Main Sights - La Basilica de Vega del Mar

La Basilica de Vega del Mar was a early Christian church and necropolis in the heart of a eucalyptus forest.
La Basilica de Vega del Mar was a early Christian church and necropolis in the heart of a eucalyptus forest.

What is “La Basilica de Vega del Mar”?

La Basilica de Vega del Mar was a Paleo-Christian (early Christian) church and necropolis (burial site), located in the heart of a eucalyptus forest by the Guadalmina river, just outside of Marbella. The site now houses the unique and expansive remains of the Basilica including its foundations and evidence of the burial site. Items discovered on the site were deemed so important to Spanish history that they are now exhibited in the National Museum of Archaeology in Madrid.

It lies on a well-known Roman route that stretches from Cartagena to Cádiz, and was once part of the Roman city of Cilniana. The original church was built in the mid-fourth century, and is said to have been destroyed in the ruinous earthquake that occurred in the Mediterranean in the year 365 AD.

Evidence discovered at the site, in the form of gravestones and coins, suggest that the existing edifice was built in the sixth century, atop the relics of the earlier construction. A tombstone coloured “Constantine Crimson” after the Emperor Constantine discovered on the site is arguably the oldest tombstone found anywhere in Spain, demonstrating the site´s considerable importance in Spanish history, making it a must-see when visiting Marbella.

Discovery

The relics were uncovered in the early 20th century when as the foundations were being laid in the area for a eucalyptus plantation. As the beds were being dug out, artifacts and evidence of the structure were uncovered along with evidence of human remains, suggesting the site of a necropolis. They were completely uncovered by 1930 by José Perez Barradas. Up until about 2000 the site was open to freely explore in the woods, it was later fensed and a key could be borrowed from the tourist office. It has since been extensively renovated with elevated wooden walkways, a perimeter fence and information boards. See below for the very limited opening hours.  

Floor Plan

The relics discovered show the rectangular boundaries of the building that once stood at the site and the internal floor plan. Within the outer walls there is clear evidence of three halls; the main hall has three aisles separated by stone pillars and is flanked by two side halls. The east and west sides of the building are marked by the appearance of two semicircular apses. The west apse is the principle; it is in the centre of two rectangular chambers.

The north chamber contained a font, 1.1m deep, carved from a single stone into the shape of a fish – a well-known Christian motif. Inside the font are seven steps, which represent the seven degrees of mystery attributed to the Holy Spirit by Saint Isidore – three of decline, one central, and three of ascension. The font room had two doors, one internal and one external, so designed to prevent anyone from entering the Church without first having been baptized. The other entrances to the Church are found on the North and the South side of the building. The North entrance was used during burial ceremonies.

As with all churches of this era, the construction was poor with simple building materials and minimal masonry, and so the building has been subject to considerable decay. The pillars and columns were constructed with greater care but, as can be seen in the floor plan, they appear in unusual positions for a traditional basilica, making this one even more interesting.

The Necropolis

The Basilica was first used as a necropolis by the Romans under Constantine; evidence of this was found in the form of a pear-shaped bottle of known Roman origin, and terra sigliata ceramics, known for their use under the Roman Empire, and continued fabrication into the Visigothic rule of Liuva II. So we know that the Necropolis survived centuries of early Andalusian history (these artifacts are now on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid).

The tombs found at the necropolis were made of marble or brick, sealed by large stones or boulders. Almost 200 different tombs have been discovered on the site, making it one of the largest Roman burial sites in Spain.

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Entry

It is free to view the site, it is only open 11:00 - 13:00 on FRIDAYS outside of these hours you have to call the Delegación Municipal de Cultura on 952 825 035 to arrange a visit and obtain keys from either Marbella or San Pedro tourist office.


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