May 15, 2021

The Guarrazar Treasury: a century and a half to solve a Visigothic enigma | Culture

The Guarrazar Treasury: a century and a half to solve a Visigothic enigma | Culture

The archaeologist Juan Manuel Rojas has solved one of the enigmas that for more than 150 years the historians and archeologists have been trying to unravel with little success: who and why hid a score of Visigoth gold crowns, in addition to numerous chalices and crosses of the valuable metal, in an uninhabited area 15 kilometers from Toledo, in the municipality of Guadamur? It is what is known as Treasury of Guarrazar, by the name of the farm where it was found, a story in which betrayals, robberies, diplomatic intrigues and even abominable Nazi criminals intermingle.

To understand the story you have to go back until the year 711 when the Muslim and Berber troops of Táriq Ibn Ziyad cross the Peninsula without hardly any military resistance. Their crushing victory in front of the armies of Don Rodrigo in the battle of the Laguna de la Janda -also known as the battle of Guadalete- had left them the clear path to the capital of the Visigothic kingdom, Toledo.

The hypothesis so far handled by the specialists is that the Christians made the decision to hide the real treasure -which they were collecting for all the churches and palaces of the kingdom. in a lonely orchard to pick it up once the danger has passed. They opened two pits and in them they poured crowns, chalices, jewels and crosses of gold covered with gems and emeralds. For more than 1,100 years they were hidden until Escolástica Morales, daughter of Francisco Morales and María Pérez, felt a physiological need when returning from Toledo in the summer of 1858. When hiding behind some stones she saw a hole and inside it an object that it shone. Fathers and daughter began to extract the impressive pieces, washed them in a nearby pond, filled the saddlebags of the donkey that accompanied them and continued their way in the middle of a very strong storm. What they did not know is that another neighbor of Guadamur, Domingo de la Cruz, observed them a few meters away. When they left, he approached the hole and discovered another of the same dimensions. There was hidden the other part of the incredible treasure.

Reproduction of the Recesvinto crown that is preserved in the Guadamur archaeological interpretation center.
Reproduction of the Recesvinto crown that is preserved in the Guadamur archaeological interpretation center.

The question that remains in the air since then is: why were the real gems hidden in the middle of the field without clear reference points to recover them? The enigma has caused since its discovery and subsequent loss – the whole was sold to the French State numerous political and historical polemics, which have been reflected lately in two books: the novel The last treasure visited (Penguin Random House), from the history academic José Calvo Poyato, and Guarrazar, the hidden treasure, of the historian Pedro Antonio Alonso Revenga.

Juan Manuel Rojas explains it this way: "It did not make any sense what was said about being hidden in a garden. For that reason, I started digging in the plot where it was found and that in 1859 Amador de los Rios already excavated. He found different structures and architectural remains, tombstones [incluida la del presbítero Crispinus, que se conserva en el Museo Arqueológico Nacional]. But the theory of the garden continued. It was a matter of seeing everything from a global point of view ". Thus, with the determined help of the Municipality of Guadamur, he initiated investigations that have also led to an archaeological park that can be visited.

Reproduction of the crown of Suintila, stolen in 1921, which is exhibited in the museum of Guadamur.
Reproduction of the crown of Suintila, stolen in 1921, which is exhibited in the museum of Guadamur.

During the last years, the walls of a building more than 30 meters long, a basilica church, the remains of a possible palace, a Visigothic cemetery and even a building that served as a residence for pilgrims have surfaced. Because the investigations of Rojas allow him to affirm that the place where the treasure was found was, in fact, a religious complex, similar to the sanctuary of Lourdes (France), with its own healing waters (the well where the Morales cleaned the jewels) and where the Christians came to ask God for their healing. Therefore, and given its importance, the royal treasury was kept there, in the religious and royal buildings, whose roofs hung the votive crowns of the monarchs.

When its occupants knew the unstoppable advance of the Muslims, terrified, they looked for a place to bury the jewels. It occurred to them that it was best to put them in the cemetery. There nobody would look. They raised two tombstones, hid the precious objects, covered them with pieces of cloth and sand and put the bodies back on top. When Scholastica went into hiding to make her needs more than a thousand years later, she sought the most protected place: what she did not recognize as the fence of the missing cemetery.

In 2014, during the work of excavating one of the large buildings unearthed, the mayor of Guadamur, Sagrario Gutiérrez, began to remove with a small stick a small pool found next to an architectural structure. I was trying to find where the spring that filled the raft came from. He dug until the shovel made something blue appear: it was one of the jewels that had come off the crowns when the Morales washed them in what they thought was a well and that was not other than the place where the pilgrims took the water from the sanctuary .

Himmler comes into play

The Treasure of Guarrazar was sold in 1856 to various Toledo jewelers. Numerous pieces were fused and dismantled to make them disappear from the authorities and the police. Others, however, were preserved and ended up in the hands of the diamond cutter José Navarro. He sold them to Cluny Museum (France). The Spanish Government, in the midst of a very strong scandal that reached the Cortes, tried to recover them without success. Napoleon III wielded the most distant excuses.

Finally, in 1941, with an occupied France, the lieutenant of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Heinrich Himmler, returned to the Government of Francisco Franco a good part of the finding, in addition to archaeological pieces such as Lady of Elche. Today, much of the discovery can be admired in the National Archaeological Museuml and in the Palacio de Oriente, in Madrid, while other jewels are kept in the Cluny Museum.

"It's an exciting story that has not ended yet," says José Calvo Poyato, professor of History. "Domingo de la Cruz, the other neighbor who found numerous jewels, overwhelmed by the pressure, gave Isabel II part of what he found, including the crown of Suintila, which was kept in the armory of the Royal Palace until 1921, when it was stolen " Calvo recalls that the police investigations failed, although they were close to finding her. "Where is the crown of Suintila, the Visigothic king who expelled the Byzantines from the Peninsula?" That is another of the mysteries still unsolved, it is undoubtedly an exciting story that he gives for many more books, "the scholar concludes.


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