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Castellon Alto (Galera, Spain)

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Archaelogical site.

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      14.08.2008 20:10
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      Bones, Beauty & Bronze Age

      The sun was beating down despite the early morning and I scuffed the toe of my flip flop in the dust and looked around for shade. Having got over the flight and the car journey, The Boyfriend and I had enjoyed a few lazy days sitting on the patio at his mum's house and finally managed to drag ourselves up early enough for a day out. Together with his little brother we stood high up the sun-baked mountain of Castellon Alto outside a single storey white building, watching lizards and calling each other names.

      The Boyfriend's stepdad emerged with a smile under his sunglasses to announce that we could head inside. The guide who was charged with opening and shutting the gates for the tour had half expected more people, but given that the opening time was long gone and even by laid back Spanish standards (she'd arrived well after us and we weren't on time) they were spectacularly late, she'd decided to go ahead. Inside, the building was chilly, but after the temperature inside the local cave houses I'd been expecting it and stole The Boyfriend's jumper. We sat down on the hard wooden benches in front of the screen, the lights dimmed and the show began.

      The first step of the tour is a discovery channel style projection, well illustrated and informative, it recreates the lives of the Bronze Age inhabitants of the cave town. With all the usual computer imagery, this details how they kept their water, their animals and their homes. Anyone who has studied history (that'll be me then!) knows that the differences between a past people and modern society are the key to understanding them, but if we're honest, it's always the similarities which bring them to life. Between 1900 and 1600 BC, Castellon Alto was a thriving community and since the settlement fell into disuse it's remained fairly untouched. The show can be watched in a few languages, we chose English for the benefit of myself and The Boyfriend, his stepdad and brother both speaking fluent Spanish and English.

      After the show, we smiled our thanks and shuffled out through the shop of replica pots and guidebooks. The guide, a short friendly looking woman in black, locked up and we started up the hill through a haze of heat to see it all for real.

      The first time we glimpsed Castellon Alto from the road a few years ago, I was intrigued. Ten minutes drive from the town of Galera, Castellon Alto is a magnificent cliff of a place and the views of the surrounding farmland and dried up ravines are worth the trip alone. Looking from a distance, the thick layers of sediment, the stalactites and stalagmites, form an immense sculpture of rock riddled with caves.

      Modern Galera is no different, with almost all the houses either cave houses or part cave. As you drive through this part of Spain, cave houses are common and often you can think an area totally uninhabited until you spot the garage door and satellite dish in the side of the hill. Looking at the layers of homes embedded in the mountains, there seems little difference between then and now.

      Our guide swung the gate open at the top of the hill and sat down to rest while we looked around. The sheer drop is the first thing to catch your eye and we began at the top of the hill. The original paths are still cut into the rock, assisted here and there by metal steps or occasionally barriers at the steepest points. Disobedient children or clumsy tourists should be warned, the Spanish don't really do health and safety and one wrong step could potentially send you flying. In fact, the same thing happened to plenty of Bronze Age people, whose bones were discovered at the bottom.

      Following the paths, the burial holes at the side have been unsealed and replica skeletons put in to represent the ones removed. This has been done very sympathetically, with the original position of the bodies and the grave goods maintained. Pots from the kiln further down the mountain lie in the dust and a fully thatched replica house with textiles and firewood gives a good idea of size. The low remaining walls of the houses are reminiscent of Pompeii, with doorways and the holes, which carried hinges from wooden doors clearly visible.

      Overall, the site is huge and we enjoyed it in total isolation, wandering as we pleased. The Boyfriend's little brother lay in a burial hole, aping the position of the skeletons for a photo; we pretended to push The Boyfriend over the edge of the cliff (which made him really angry, although it was a joke he'd started first); The Boyfriend's Stepded translated the Spanish from the well placed and frequent information plaques. Between us, we discussed the Bronze Age lifestyle and individually lingered to see or read more on the bits that interested us most. The roofed pool where water was stored is mostly intact, there are details of the grains found in the houses to show what people ate and the burials are all around you in the walls of the houses.

      It seems almost unfair to put this in the category of sightseeing, it's as though you've unintentionally stumbled across the site and the view over the valley and stopped to enjoy a well-informed wander. There are a few stories surrounding the discovery of the Alto, the main one being that the skeletons and pots were unearthed accidentally by a local shepherd. However, it has only entered public consciousness in the last 20 years, remaining free of grave robbers, and nearby Orce holds the discovery of human bone reputed to be 1.5 million years old. (If confirmed this would be the oldest huminid palaeontology discovery in Europe.) Even after trekking all the way round, you still haven't seen it all. There are caves at the bottom which are as yet un-excavated and could only really be reached by abseiling, areas which remain untouched due to the significance of the finds on top of them and places which no-one has yet had the opportunity to look at.

      We spent a couple of hours at the site and it would be perfectly possible to spend more depending on your level of interest. The Boyfriend's Stepdad paid for the four of us as a treat, so I'm not certain of the exact price, although I think it was around 11 Euros.

      Climbing back up the mountain, we stopped at the gate to have our questions translated for the guide, who proved to be very knowledgeable and subsequently turned out to also work at the museum in Galera when we arrived there. The Alto makes for an amazing and very complete visit on it's own, but I'd certainly recommend visiting the museum in Galera alongside it. This has lots of artefacts and a well preserved Bronze Age body complete with hair and spears lying in the centre hall.

      Getting back in the hot car, we were still talking about it. There are toilets, a small shop and an exhibition at the site, but even the least fanciful visitor could visualise the Bronze Age tribe alone on the windswept mountainside, looking out over the plains.

      For the best picture of the site, see <.http://www.huescar.org/mm/stationery/SlideShow/galera23.jpg>

      Or for more information on the local area < http://www.casas-cueva.es/WEB.CUEVAS/ingles/galera.htm >

      All the information at the site can be provided in English tour guide pamphlets at no extra charge.

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    • Product Details

      Archaelogical site. Just 1km from the centre of Galera on the left bank of the Galera River, Castellon Alto was once home to the el Algar people during the lat Bronze Age.