The San Juan Bautista Parish Church, the old town, the imposing Torres de l’Horta or the magnificent manor and farm estates are just an example of the rich heritage of Sant Joan. But the Horta itself, with its system of irrigation canals, tillage implements, the work techniques used in the field and the traditions of its people, are also part of this tangible and intangible heritage and the history of the town.

A history that tells us the presence of pirates and smugglers in our town, but also the history of merchants and peasants: simple and hard-working people who had to face and overcome wars and diseases. Likewise, they lived moments of jubilation and joy, bequeathing us a cultural heritage of which we are heirs. It is for all of this, that we must give them back their voice, their memory, learn from their history and take all the necessary measures so that this historical and archaeological legacy is not lost.

The Neolithic

The population of Sant Joan d’Alacant is immersed in the so-called Horta d’Alacant, an alluvial plain produced mainly by the depositions of the Seco river and detritus materials generated by the trails of ravines and cliffs, which form a very fertile land suitable for farming. The quality of these soils, together with the existence of fountains, springs and lake areas, formed a suitable place for their habitability.

The first neolithic communities that arrived in the Alacant’s coasts, did it in small boats or canoes of wood, by cabotage. In them, they carried not only all the members of the clan, but transported all the goods, tools and animals necessary to settle in a new place. The studies conducted by the COPHIAM research team at Cerro de las Balsas have allowed us to know that these new settlers settled in the Horta d’Alacant in a dispersed way around 3990 – 3960 BC, in small circular plant huts that were elaborated with reed and waterproofed with bovine slice. These huts had a fireplace in the centre that served both to cook and to warm the ambient.

The importance of belonging to the group, animal domestication, cultivation by irrigation or contact with other nearby populations are part of the traits that can be seen in these first populations. Far from imagining the Horta d’Alacant as an idyllic place, we must think that these populations resorted to fishing, gathering, hunting, shell-fishing and all those activities that allowed them to subsist in an authentic struggle for survival.

The Bronze Age

During the Bronze Age, the settlement pattern changed. The populations, which up to that time inhabited the Horta d’Alacant in a dispersed way, tended to group and occupy the higher areas, which gave them greater visual control over their surroundings and protection.

We find the most important site of this period in the Serra Grossa or Sierra de San Julián. Dated around 1800 BC., it was excavated by Father Belda in 1931 and later re-studied by Enrique Llobregat Conesa. In it, a series of quadrangular structures were documented and identified as possible defence towers and also a series of terraced houses of rectangular plant with stone bases and elevations made of adobe. These houses also had wooden posts driven into the ground, which would serve to hold the wooden beams and the branches of which the roofs would be made of.

These houses were adapted to the different slopes of the mountains and formed a kind of defensive belt that, together with a wall and the towers aforementioned, would provide the settlement with greater protection. Although we do not know the specific causes by which this population decided to settle in height and take so many measures of protection, we can intuit them.

The Bronze Age was a long, convulsive and conflict-ridden historical period. Hunting tools, such as arches and javelins, gave way to the appearance of swords and halberds whose main function was war and which were in the hands of a warrior elite who dominated the rest of the population and the resources of the area.

Although these settlements were in height, it was necessary to have a series of huts closer to the croplands and natural resources like the water. Hut remains have been found, both in camino del Chinchorro and the barranco del Juncaret (Juncaret ravine), that were usually occupied and used to store farm implements and ceramic production.

Again, the Horta played a fundamental role in providing all the necessary resources to its population, but the shortage of minerals, especially copper and tin, kept it away from the most important commercial circuits of the time.

The Orientalizing Period and the Iberian Culture

There is an archaeological gap between the Bronze Age and the Iberian culture that developed in these lands between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC. However, thanks to the Latin author Rufo Festo Avieno, we know that from the river Alebus or Vinalopó to Dianium or Denia, Alicante was populated by the Gimnetes (literally means nudes). These populations received this name because the military panoply they carried on was characteristic of light warriors or skirmishers: slings, spears, falcata knives and caetras (iberian shields) or bucklers.

With the arrival of the Phoenicians, an intense commercial relationship was established with the native populations, as the former sought to supply the Middle East markets with gold, silver and tin, while the natives were attracted to manufactured goods produced in the East such as fabrics, ointments, alabasters, decorated ostrich eggs, high quality ceramics and goldsmiths.

Not only the Phoenicians exerted a great influence on the Gimnete territory, but since it acted as a border between the Greek and Phoenician areas of influence, the Gimnetes also received notable Greek influences. In this way, the inhabitants of the Horta d’Alacant benefited from trade with both and, in turn, acted as intermediaries with the populations of the interior.

This intense commercial exchange entailed the adoption of new technologies and new cultural features. The alphabet, the monetary system, the use of the potter’s wheel or the adoption of new religious rites are part of these advances that ended up conforming what we now know as Iberian culture.

The most significant site we have in the Horta d’Alacant, was found again in the Cerro de las Balsas. In the excavations carried out in the Albufereta, the research team COPHIAM found an oppidum (walled Iberian settlement) with houses of rectangular plan attached to the wall by its rear part and a central street that gave access to them. Outside the walls, it was possible to verify the presence of an industrial area, access roads to the settlement and a necropolis.

Another site of great importance, also belonging to this period, is the Albufereta necropolis. It was excavated by Francisco Figueras Pacheco between 1934 and 1936 and, although these campaigns were paralysed by the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, they provided numerous materials and information. Many structures and archaeological remains have also been found in the rest of the Horta d’Alacant. All of this has allowed researchers to know and reconstruct the way of life, the economy, the rites and beliefs or the relationships they had with other peoples.

Rome and Carthage in the Horta d’Alacant

At the end of the 3rd century BC, the political situation between the two main powers of the western Mediterranean affected directly the coast of Alacant. The Carthaginian Barca family began a series of campaigns in Iberia with the objective of recovering from the loss of power and prestige suffered by Carthage after the First Punic War. But as the Carthaginian army was annexing more towns and territories, the tension between Rome and Carthage grew exponentially.

During this pre-war context the Punic fort of Tossal de Manises was built. This site is named after the great amount of ceramic material or ‘manises’ that appeared there and, although it was widely known that objects and carved stones appeared on the promontory, it was popularly attributed to the ‘times of the Moors’ or the city of Akra Leuka, where Aníbal sheltered the Carthaginian army during the winter of 228 BC.

1 Foto aera IlletaThe construction of this fort coincided with the collapse of the Iberian oppidum of Tossal de les Bases and the abandonment of the iron quarries that surfaced between Busot and Aigües.

The investigations made by Figueras Pacheco and La Fuente Vidal, as well as those carried out by the MARQ research group, revealed the presence of numerous defensive structures, warehouses and reservoirs characteristic of the Punic world, which were destroyed at the end of the 3rd century BC coinciding with the arrival of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africano to Hispania and the conquest of Carthage Nova in the year 209 BC.

From this date, these lands were incorporated to the Roman state, but there were not significant changes until the year 83 BC with the beginning of the so-called Sertorian Wars. Alicante, acting as a border between the legions of Sertorius and those of Pompey acquired great strategic importance and the latter decided to rehabilitate the old fort of Tossal de Manises to end piracy and act as a base of operations.

With the arrival of Augustus to power, Lucentum acquired the status of Roman municipium and although it had the smallest forum of all the Empire, it had all those characteristic elements that had to contain a Roman city and it controlled an ‘ager’ (territory) that arrived until the current Foia de Castalla.

The Romanization of the territory was a slow process but in the end, the Roman government, the administrative and religious institutions were adopted. Also the Pax Augusta was a period of economic prosperity, which had its archaeological reflection in the imposing villas that were built through the whole Horta d’Alacant and whose rustic pars was use for farming purposes while its urban pars dispensed all those comforts that the dominus (lord or owner) needed.

Parque Arqueológico LucentumThe villas of the Parque de las Naciones, calle de la Almadraba, camino de la Colonia Romana or Avenida Conrado Albadalejo are just one example of these luxurious homes with porticoed courtyards, mosaics, gardens and some of them even had heating, running water, hot tubs and natatio (swimming pool).

Of course, not all the Horta d’Alacant was occupied by these villas, but there were also domus (house or home) of small and medium owners, made with more modest materials and, therefore, more difficult to locate.

The production of the precious garum (sauce made with fish guts and aromatic plants), salted products, wine, oil and straw were the most demanded products by the international markets and that gave great benefits to the local oligarchs.

The Lucentum crisis began in the late 1st century AD with the end of the housing bubble driven by the Julio-Claudians and concluded by the Flavia dynasty. On the other hand, the proximity of the Colonia Iulia Ilici Augusta (Elche) or the emergence of other towns like Allon (Villajoyosa), left Lucentum in a compromised position because it was unable to compete with them. During the 3rd century AD the city and numerous villas were completely abandoned and became a quarry for the surrounding constructions.

In Sant Joan d’Alacant, although we have not yet found archaeological remains of these villas or surrounding domus, we know that the Via Dianium – an extension of the Via Augusta that linked the coastal populations from Saetabis or Játiva to Elche- had to cross the current municipal boundary. Also, in San Juan Bautista church, the tombstone of Macronus, a Roman child who died when he was 13 years old, and a statuette with a Roman toga were found.

As if this were not enough, the discovery of numerous Roman sites in the municipal boundaries of Mutxamel, such as ochre mines, irrigation pools, water pipes and numerous ceramic materials, indicate that the whole Horta d’Alacant was populated and used.

The Byzantine and Visigothic occupation

The year 476 AD was simply the culmination of a long and decadent process. The ancient civil, military and ecclesiastical authorities of the Late Roman Empire, together with the “barbaric” nobility, gave rise to the emergence of a new elite that ruled the kingdoms that emerged in Europe after the dismemberment of the Western Roman Empire.

The newly created Visigothic Kingdom had to deal with the migrations of other peoples, the loss of territories in favour of the Franks and, above all, the intestinal confrontations between their nobility for gaining power. In this context, Justiniano tried to reconquer the Iberian Peninsula, but they were defeated and relegated to the south-eastern coastal cities. The province of Spaniae was established in 552 AD. It included the lands of Alacant, which acted as a border between the Visigothic and Byzantine Kingdoms. But in 624, unable to maintain the territory, the Romans left Hispania.

Although there was no urban settlement, the latest research suggests that the rural population of the Horta d’Alacant was gathered in small and medium dispersed settlements: villages, vicus or religious centres that were controlled by a castellum (military camp or castle) located on Mount Benacantil.

The imposing necropolis of the Tossal de les Basses, with more than 800 ancient burials, reinforces the presence of an important Christian rural community that chose this place to be buried due to the presence of a basilica or religious centre of importance.

FACHADA MARQThe medieval Andalusian period

The rapid Muslim conquest of Hispania, which began in 711 at the hands of Tariq ibn Ziyad, was due to the decapitation of royal power after the death of Don Rodrigo in the battle of Guadalete, the division of the Gothic nobility and the politics of pacts practised by the Muslim generals.

The Pact of Tudmir or Teodomiro is a document of exceptional importance as it describes the treaty of vassalage signed by Teodomiro, lord among other cities of Laqant, Uryula and Ello, with Abd al-Aziz second valí (governor) of Al-Ándalus. In it, it was ensured that the cities, goods and religious beliefs would be respected in exchange of an annual tribute and supplying military help if necessary.

Therefore, after the signature of the treaty, we have to think that the population of the Horta d’Alacant was respected, but the new political landscape attracted populations from North Africa and the Middle East, who would initiate a slow but continuous process of acculturation. This process was favoured by the local elites, who married to the foreign elites adopting the Islamic faith in detriment of the Christian faith. Also, the economic factor was very important since Christians had to pay a special tax for continuing to profess their religion, while the Muslims did not, which fostered conversion.

The model of small villages or scattered farms, which would occupy the entire Horta d’Alacant and would be controlled and protected by the Hins of Laqant located in the Benacantil, gains greater strength thanks to archaeological remains, written sources and toponymy. Lloixa, Benimagrell, Tangel and Mutxamel are names that have survived to this day and, although Sant Joan did not keep its Arabic name, we know that it was Benalí (Son of Ali). These farms produced wheat, barley, products derived from the vine such as vinegar, raisin or grape juice, and also almond, carob, figs, olive oil and honey.

Archeology, again, shows a great concentration of the Islamic period tombs in the Tossal de Manises, dating between the eighth and tenth centuries. In Sant Joan, a burial of this time was also found between calle Dr. Marañón and calle Del Carmen, as well as numerous material in the Benimagrell’s surroundings. All this suggests that rural communities were very important, especially in the agricultural production, necessary to supply the incipient Laqant medina.

arqueologiaAlthough the Christian occupation represented a transcendental political, economic and cultural change, the importance of the rural centres of the in the Horta d’Alacant like Sant Joan, took on a greater importance, since their production was exported and recognized in all Europe in later centuries, as the reputed wine Fondillón.