Two hypotheses collide on the mythical temple of Hercules in Cadiz

December 18, 2021

Between Camposoto and Sancti Petri or in Cerro de los Mártires de San Fernando? Two surveys carried out by different Spanish universities indicate that two different enclaves of Cadiz are the place where the mythical temple of hercules whose fame spread beyond the seas and who visited famous people like Hannibal or Julius Caesar.

The last hypothesis, raised by Ricardo Belizón and Antonio Sáez, from the Department of Prehistory and Archeology of the University of Seville, locates the possible location of this famous sanctuary that the Phoenicians built to the god Melqart and that in Roman times was called Hercules Gaditano in an area between Sancti Petri (between the terms of San Fernando and Chiclana)

and Camposoto (in the municipality of San Fernando).

Belizón was researching the paleogeography of the Bay of Cadiz in Antiquity for his thesis, using public data from the Lidar remote sensing of the National Geographic Institute and a free geographic information system software called QGIS, when he discovered structures that caught his attention in an area of ​​the Sancti Petri Canal and in the southern part of the Arillo River, north of Camposoto. After repeating the work several times, he brought it to the attention of Antonio Sáez. Archeology (CAS) of the Institute. Andalusian Historical Heritage of Cadiz (IAPH).

The structure discovered in the Sancti Petri pipe – Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage

The images show what appeared to be the structure of a large building the size of two football stadiums (approximately 300 meters by 150 meters) in an area of ​​the Sancti Petri Pipe where nothing existed in modern times, according to the historical mapping. “What we are seeing would correspond to Roman times, we think this structure equates to what classical sources say was the Temple of Hercules that was in use until the 4th century,” Belizón explains. Underwater archaeologists made a dive in the area to verify in situ what the digital model of the terrain showed, but Milagros Alzaga, director of CAS Cadiz, explains that the poor visibility and the currents did not allow them to do well. see. “Considering how difficult the area is for diving, we want to do geophysical surveys and program very well how we’re going to descend and work,” he says.

About four kilometers away, in the southern part of the Arillo River where their digital terrain models showed another large building 700 meters long by 300 wide, a visit to this location before it flooded confirmed the existence of remains of walls and fragments of amphora. Although it is still too early to say so emphatically, they believe they may have come from a set of Roman-era structures “larger than Baelo Claudia”. These digital terrain models appeared to be confirmed to be reliable. “If the system worked on one side,” says Alzaga, “we think underwater in Sancti Petri there may also be something.”

Structures detected in the southern part of the Arillo River – Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage

According to these investigations, the temple of Hercules would be larger than one thought and its surroundings, totally different from what one believed: Strabo, Silio Italic or Philostrate), located in a continental zone and it seems to be with port structures associated with the temple ”, as described by the director of the CAS.

The data on the archaeological finds and the interventions already known in the area agree, according to the defenders of this thesis, with these structures now discovered, which, in their opinion, provide a new key to understand, for example, why in a certain area de Sancti Petri had found votive statuettes or wrecks with copper cakes.

The researchers, who presented their study scientifically at La Sapienza University in Rome on December 9 and at CAS Cadiz to the public this week, are clear that what they are proposing is only a hypothesis that future archaeological interventions must confirm. But both the location of the localized structures and their dimensions lead them to believe that they could have come from the sought-after temple of Hercules. “And even if this was not the case, what we want to study in an interdisciplinary way is so important that it will considerably expand the knowledge we have from that time throughout the region from Cadiz to Chiclana”, considers Alzaga.

Among connoisseurs, the new theory arouses interest and cautious anticipation. For Darío Bernal, professor at the University of Cadiz, it is “an interesting hypothesis” which, he emphasizes, “must be contrasted with the field work”.

In the Cerro de los Mártires

Professor Antonio Monterroso Checa, however, does not hide his complete skepticism. The team he leads at the University of Cordoba and the one led by Lázaro Lagostena in Cadiz plan to search for the temple next year in the Cerro de los Mártires de San Fernando, also with Lidar and the support of the town hall of San Fernando and the Junta de Andalucía and the Ministry of Defense, owner of the land.

“It is the most suitable place”, explains Monterroso, because “in the mentality of the ancient world, having a hill protruding towards the sea, visible from anywhere, no one would think of putting his god in the water”. No Phoenician temple is known at sea level, “not a single one”, he emphasizes. The hill is the only area that would be safe from a tsunami, and the Phoenicians, expert navigators, “would never have placed their main god in a place that could be threatened as little as possible. It makes no sense, ”says the researcher.

Moreover, ancient sources do not mention any data on a reconstruction of the temple, “a sign that it was never destroyed” so that “the only safe place”, according to Monterroso, was at the top of Cerro de los Mártires. .

“If the temple had been where the confreres from Seville say, it would not have lasted 50 years, impossible”, explains the Cordovan archaeologist. At this place “at the current sea level, which is lower than that of the archaic Phoenician era, it would have been impossible for the temple to have withstood not a tidal wave, but a wave from the east of Cadiz. “. And the region was rocked by two tidal waves in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC and a third, very strong, caused by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

These catastrophes had an extraordinary training capacity which took away the area which was already very changeable, so Monterroso does not trust the results of a search carried out with air resources near the islet because in “sea terrain, the only way to have certain data are underwater or submarine surveys ”. The lidar, he assures, is “the wrong tool” for searching underwater and the images shown could be “scars from the salt marshes themselves, which have absolutely nothing to do with submerged archaeological remains. “.

The professor from the University of Cordoba also criticizes the fact that Sáez and Belizón did not follow the usual procedure of publishing the research in a prestigious scientific journal and that it was debated within the scientific community before the publicize to the media, as he did in March, denying in an article the possible location of Sancti Petri which has traditionally been targeted for the sanctuary. Monterroso lacks “the whole method that shows how these images were processed, how these shapes were obtained, how these calculations were made …” According to him, for the moment it is “pure conjecture” that he does not has not. “not the slightest trace of methodological validity.”

“Scientific discussion enriches knowledge. We will see what the next performances have in store for us, ”replied Belinzón. Researchers from the University of Seville and the CAS in Cadiz think they have a “guide” for their next steps, a map with suggestive structures. Time will tell if anyone is right.

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