The city of Orihuela lies between Alicante and Murcia on the Costa Blanca. Its archaeological ruins of the town wall and buildings were discovered in 1998 during construction work for the University of Orihuela. Their importance resulted in them being integrated into the basement of the building, and to the establishment of the Wall Museum, to enable them to be preserved and viewed.
The museum enables visitors to wander around the city layout of Orihuela by the perimeter path and along glazed walkways, and to be able see its layout dating back 1300 years. Alongside the ruins are display panels and models, which enable the visitor to appreciate how the city looked during previous times.
Orihuela is known to have been inhabited in the Bronze Age, and the area was later occupied by the Romans where it was known as Orcelus. During the 3rd century BC it was controlled by the Carthaginians until it was reclaimed by Rome following the Second Punic Wars (218 – 201 BCE). The Romans remained in Hispania (Spain) until the invasion by the Huns, Goths and Visigoths who took over the area. The invasion began in 409 AD with the Visigoths gaining control over all of Spain by 476 AD. This they held until the invasion of the Moors in 711 when the country became known as al-Andalus, which was to become Andalusia.
During this period, Orihuela or Uryula - as it was then - became a centre for Arabic culture and had substantial city walls and thermal baths, which can be seen today in the museum. The wall and towers run along the basement and date back to the second half of the 12th and first part of the 13th centuries. Changes were made around the 14th century.
Between 9th and 11th centuries a number of Christian Kingdoms emerged in Northern Spain which were to expand south displacing the Moors. In 1243, the city of Orihuela was conquered by Prince Alfonso ((who was later to become King Alfonso X (1252-1284)) and by 1250 only Granada was still held by the Moors.
The golden age of Orihuela was from 1296, when it became part of the Kingdom of Valencia. Due to its location between the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Granada, Orihuela was of great strategic importance, and Alfonso V (1416-1458) declared it a city in 1437.
In 1492 Granada was captured by Ferdinand and Isabella, which resulted in the expulsion of the Moors from Spain and included the expulsion of many of the Moriscos (converted Arabs) and Jews from Orihuela. Prior to this, the city had exhibited a high degree of religious tolerance within its population of 10,000. The ruins provide a good example of what life would have been like in the city around this time with examples of different types of buildings.
The baths, which were located just outside the city and accessed through an open passage in one of the towers, are from the second half of the 12th and first half of the 13th centuries. They functioned until the late Christian Middle Ages, although it is possible that they were used after that but perhaps for a different purpose.
The baths show the two areas quite distinctly; the public area for the bathers and a restricted area for the heating of the water and the drying of the towels. Like the traditional Roman baths these had a cold room, warm room and hot room which would have had domes and vaulted ceiling. The baths were not just for personal hygiene but also had religious and social functions.
The hot room was heated by a hypocaust connected to the oven. It consisted of twelve brick pillars which supported stone slabs. At one end was a small pool for the water. Attached to the wall at the end of the room are the remains of a chimney for the removal of the smoke.
The defence of the city in Moorish times consisted of a number of concentric walled enclosures. The Citadel or Alcazaba was for the rulers and was located at the highest point; below that was the Albacar with its defensive functions and this was where the livestock were held. Further down was the population centre, and all were surrounded by the city wall and defence towers. One of the towers dating back to the 12th century provides information on its construction which is made of concrete, with lime mortar, sand, gravel and limestone. The wall was constructed of concrete with gravel and limestone of different sizes using wooden formwork, the marks of which can be seen on the wall face. The river was used as a natural moat which had a bridge consisting of boats during the Islamic age. This was replaced by a stone bridge in the late Christian Middle Ages.
A number of Islamic homes are apparent and it can be noted that they are designed for the families’ privacy with emphasis on the courtyard with its well and water tank and its access path to all rooms. The exterior consists of a flat wall with just an entrance door.
Homes form the other periods of its history can also be seen, and one of the models shows a home in the 18th century with its large ground floor door and balconies. This at one time served as a Civil Guards barracks.
Also to be seen is the Palace of Prince Fernando de Aragon the Lord of Orihuela in the second half of the 14th century. The building consists of several corridors, two courtyards and a main room with pillars attached to the walls, supporting a series arches.
The museum also contains a collection of pottery and artefacts found at the site.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.
Copyright - All Photographs copyright Ron Gatepain