One of the fascinations of Mazarrón, especially Puerto de Mazarrón, is the abundance of remains from Roman times, many of which you are able to see today. One of the most interesting remains comprises what is sometimes referred to as “the Fish Sauce Factory” in Puerto de Mazarrón. This is, in fact, a museum built over the site of the Roman factory with various artefacts such as the fish salting tanks excavated and visible as you walk around it. The museum is well worth visiting, with entrance a few euros (less if you are retired). It is a very modern building, with a striking blue painted front, although the entrance (on the right hand side of Calle La Torre as you go down towards the seafront) is quite unprepossessing. It is near the Guardia Civil building and was inaugurated in June 2003. It is open mornings and late afternoons, except for Mondays.
It is very easy to think that a Roman fish salting and fish sauce factory, which was only discovered in 1976 during construction work and is now housed in a relatively small museum building, may be reasonably interesting, but not all that important. How wrong! The fish sauce, called garum, which was manufactured here, was extremely important and highly valued. Indeed, it ended up on Roman tables in Rome itself, being transported in shapely, large pot jars, or amphorae. The activity of the factory is said to have reached its peak in late Roman times around the 4th and 5th Centuries AD, although it almost certainly began in Mazarrón long before then.
But what did this famous sauce consist of? In fact fish innards and the other unwanted bits were left to decompose and ferment for some considerable time, assisted by the action of bacteria and enzymes remaining in them. The resultant liquid was decanted as the highest quality garum that was subsequently used in rich Roman houses to bring out the flavour in food. It was nothing less than an essential ingredient in Roman cooking! Fancy trying some? Well, we did wonder why no-one seemed to have had the idea of making garum and selling souvenir bottles of it, but the general view is that it is most certainly not to modern tastes. And who are we to argue with that? Also, it has to be admitted that not all Romans apparently thought highly of it, with Pliny apparently calling it “stinking” and Seneca not being too complimentary either.
The museum can be enjoyed just by walking round and looking at the exhibits which, in addition to those relating to the Roman occupation (ornaments, coins etc in addition to artefacts from the fish salting and sauce factory), cover the whole time period from pre-Roman times, through to the medieval era and the industrial developments of the 19th and 20th Centuries. There is also a short Spanish video which is well worth watching. The video emphasizes the importance of the fishing industry and the fish salting and sauce making of Roman times with an emphasis, not unexpectedly, on the factory whose site you are now visiting. Indeed, it goes into great detail about the work of the factory, including the various types of garum which could be produced – it could be mixed, for example, with wine, or with pepper, or with water to dilute it. Several tanks used in the process have been excavated and can be seen in the museum as well as the remains of a well which provided water for the factory.
The nearby Calle Era and La Molineta were, in fact, the two nuclei of late Roman Puerto de Mazarrón. The museum displays and exhibits pay a lot of attention to La Molineta, where 51 tombs dating from the 5th Century have been excavated. Various tomb types were found in this nearby necropolis, from simple ditches, to small mausoleums and grand family tombs which show a defined social hierarchy. Hidden bronze coins, oil lamps, hair pins and a bracelet were among the remains recovered from the necropolis, some of which are displayed in the museum, along with examples of the tombs and stone coffins.
It will not take you long to walk around the museum, unless, like us, you take a dictionary with you in an attempt to understand fully all the labels, in which case you may be gone quite some time. In any event, even a few minutes’ walk through the museum will bring home to you Mazarrón’s long and varied history and show you some impressive Roman remains. It is very clear that this area was an important Roman settlement.
Very close to the museum itself are the remains of a Roman villa. These are to be found a short distance from the main road (Avenida Tierno) which thereafter leaves Puerto de Mazarrón in the direction of Bolnuevo. They are situated in the Calle Era, surrounded by relatively new flats. When we first saw this site, it was, somewhat incongruously situated within what was a building site. Today, however, things are much improved. The building work has finished and the Roman remains are fenced off from the surrounding roads. As the remains are within a residential area, you could again, if unwilling to walk, simply drive to them and park on the road at their side. What you can see here, is, in fact, but a small portion of the Roman occupation which occurred in this immediate area. Indeed, the signboard which announces the remains, refers to the “Conjunto Romano de la Calle Era” or “the Roman Collection in the Calle Era” dating it to the 4th and 5th Centuries AD. The footprint of the house which is visible here, is of a fair size with, it appears, four rooms on either side of a central area which has the appearance of a passageway with two large rooms. The remains of the walls are all about a metre high. Remains of domestic goods and coins have been found.
Of course, there is much else besides from the Roman era in the Mazarrón area. In the El Alamillo area, you can find the remains of a water storage tank which used to form part of a Roman water distribution system amidst a modern housing area in the calle Cabo Finisterre, while there are the remains of the industrial area of a Roman villa next to the road and almost on the beach near the “ship” roundabout. This Roman villa was also involved in garum production. In Mazarrón itself, you can see vestiges of Roman activity in the old mining area above the town, while, just across the square from the Iglesia de la Purísima, in a small garden area in the town centre, is a Roman Milestone, which is very easily missed unless you positively look for it!
While other places nearby, especially Cartagena, may be able to boast a more illustrious history in Roman times, dismiss Mazarrón at your peril. It was certainly renowned in the centre of the Empire, in Rome itself, for that remarkable fish sauce “garum”, even if we would tend to agree with Seneca and Pliny!
Based upon extracts from the book “Exploring Murcia – Mazarrón” by Clive and Rosie Palmer, available from www.lulu.com, Best Wishes on Camposol, or contact email@example.com.