If you go to Cehegin, do so when you can also visit the town’s Archaeological Museum. Entry when we last visited in November 2015 was free and the museum opened between 10am and 1.30pm every day.
The museum is near to the top of the town in the main square off Calle Mayor, opposite one of Cehegin’s best known features – the houses on stilts. The museum is itself housed in historic buildings. One of these, through the entrance to which you go into the museum, is the Casa del Consejo (the Council House), inaugurated in the reign of King Charles II (1661-1700). To the right is the Palacio de los Farjado, dating from the 18th Century. Originally, this building had a further part protruding from today’s façade in an L shape, which was itself attached to fortifications. All of this, however, was demolished in 1957-58.
As you enter the Cehegin Museum, you will see several highly decorative religious wall mosaic plaques as well as a jade representation of a Chinese Imperial vessel used on the Yellow River in a glass case. The first room in the museum proper is devoted to prehistoric finds. One exhibit is an axe from Begastri dated to the Chalcolithic era, around 4500-3500 BC. This shows occupation of the site well before the Iberians and Romans. Other finds include pieces of stonework, bone items, objects of personal adornment, arrowheads and fragments of decorated ceramics.
For those with a strong disposition, there are exhibits from the Cueva de las Canteras from Chalcolithic times. These include numerous axe heads as well as several skulls! One further treasure found in some of these caves is prehistoric art, dating from the end of the Neolithic period into the Bronze Age. You will see from the photos in the relevant display case that they include representations of human figures including archers and animals. A second part of the room concerns itself with the Iberian phase with a number of exhibits such as pots, items of personal adornment and votive offerings. Several large ceramic containers are exhibited and although they are clearly of Iberian make, they nevertheless exhibit a strong Greek influence.
Of course, that remarkable settlement of Begastri itself began life as an Iberian town and you will see a case of exhibits dedicated to “Begastri Iberico”. It appears that the Iberian settlement had a time of splendour in the 4th and 3rd Centuries BC as is shown by the ceramic and metal items found. Items displayed include plates, large earthenware jars, cooking pots and amphorae with painted decorations in geometric shapes, as well as weaving weights and spindle whorls.
From this room, you pass on to the Roman period. It was in the 2nd Century BC that the Romans established themselves in the Iberian city. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the Iberian way of life continued to some extent. The stone sculpture of the Dama de Cehegin (the Lady of Cehegin), dated to the 3rd Century AD, has obvious similarities to Iberian sculptures of 500 years previously. While this was displayed in the Cehegin Museum when we were there, the original is normally found in the Archaeological Museum in Murcia City.
Continuing on, you will see part of a mosaic and ceramic items from Roman times, and, in another room, numerous Roman finds from Begastri. There are various types of Roman pottery from Italy, Southern France and North Africa, as well as Spain itself. In addition, note the two Roman altars recovered from Begastri and the various coins. Very many Roman coins have been recovered from Begastri, especially from the 2nd to the 4th Centuries AD – the time of the Roman town’s greatest splendour. Another important item displayed is the tomb of Adam (sarcofago de Adan) – or at least fragments from it. This is regarded as a significant example of early Christian art in Begastri with Adam portrayed next to a serpent in a tree. It is believed to date from the first half of the 4th Century AD. Among a host of other Roman items displayed are lamps, the stone sculpture of the torso of a Roman woman in a toga and objects from the everyday life of Begastri’s inhabitants – bronze personal ornaments, a bronze arrow head, fragments of a necklace etc. In addition, other items displayed, such as weaving weights, flutes, dice, and buttons, attest to a normal range of activity in a town.
Arguably, however, Begastri had its time of greatest splendour during the period of Visigoth rule, when it was the seat of a Bishop. The Cehegin Museum contains many items from this period – brooches, a coin with the effigy of King Recaredo, ceramics and kitchen utensils. There is also the celebrated bronze cross. The similarity of the one found here to other bronze items, its themes and the nature of its letters, dates it to the 6th or 7th Centuries.
Another room in the museum deals with the time when the Moors established their new settlement on the present site of Cehegin. Among items displayed is the Tesorio de Alquipir, a very significant find of coins consisting of some 200 dirhams believed to have been hidden some time after 1228. Otherwise, there are various pots from Islamic times, some of which are very ornately decorated. The next room in the tour covers the Christian medieval period. There are numerous items to be seen from excavations which took place at la Torre del Pozo, such as coins and ceramics. Similarly, the historic houses in which the Archaeological Museum is itself located have yielded treasures, for example glazed earthenware and decorated plates and bowls spanning the 15th to the 17th Centuries, the hilt of a medieval sword and a variety of medieval coins. Restoration of the church at the top of the hill above the Museum, Santa Maria de Magdalena, uncovered many historic items including funeral plaques, plates and bowls from the 16th and 17th Centuries, and belt buckles and a pair of shoes from the same period!
One section of the Archaeological Museum’s exhibits came as a great surprise to us – two rooms full of geological specimens including many fossils! These exhibits come from all over the world but with some from the area around Cehegin. Finally, another room has a large exhibition of historic domestic plates, including decorated dinner services. These are of varied origin, including some from the Fabrica de la Amistad of Cartagena. Others come from a factory established in southern Spain in the early 19th Century by an Englishman, Charles Pickman.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. “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 646 005 017.