On July 23, 1983, Samuel López, a resident of Carranque (Toledo), found on the outskirts of the town some loose colored tiles that the plow had torn off. With a stick he began to scratch the ground and, just ten centimeters deep, he found the spectacular mosaic of The Metamorphosis, one of the 22 – 19 are preserved – that covered the floors of the town of Carranque, built around 400 AD. . C. This monumental complex, owned by a great lord or dominus, was made up of a country house, the Casa de Materno (it occupied about 1,200 square meters with a porch, turrets, a garden patio and reception rooms), a torcularium (where manufactured oil and wine), a funerary construction (where the owner and his family were buried) and a representation building of more than 2,000 square meters that the latest research identifies as a palatial building.
It is known – as indicated by the inscription found in one of the mosaics – that the owner’s name was Materno. “From the workshop of Ma…, Hirinius painted it. May you happily enjoy, Maternus, this cubicle (bedroom)”, reads the mosaic that was on the door of the room. For some experts, such as Dimas Fernández Galiano, the first archaeologist to excavate the site (1986-2003), it was Materno Cinegio, a powerful consul appointed by Theodosius in the year 388, who died in Constantinople and whose body was transferred to Hispania by his wife Acanthia. But for the majority of specialists, including Javier Arce (from the CSIC and professor at the University of Lille until his retirement), there is no proof of this beyond the discovery of the name Maternus, a common nickname at the time, he explains, for there is “an abyss” to identify as that of the consul. To avoid controversy, the official website of the site mentions only Materno, without nomen (indicating the clan from which he came), or cognomen (family). Something like naming the owner, but without last names.
3D recreation of the exterior of the town of Carranque.http://carranquerural.es/
The site, whose official name is Santa María de Abajo de Carranque, was a center of agricultural exploitation that emerged on the banks of the Guadarrama River and Via 24 – an important road that connected the two plateaus – in early Roman times (1st-2nd centuries AD). C.) with significant wealth and monuments in late Roman times, but it was also a center of power for a large territory. It is demonstrated by the existence of the great buildings of the IV and V centuries AD. C., as well as the great quality, variety and quantity of the materials used in the decoration of the palace building, which have been one of the priority objects of research in recent years by a UNED team and which allow us to affirm that it is one of the most outstanding sets of marmora ―ornamental rocks― in the Western Mediterranean. The set declined from the middle of the 5th century, despite the fact that it was reoccupied both in the Visigothic and Muslim times. During the reign of Alfonso VII, the palace building became the church of Santa María de Batres, converted into a small rural hermitage since the 16th century, as it appears in the Topographical Relations of Philip II.
The collection of Carranque mosaics – made by three different mosaic workshops – makes it one of the most important in the Iberian Peninsula, with more than 600 square meters that recreate characters from the Iliad, Neptune and Anemone, Diana and Actaeon, Hylas and the Nymphs, Pyramus and Thisbe, busts of Minerva, Diana or Hercules.
Mosaic with the name of Maternus found in the master bedroom. Community Board of Castilla-La Mancha
The site, open to the public and managed by the Junta de Comunidades de Castilla-La Mancha, shows the palatial building, a place of representation where the Dominus received his clients, guests, friends. It was built in granite, limestone and brick (opus mixtum walls with stone and laterice) with marble columns brought from Turkey, Tunisia and Greece, brick domes ―some covered with mosaics of gold leaf tesserae―, walls and floors decorated with more than 39 varieties of marble from the main quarries of the Mediterranean arc, creating opus sectile compositions (marbles cut into geometric motifs). All this, without counting the elements belonging to the crockery and furniture, which experts describe as “authentically exceptional”, such as containers and parts of a table made of Egyptian red porphyry -the most precious stone material of Antiquity- whose quarries were imperial property, or the cover of a sarcophagus with iconography related to the prophet Jonah, exhibited in the Museo de los Concilios, in Toledo, and made of marble from Estremoz (Évora, Portugal).
The Casa de Materno, for its part, was equipped with all the comforts of the time. In addition to its luxurious mosaic decoration, the walls of this house were painted with architectural and floral motifs. The mausoleum, on the other hand, was a small funerary building, with a square plan and a semicircular apse at its head. Inside, there were probably marble sarcophagi ―of which there is evidence through numerous fragments― that housed the remains of the owner and his family. To the south of Casa de Materno is the torculario, the productive area of the town, where the latest research has shown that oil and wine were made. The Roman villas were, in reality, huge agricultural complexes in which his owner, his large family and the workers resided, which in turn made up a complex that could be of large dimensions. At the moment, the servants’ buildings, stables, barns, workshops and possibly some baths have not yet been excavated.
Protective cover over the Maternus house. Board of Communities of Castilla-La Mancha
Most of the remains that can be visited today correspond mainly to a set of buildings from the Theodosian period. Theodosius I the Great (347-395) was the last great Roman emperor, from him the Empire was divided between the West and the East.
Samuel López, the discoverer of the town, complains about the lack of recent archaeological excavations. The latest ones are from 2016, but there were also some between 2005 and 2011, directed by the scientific director of Carranque and professor of Archeology at UNED, Virginia García-Entero, who has also carried out extensive prospecting around the site. “I have found a wall about 20 meters long and about 80 centimeters thick and I have asked several times for it to be investigated, but I have not succeeded. It must be from a large building, ”she asserts. López, likewise, recalls that the site had 70,000 annual visits, mainly schoolchildren and young people, but after the covid it has never recovered these numbers and more so when it is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It does not make any sense”.
Aerial view of the excavation of the palatial building. Board of Communities of Castilla-La Mancha
Virginia García-Entero explains that research work is currently focused on analyzing the voluminous material recovered during the first phase of the excavations (1985 and 2003) that remained unstudied. “Laboratory work is very important, fundamental. Currently, and waiting to be able to resume the excavation work, we are focusing on the study of all the material culture elements recovered (ceramic, marble, structures…), to which we apply a broad and rigorous protocol of analysis in collaboration with various Spanish and European institutions and which includes archaeobiological, DNA, carbon 14, rock provenance, composition of mortar and ceramic paste or organic waste analyses. Thus, the analyzed materials tell us that Carranque was at the end of the 4th century and beginning of the 5th century AD. C. a very outstanding center of power to which the best of the Empire arrived in ceramics, marbles, ivories or oils… A very special place. The best of the best”. Although it is not known who its owner was.
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