Plain tales from the hills

April 7th, 2010 | Written by Simon Rice|


The only physical remains of Iberian architecture in Catalonia take some finding, way out in the seemingly featureless plains of the Pla d’Urgel in Lleida. But the fortress of Els Vilars near Arbeca is well worth the effort. The site appears as level as the ground around it, but with the foundations of its twelve dramatic towers excavated from the surrounding ‘moat’ it is no surprise to learn that the fortress was occupied for around 400 years (750 – 325 BCE). The tribe, if that’s the right term, disposed of their dead by incineration and internment in clay urns, remains of which occur at numerous sites all over the plains (the new Diocesan Museum in Lleida city has a whole floor dedicated to this civilisation). Quite what happened to them remains a mystery, however, as the site evidently fell into gradual disuse. One clue is obvious; the location is literally surrounded by higher, more easily defensible land, including the town of Arbeca itself (which gives its name to the famous Arbequino olive variety). The histories simply say that the Vilars people were absorbed into the growing Ilerdencan civilisation, after whom the city and province of Lleida were named, who caused the Romans a deal of trouble in 206 and 205 BCE – but that’s another story!