

The archaeological complex of Carmona today comprises an area of ​​approximately eight hectares. The discovery and protection of this necropolis would not have been the same if Juan Fernández López and George Bonsor had not ventured to buy the land in 1881.

At that time, the legislation on cultural heritage was scarce and all archaeological, pictorial and architectural treasure was susceptible to being looted. As indicated by the Junta de Andalucía, the first discovery of the necropolis took place by chance in 1868, on the occasion of the work to search the so-called Camino del Quemadero.

Chance caused vestiges of the Roman Empire to emerge in a society still unable to understand its cultural value. Immediately, the area was looted by individuals who knew the area and its archaeological treasures. “There are numerous news about tombs that have appeared in neighboring lands (such as Campo de los Olivos and Campo de las Canteras), which were reburied or disappeared plundered, and it seems that they extended to the Alcores of Brenes”, reports the Official Gazette of the Junta de Andalucía. Likewise, the emergent structures of many of the documented tombs are also unaccounted for.

It was all these absences that pushed the couple of archaeologists to invest in those abandoned lands to start the first prospects. In 1885, they created the Archaeological Society of Carmona as the managing body of the site, and only in 1930, after the death of the French archaeologist, did the necropolis become the responsibility of the State. After the donation, the Government of the Second Republic declared it a Historic-Artistic Monument by Decree on June 3, 1931, forming part of the National Artistic Treasure.

Thanks to the work of the two archaeologists and the subsequent protection of the Government, Spain has, despite the initial looting, one of the great Roman-era sites.

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