From the Urbs to the Civitas. Material and Ideological Transformations in the Urban Environment from the Classical Period to the High Middle Ages. Cordova as a Laboratory

Funded by the General Service of International Programs of the Ministry of Science and Innovation. Call for 2009.
Duration: 2010-2013 Reference: HAR2010-16651
Institution: University of Córdoba Center: Faculty of Philosophy and Letters
Departament: History of Art, Archaeology and Music Director: Prof. Dr. Desiderio Vaquerizo Gil

It seeks to shed light on one of the lesser known stages of the city’s history: Late Antiquity and High Middle Ages, eclipsed between the Roman past of the provincial capital and the time of Umayyad splendor.

The urban transition from the ancient to the medieval world is probably today one of the lines of research most debated by the international scientific community. Processes such as the contraction of cities from the last centuries of the empire, depopulation, abandonment of neighborhoods outside the walls, the founding of new necropolis or the reuse of existing ones, the development of Christianity or the concentration of population around Suburban basilicas and martyria, are well documented in some European and Hispanic cities. The importance of this panorama lies in observing if the archaeological evidence of the phenomena that occur in this period suggests the existence of common dynamics or, on the contrary, a strong local variability that allows us to speak of different progressions, arriving at establishing lines of general character in which the evolution/transformation of the city from Roman times will have special attention; The detection of processes and urban and architectural models capable of transmitting and disseminating ideologies; The establishment of changes or urban and social changes in topography; The Christianization of it; Or the influences of private initiatives.

Archaeological work has brought to light a multitude of data, whose interpretation allows us to confront the evolution of historical cities from diverse perspectives, such as the revision of some of the historiographic themes about the involution of urban core, their role as centers of political and religious power, or the primitive settlement of Islamic populations. The Cordovan case has not been distinguished from what has happened in the rest of Europe, although we must bear in mind that its role as paradigmatic capital of the ancient and medieval world gives it a special meaning. Thus, for example, the arrival of Islam will mark a true point of inflection, which will allow us to compare different processes with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula and to one end of the Mediterranean. It is for this reason that, within the framework of the deep mutations that have taken place in the urban image of Cordova, understood as a unique site, we must pay attention to questions concerning not only the public and intramural areas, but also to the funerary world, domestic architecture, orchards, landfills, industrial activities, etc. Our ultimate goal is to complete the studies on low-imperial, late-medieval and post-medieval topography, starting from the need to carry out a joint, comprehensive and unified study, within the framework of a diachronic reading.

The unique characteristics of the capital of Cordova make any research project focused on the study of its urban and suburban areas find itself with a dense, complex and unique archaeological heritage to face, making it a perfect “laboratory of experiences”. Until a few years ago, research lines focused on the phenomena of urban structure, the new configuration of the public space or the definition of different forms of habitat that took place between the 2nd Century AD and the High Middle Ages, had to be developed on sources extraordinarily limited, old or incomplete. That is why it is our fundamental objective to complete the initial studies, as a continuation of the projects we have been developing since the 1990s, centered on the recreation of the funerary space: from the Roman period, first and in its evolution until the reconquest Christian, later, and in the western suburbs of Cordova, with the Roman amphitheater as protagonist. Our final aim will be to complete the studies on topography in the lower-imperial, late-medieval and late-medieval Cordoba, starting from the need to carry out a joint, comprehensive and unified study, within the framework of a diachronic reading.

On the other hand, the latest aims of the new project include the training of competent professionals, rigorous research, scientific dissemination and the transfer of knowledge generated to society. Aspects all of which require daily work in classrooms and laboratories, direct involvement in urban planning and urban Archaeology management, which is managing to change the negative bias of Cordoba Archaeology – the maintenance of an accredited line of scientific publications, periodicals or not, and the design of actions (integration of sites, exhibitions, lecture cycles and/or divulgative character seminars, etc.) aimed at reverting in society a knowledge that is increasingly demanded and that the historic city is also an important economic asset and a quoted job site.

Purpose of the project

The city, understood as a living organism, undergoes continuous transformations throughout history, in such a way that its urban and suburban forms are, in fact, the reflection of the mechanisms of adaptation and response by the human communities before an environment in constant evolution. Thus, within what has been considered a true “boom” of the Archaeology of Late Antiquity, the urban changes of the Roman cities are configured as one of the favorite subjects and most conflictive of today’s medieval studies, both European as well as Spanish. This fact has been favored by the considerable increase of the archaeological activities in historical cities during the last decades, contributing to the substantial advance in the knowledge of these ancient cities; It is precisely this urban Archaeology that is allowing to observe, in those nuclei with a continuous chronological sequence, that there is an authentic evolution and transformation of its classical morphologies, both in its urban centers and in its territorium. However, these mechanisms of mutation, in which Christianity plays an important role as an ideological and material manifestation, are much more complex than might be expected; A situation that is complicated and enriched even more in the Hispanic case due to the conquest and Islamization of the peninsula after 711 AD. A problem derived from this situation is perceived, for example, in the treatment of available information: on the one hand, the ancient city, paying special attention to the so-called “Christianization of the urban landscape”; And, on the other hand, the Islamic city, which enjoys a high-quality scientific tradition, carries out topographical and architectural studies formulated from functional perspectives that hardly affect the historical evolution of Andalusian cities and their relation with previous urban realities.

In this evolution from the civitas to the madina we can not leave aside the existence of a discontinuity, which responds to the dissolution of an urban reality and to the formation or redefinition of a different one. Hence, we must raise the problem from a double dimension: on the one hand, theoretical reflection in the light of the historiographic debate that exists today, and on the other the analysis of some concrete examples of the suburban phenomenon in Spain and Europe; Only in this way will some of the topics on the involution of cities, their role as a center of political and religious power, and the parallelization of some problems related to the early settlement of Muslim populations be reviewed. Thus, the experience accumulated in some historic cities of the Western Roman Empire is configured as the necessary starting point for our reflection on what the urban model and its transformations should be from the Lower Empire period to the High Middle Ages.

All this will be reflected in the establishment of a series of questions and in an attempt to solve problems such as:

  • Definition of the concept of city and its evolution/transformation from Roman times to medieval.
  • Detection of urban and architectural processes and models capable of transmitting and disseminating.
  • Archaeological analysis of the organization and structuring of the inserted spaces in the urban and suburban space, in which the activities related to the operation and maintenance are developed.
  • Establishment of changes or urban and social changes in topography based on the forms adopted by the inhabited spaces, as well as the dynamics that emerge from their material culture.
  • The role of public buildings, their chronological evolution and changes in their functionality.
  • Christianization of topography through the installation of religious worship buildings (basilicas, martyria and monasteries).
  • Influences of private, aristocratic or ecclesiastical initiatives.
  • Common and divergent approach to the phenomena from the reflection on national and European experiences, promoting a network of exchanges and contacts with researchers and related research centers (Andalusian, national and foreign).

The specific objectives of this research project can be summarized as follows:

  • Elaboration of a general overview that rigorously systematizes each one of the ways and customs of the communities that occupied the city in a diachronic way, in order to generate a graphic and documentary support of first magnitude that, undoubtedly, facilitates the ultimate comprehension of observable changes or nuances in the evolution of Cordoba, understood as a historic city and unique site. Thus, through archaeological analysis, we can clearly perceive, from an unusual lens, the topographical, sociological and ideological evolution of Cordova, from the Low Empire period (3rd Century AD) to the High Medieval era (8th Century AD). The importance of this panorama lies in observing whether the archaeological evidence of these phenomena suggests the existence of a common dynamics or, on the contrary, a strong local variability that allows us to speak of different dynamics, reaching to establish general lines in which special attention will be given to the evolution/transformation of the city; The detection of processes and urban and architectural models capable of transmitting and disseminating ideologies; The establishment of changes and urban and social changes in urban and suburban topography; The Christianization of the landscape; Or the influences of private initiatives.
  • We are committed to the consolidation of previous research lines, generated within the Research Group, as a commitment both to the city itself and to the previous projects supported by the Archaeology Area of ​​the University of Córdoba since the nineties and centered in the intramural and Roman times. As of now, our final goal will be the development of different doctoral theses, which will see the light throughout the years of the project and which will be the most suitable vehicle for the academic completion of young researchers in training.
  • Establishment of a single area of ​​discussion integrated in the European framework, which will advance knowledge and propose new hypotheses to the scientific community through the publication of an ad hoc monograph and the holding of a scientific congress, thus enhancing the internationalization of R&D activities. In this way, the network of exchanges and contacts with researchers and related research centers (Andalusian, national and foreign) will also be promoted, contributing to the advance in the historical-archaeological knowledge of the “historical cities”, which are configured as deposits of great complexity and magnitude. This work is carried out thanks to the participation of some foreign specialists integrated in our Research Group, namely: G. Brogiolo and A. Chavarría, Università degli Studi di Padova; P. Liverani, Università degli Studi di Firenze; J. Beltrán, Museum of History of Barcelona; G. Spinola, Vatican Museums (Rome) and S. Rascón, University of Alcalá de Henares. At the same time, we have the recent grant of an Integrated Action with the University of Cologne.
  • As a consequence of this, the research will be encouraged in an interdisciplinary way, opting for the integration of all the archaeological information generated in the city and the creation of multidisciplinary work teams, whose members share the same objective and a similar degree of commitment to the archaeological heritage; A team conceived in a state of permanent renewal, as a means of training, debate and scientific development of its members, with a methodology and a system of registration of information, through the creation and updating of databases and research tools through New technologies that facilitate the creation of an Integral Archaeology System (IAS) and the approximation to a growing number of researchers. This is an aspect that we cover on a daily basis through the databases generated under our agreement with the Municipal Management of Urbanism of Cordova (the most important of them called al-Mulk ), which nourishes The Archaeological Risk Letter, which is the basis of all municipal regulations regarding interventions in the archaeological, movable and immovable heritage, underlying and emerging.
  • With regard to the training of researchers, the integral teaching of Archaeological professionals will be favored, both in terms of fieldwork and research in the strict sense, seeking ultimately the conjunction between both factors. The solid professional and scientific training constitutes for the young archeologists the best guarantee for their insertion and continuity in the difficult labor market, which nowadays presents different ways (University, Town Halls, Public Administration, Companies, Schools Workshop). In this line and within the Interuniversity Master, main frame of high level training, we count on the presence of students of different nationalities who will be integrated in the Project doing Master’s Final Projects that are related with the lines of research that we are currently developing.
  • Increase of scientific knowledge and its social and business transfer: we intend to recreate the evolution of the urban image of a paradigmatic city in this sense in a very concrete period, reinforcing the role of Archaeology as a historical science, employment site, and sociocultural and economic dynamic element. For this we will use as a fundamental tool the constant updating of the website, linked to the Research Group HUM-236 and visited monthly by thousands of people around the world. It will be, therefore, an open window to the world to make known the activities and the results obtained in the framework of the Project.