Algatocín - SALitre
Salitre and Roman Vesci
This growing rural community can be found in the Guadiaro valley portion of the municipal district and is rich in agricultural land, watered by irrigation channels. The limestone ridge acts as a great source of water, which not only enabled the cultivation of cereals but also powered a number of mills. This sub district is dominated by a hill known as Cerro de la Laguna and this is a good point to aim for, as it houses a small community and the destination of the Romerio.
To visit it, big letters at a bus stop indicate the turn off down to the area and having passed through a farm yard, the track gives you two options. Yellow PO boxes suggest that this is far as the postman is prepared to come, but it also indicates that a number of people live down this remote track.
The track to the right will take you down to the 18th century heritage Chapel of San Isidro. BBQ areas around the chapel are a sign that once a year on the 15th May the procession finally makes it here, after its route over the pass at Las Pilas.
Man did not find this remote place two hundred and fifty years ago and decided it would make a good place for a religious fair. Man has inhabited the district of Salitre ever since the early Iberian period. The community that grew up on the hilltop overlooking the whole valley was called in the Roman period Vesci. This town was on the old road Via Ilvro Arvada, that linked the Bay of Algerciras to Ronda and onwards to Cordoba. Historians have always tried to link Vesci with Gaucin, which probably did have a Roman presence due to its strategic value. However, Vesci is now associated with the hill top of Cerro Gordo or on some maps, Cerro de la Laguna. The actual site is a hidden upland bowl, which is not easy to appreciate from any angle. The sharp pointed hill top acted as a last refuge to what must have been a large settlement, surrounded by a semi natural half circular earth bank.
To visit the site take the track on the left from the small school and just as you start to loose height, look out for a fenced off dirt track on your right. A very small deserted quarry marks this spot and having parked up, walk down to a very primitive farmhouse. Once again a wire gate meets you but having obtained permission, carry on towards the base of the hill. You will notice in the surrounding arable land the huge amount of broken Roman tile and pottery. To really appreciate the settlement, at the bend head up to what looks like a retaining wall. Not to be confused with the later day dry stone walls, this is a very early defensive line dating from as early as 200 BC. Having noted the faded wall, head up to the top of the hill and you will be surprised to find a small flat top plateau. This would have been an ideal place for a last stand, as on all sides it is a straight drop down to the valley below.
The deserted oppidum has left us very little to see today, though coins minted from the town have excited historians. The coins from the town suggested that the community be authorised to mint its own bronze coins. The name of the issuing authority used the Punic Alphabet rather than Latin, with many similarities to the mint at Oba (Jimena de la Fronterra). The indigenous Iberian population must have originally lived in a Bronze Age hill fort environment and were influenced by the Carthaginians. After the Punic war, the community must have submitted to Rome without a fight and as a reward, they were given some form of limited autonomy. This would have included the licence to mint bronze coins. Later, Caesar would probably have granted a Latin (not Roman) legal status, in exchange for their loyalty during the civil war with Pompey.
The coins which have been found in the area, are thought to date from 50 BC during the Republican period. They use Libyo-Phoenician wording and copied Punic motifs, such as a bull. In the case of the found coins, one side is of a bull under a tree, with the name of the town written in a Punic style on the reverse. Such a practice ceased all over Spain by the time of Augustus. As the coins would have only been guaranteed by the local mint, many would have been re struck or melted down by other mints, until the later Latin standardisation. This would explain why the coin finds are so rare.
The coins suggest that the town was probably founded under Phoenician influence in the 6th century BC and followed a similar history to Oba. The mountains to the east of the town were important for Iron and the minting of coins and mining often went hand in hand, as the town would have been an important trading post.
Looking down from the hilltop into the bowl, you would have probably not seen a well-planned town. Certainly public buildings would have existed such as a simple forum but much of the town would have been of simple Iberian buildings made of wood. The site has never been excavated to prove this thought and it is only since 2001, that local historians accept that this is Vesci. The town name was later quoted as Vesci Faventia, suggesting its eventual Romanising process of fully joining the Empire by absorption.
Further down the track from the parked car, the course of the old Roman road can actually be traced along a straight ancient cattle way (Canada Real). An old pass on the Roman road is just south of this hillsite, today known as Puerto de las Eras (see Benarraba). Research on the Roman road system in the area, indicates the importance of this site as a major cross over of routes. Vesci had its own side road, linking it to the larger town of Saepo (see Cortes de la Frontera).
Having retraced the steps of early man a Venta awaits, which not only offers a cool refreshment but the chance to visit a surviving mill. Back onto the Cortes road, look out for the modern rural hotel of Salitre. Opposite is a pool area from a camping site and though tempting to stop, look out for the Venta on the right. This is Molino de Salitre, which has preserved the old mill. What is striking is the impressive aqueduct, which must be of Moorish if not Roman origin. This area used to grow a lot of cereal and a mill with a continuo supply of running water throughout the year, was an important focal point. This large hidden fertile valley was the Moors secret granary. Not easy to reach, as it required passing over a mountain pass in all directions, a Christian raiding party during the period of Fernando III, was forced back very near this spot. This all leads to the presumption that a large Moorish settlement must have stood here once, though no lost site or name has been identified to date. Walking up to the entrance of the Venta, you are greeted by the rush of mountain water. Flowing from the arches, this would have turned a millwheel and in side a small museum of artefacts from the day are on display. You may need to ask permission, as the actual mill is not always open. Though much of the structure is medieval, the upper building and mechanics are from about 1730.
A number of deserted homesteads litter the landscape with such names as Casa del Conde (which must have been a hunting lodge for the Duke de Medina Sidonia). One of these homestead sites caused shock and horror in the 19th century, when a protestant community was set up. The visiting pastor was from Gibraltar.