Infant mortality was very high in the 11th century. It is very common to find remains of children and adolescents in cemeteries of that time. It is not so much to find perfectly disposed corpses following the Muslim rite at the foot of a great Arab wall, like the one in Valencia. There, archaeologists have now discovered the remains of 12 minors, most of them adolescents, buried in a right lateral decubitus position between the fortification erected by order of Abd al-Aziz, king of the Balansiya taifa between 1021 and 1061, and the ante-wall or barbicana that reinforced the defenses.
Very close by, also within what is now the popular and nocturnal Carme neighborhood, was the Muslim cemetery. However, the remains did not reach there, perhaps due to the danger posed by leaving the walled enclosure with the Christian troops besieging the city. “It is a strange burial, which could have been due to a situation of war, belligerence,” explains Paqui Rubio, director of the archaeological intervention, together with Pepa Pascual. “When lowering the height of the seven meters of height of the wall until the nine of its origin, these burials have been discovered in an area protected from the attacks in the thirteenth century by the troops of Jaime I [el rey cristiano que fundó el antiguo Reino de Valencia]”, Says the Councilor for Heritage, Glòria Tello, in a visit to the works this Tuesday.
The municipal project, budgeted at 2.2 million euros, seeks to make the 45 longitudinal meters of Arab wall (about 500 square meters) that survive in this part of the neighborhood, including its inhabited tower, open to visitors, and to show all the findings in a new interpretation center. Any archaeological action in an ancient city is a partial synthesis of its history. There are other wall paintings on lots that serve as parking lots, in homes, in converted nightclubs or in the same streets of Carme, but none with the dimensions and conservation of the location next to the Plaza de l’Àngel.
Until the flood of the Turia that flooded the city in 1957, the Posada de l’Àngel was located there, built in the 16th century to serve visitors and merchants who came from the north. Thanks to the use of the large backyard to store the carts and horses, the wall was preserved and was not assimilated by the houses that were built next to it. The neighbors took advantage of the more than two meters thick of the wall to remove stone, earth or expand their rooms. You can perfectly see the tiles of a bathroom on the masonry of the Arab wall or a worn copper pipe that runs through the canvas. In several towers of Arab origin, renovated over time to remove windows and that today resemble viewpoints in a natural park, neighbors still live.
Today that site is full of archaeologists and workers with the purpose of finishing the works next summer. Everything is in sight. Bones and skulls always attract attention. Also the different disposition of the Muslim burials, very orderly, and the Christian ones, more chaotic, that have come to light in the nearby land where a church was built. With its destruction, it was ordered to transfer all the human remains to a nearby cemetery, but the work was left halfway. “Picaresque has always been,” adds the archaeologist Paqui Rubio, along with the anthropologist Ángel Rubio, who has just pointed out the traces that osteoarthritis left on the vertebrae of a recently exhumed Christian old man.
The dome with which the Christians covered the moat of the Arab wall to make it serve as a sewer has been located and documented. Or the walkway of military use of the wall. Pieces of luxury tableware and valuable Arabic ceramics have also been discovered, of which it has been possible to trace them: one came from Malaga, another from Mallorca, and a third, the most precious, from Egypt. The different origins show the intense trade and exchange of merchandise of the Mediterranean city, the Taifa kingdom that in the 11th century lived its moment of splendor. According to the city’s historian Manuel Sanchís Guarner, the Valencian Muslims of the time when Almanzor’s grandson reigned stood out for their “elegant appearance”, according to the Arab chroniclers. They were “rich people, who had in their homes all the luxury and pleasure equipment, and acquired any exotic novelty that appeared”, the also renowned linguist collected.