Before the Romans arrived in Spain, a remarkable civilisation occupied much of the southern Iberian Peninsula – The Iberians. Nowhere are the remains of this civilisation more apparent than very close to Mula, at a location known as El Cigarralejo.
Since the 1940’s, successive excavations of the site have extracted many hundreds of items and a superb collection of these can be viewed in the El Cigarralejo Museum in Mula, giving the visitor an insight into the settlement and the Iberian way of life through the treasures which have been discovered. It merits a leisurely visit and, although the main explanatory boards in the museum are in Spanish, many of the objects are self-explanatory and there is a very helpful free booklet in English to guide you through the ten exhibition rooms.
We have visited the museum on three occasions and remain intrigued by its contents and the story they tell. On the last occasion, in March 2014, entry was free and the museum was open between 10am and 2pm Tuesdays to Fridays and 11am-2pm Saturdays, Sundays and festivals. On the second Sunday of every month, to coincide with the Artesan Market in the town, opening was from 11am-2.30pm. The museum is situated on Calle del Márques not far from the Town Hall.
You enter the museum, which was inaugurated in May 1993, through the main entrance to the reception desk. You may well be asked for identification, so it is useful to have your passport. We were also able to obtain a permit (free of charge) to take photographs without flash. Upstairs, you begin your tour of the ten exhibition rooms, which are ordered chronologically as well as having themes to cover social, economic and cultural aspects, such as agriculture or the Iberian woman. These will take you on a tour of Iberian society over several centuries at the El Cigarralejo site.
The first room gives a general introduction to El Cigarralejo and the Iberians with, for example, plans of the burial site (necropolis) where no less than 547 tombs have been found and excavated. The findings from the necropolis of El Cigarralejo are astonishing in their number and variety, covering a period of approximately 350 years.
The second exhibition room displays items from seven of the oldest tombs in the necropolis, from the 4th Century BC. Because of the obvious luxury nature of some of the finds, these interments are known as the “Princely Tombs”. There were armaments and horse harnesses as well as rings, brooches, decorated bone necklaces, containers for ointments and delicately carved in boxwood, some pieces possibly of a throne or chair. Pieces of iron were thought to be parts of a cart, stretcher or sedan chair. Particularly striking, however, were the ceramics of black varnish, with red figures on them, which are clearly of Greek origin, though Iberian pottery was also found.
The next room focuses on the main activity in Iberian society; agriculture. Funeral goods from the relevant tombs are abundant and, as well as armaments and pottery, there are various agricultural implements including three pruning knives, a sickle and the metal reinforcement for the blade of a wood plough. There were also the remnants of an iron axe. Other display cases in this room include remains of seeds and nuts (hazel nuts, three varieties of onion, grapes, acorns, pine nuts, almonds, wheat and olives).The next room focuses on livestock activity. Grave goods include those of a ‘hide maker’ such as cutting knives and a scraper. Also found were bones of both domestic and hunted animals; cows, dogs, horses, goats, donkeys, pigs, deer and sheep.
Room 5 concentrates on another important activity of the Iberians; pottery. In the display cases you will see ceramics, but also many weapons which appear to have been present in all male tombs. One of the cases contains goods which clearly came from a potter’s tomb with items for crushing mineral pigments to produce the decorative colours, a quartzite ‘polisher’ and small vessels for the paints.
The next room (Room 6) turns its attention to textiles. Here there are to be found remnants of materials dating to the 4th Century BC, carbonized and, therefore, preserved by the funeral fire. These consist of fragments of wool, linen and esparto. Also displayed are weaving weights and tools.
It will already be apparent that commerce was an important part of Iberian life and Room 7 looks into this in more detail. One display case features a large number of imported items including Greek pottery decorated with red painted figures and black varnish, items from around the Gulf of Lyons, Italian black varnished pottery, items from Campania, a Punic Amphora and even a fish plate from an Ibizan workshop.
Room 8 is dedicated to the Iberian woman. Displayed are numerous items from feminine grave goods, including gold earrings. Items of personal adornment include necklaces, beads and bronze rings and there are also needles and containers for perfumes and similar items. One remarkable item is a small tablet of lead on which an Iberian text had been inscribed. This text is composed from 16 Greek style characters and has, so far, proved impossible to decipher.
Room 9 moves to the Iberian man and his horse. Male tombs generally contained arms, as the men were called upon to defend their settlement in time of danger. Interestingly, the weapons placed in the grave goods were first broken to ensure that they could not subsequently be used by others. Among offensive items of the Iberian warrior were swords (the ‘falcata’), long and short lances, and spears. Defensive items were the shield of wood covered by leather and a helmet. The display cases in this room contain parts of sculptures of horses and votive offerings of horse figures, plus a selection of weapons and even an iron helmet. The central case contained swords, spears and lance heads, all of metal and lead balls for use in slings. Another interesting item displayed is an urn decorated with a military procession.
Room 10 in some ways tries to pull together all that you will have seen, with wall displays showing Iberian funeral architecture and more about Iberian society. There are a few exhibits – several stone sculptures and an intriguing lattice type vase which, it is said was used to burn perfumes as part of the funeral rites.
So, if you are ever in Mula, do try to go and see the treasures of a people who inhabited the area in the centuries before the Romans arrived!
Article by Clive and Rosie Palmer who have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia which are available, from www.lulu.com, or contact email@example.com. “Exploring Murcia, Days Out” and “Exploring Murcia – Cartagena” are available to buy from the Costa Cálida Chronicle office on Camposol B, Best Wishes (who also stock other of their books), or phone Patti on 968 433 978.