In Marca Hispanica XXXV: new archæology at l’Esquerda

L'Esquerda, Roda de Ter, Osona, Catalonia, from above

L’Esquerda, Roda de Ter, Osona, Catalonia, from above

There has again been marking and now I am even further behind in backlog, because I still have one more post about my April 2015 trip to Catalonia to put up. It’s too good to skip, though, so here goes. On the last-but-one day of the trip we awoke in Vic (which was, after all, where we’d gone to sleep) and then once breakfasted, found none other than Professora Imma Ollich i Castanyer, who was going to drive us out to l’Esquerda in Roda de Ter, which as those who’ve been reading here a long time will remember is one of the sites I make most of in my work because of it having been, among other things, a genuine Carolingian frontier fortress and the site of some important experimental archæology on cultivation practice. Almost all of this has been discovered or coordinated by Professora Ollich.1

The ruins of Sant Pere de Roda de Ter

The ruins of Sant Pere de Roda, Romanesque as it stands (if that’s the word) and still fairly shadowy even now there’s only one wall left

The first time I went out to l’Esquerda I met Professor Ollich by more or less total coincidence, which worked out remarkably well considering, but this time there was actual planning involved, which meant that once we arrived we found not just ourselves but also Montserrat de Rocafiguera and Albert Pratdesaba, the former of whom has been involved at the site nearly as long as Professora Ollich and the latter of whom was then just finishing his doctorate (now successfully defended) with her, and is now coming to the upcoming International Medieval Congress as part of my sessions because that’s the kind of thing that can happen when you make friends with me, what can I say? They showed us the shiny new museum and storage for artefacts, with the display space not yet filled even but very impressive compared to the terraced town house the collection used to occupy. Also, they have dug quite a lot more out than when I was last here, starting with this entire wall.

The Visigothic wall at l'Esquerda, Roda de Ter

The then-newly-exposed Visigothic-phase wall at l’Esquerda

This was not visible last time I visited, and turns out to be datable—at this remove, I don’t remember how—to the Visigothic period, which was news, because as I first read about this site there was no Visigothic phase yet demonstrated in its fortification or settlement and they thought that it had been a ruin since the Iberian period which the Carolingians reactivated.2 Now the bit in the middle is becoming clearer, with this wall and also a number of silos dug inside the wall circuit whose remaining contents gave seventh-century radio-carbon dates.3 They have also properly dug out one of the square towers that they were pretty sure the Carolingians topped up from the Iberian fortress.

A square guard-tower at l'Esquerda, Roda de Ter

The tower viewed from the new walkway along the freshly-exposed wall

Junction of exterior wall and guard-tower at l'Esquerda, Roda de Ter

Junction of the wall and the tower

Guard-tower at l'Esquerda, Roda de Ter, viewed from down the slope

The tower viewed from down-slope

They also now think there’s a third of these towers, further down the wall and yet to be exposed.

A square tower still unexcavated at l'Esquerda, Roda de Ter

Somewhere under here…

Albert thought then that there was tenth-century fabric waiting to be discovered in the next dig. I was dubious, since my view from the documents suggests that nothing much was happening here in the tenth century and I couldn’t see who would have been rebuilding (although one answer might be the priests of Sant Pere).4 I haven’t yet gathered which if either of us has been proven right, but anyway, if it was Albert, this is the tenth-century fabric.

Potential tenth-century stonework at l'Esquerda, Roda de Ter

I can’t do much with this, don’t know about you

From the wall, anyway, we wandered up the street to the courtyard before the church, which you see in the top photo, and got into a heated debate about the graves that adorn the courtyard.

Anthropomorphic rock-cut tombs in the courtyard before Sant Pere de Roda de Ter

Anthropomorphic rock-cut tombs in the courtyard before Sant Pere

I foolishly suggested that these were not full-size cavities, or that a newly-dead body would not fit in them – they do look very narrow. There was, of course, only one really effective way to prove me wrong, though thankfully it didn’t involve killing me first.

Demonstration of an anthropomorphic tomb at l'Esquerda, Roda de Ter

Your humble author laid out

I’m not sure this was in the best of taste, but there’s been no-one in there for, ooh, nearly thirty years now, I imagine they have other worries if worries they have. I’m not going to say it was comfortable, although certainly I hope I never get to settle into a grave in such a way that I will be able to compare it to this, but it settled the question all right.5 I am getting a bit of a pedigree in this sort of thing

The floor of the nave of Sant Pere de Roda de Ter

The floor of the nave of Sant Pere

It was also more possible now to evaluate the actual space of the church than it had been before. This is taken from the east end. What it mainly tells me is: this was never a large church, especially since the Romanesque building seems to have been no wider than its precursor or precursors.6 This is one of the many parts of the site that still has secrets to give up.

As yet unexposed remains at l'Esquerda, Roda de Ter

As does this; no-one knows what’s going on here yet.

What they had not yet done, as we walked around, was set up the wooden replica of a Carolingian watchtower that probably stood on this rock stance.

Rock stance probably used for a wooden watchtower in the Carolingian period at l'Esquerda, Roda de Ter

Rock stance probably used for a wooden watchtower in the Carolingian period

This, however, I have since been informed, they have now done! It’s not actually here, but by the museum. It looks pretty good though. Still, I wish one could set something up on this stance, it would make working out intervisibility so much easier. From here, for example, you can certainly see the next fortress down the river, at Savassona…

View of Savassona from the end of the l'Esquerda peninsula, Roda de Ter

View of Savassona from the end of the l’Esquerda peninsula

… but beyond that peninsula is the further fortress at Casserres to which I will some day get, and it would be really nice to know how high you’d need to be here before that became visible.7 Ah well! Like the site, I shall continue to have questions to answer and will doubtless be back again for more. Thanks as ever go to Imma Ollich, Montse de Rocafiguera and Albert Pratdesaba for sharing their time and expertise with us so readily. We will see you again (and I hope I got all of this right!).

1. I won’t give a full set of references just now, but as close to a synthetic write-up as there is right now is Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer & Montserrat Rocafiguera i Espona, L’Esquerda: 2500 anys d’història, 25 anys de recerca (Roda de Ter 2001). For a more early medieval focus, with English translation, see Ollich, “Roda: l’Esquerda. La ciudad carolingia” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del románic (siglos IX y X) (Barcelona 1999), pp. 84-88 as “Roda: l’Esquerda. The Carolingian Town”, ibid. pp. 461-463. On the experiments, see most recently Carmen Cubero i Corpas, Ollich, Rocafiguera & Maria Ocaña i Subirana, “From the granary to the field; archaeobotany and experimental archaeology at l’Esquerda (Catalonia, Spain)” in Vegetation History and Archaeobotany Vol. 17 (New York 2008), pp. 85-92, DOI:10.1007/s00334-007-0111-0.

2. That first reading was Jordi Vigué i Viñas, Albert Benet i Clarà & Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer, “Poblat de l’Esquerda” in Vigué (ed.), Catalunya romànica II: Osona I , ed. Vigué (Barcelona 1983), pp. 327-340, which was updated by Ollich, “Poblat d’Esquerda” in Antoni Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica XXVII: visió de sintesí, restauracions i noves troballes, bibliografía, índexs generals, ed. Maria Lluïsa Ramos Martínez (Barcelona 1998), pp. 200-201.

3. See Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer, Montserrat Rocafiguera i Espona, Albert Pratdesaba Sala & M. Àngels Pujol i Camps, ” La muralla de Roda Ciutat: Visigots i carolingis al jaciment de l’Esquerda (les Masies de Roda, Osona)” in Tribuna d’Arqueològia 2013 (Barcelona 2013), pp. 259-270.

4. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 87-99.

5. On the burials see now Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer, “La necrópolis medieval de l’Esquerda (segles VIII-XIV dC). Cronología i noves perspectives de recerca” in Arqueologia funerària al nord-est peninsular, segles VI-XII, Monogràfies d’Olèrdola 3 (Barcelona 2012), pp. 275-286.

6. My reference here is Jordi Vigué, Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer, Antoni Pladevall i Font, Albert Benet i Clarà & R. Rosell i Gibert, “Sant Pere de Roda (o de l’Esquerda)” in Vigué, Catalunya romànica II, pp. 340-348, but see now (though I haven’t, yet) Maria Ocaña i Subirana, Ollich & Montserrat de Rocafiguera i Espona, “L’església de Roda ciutat (segle V al X) al jaciment arqueológic de l’Esquerda (Masíes de Roda-Roda de Ter, Osona)” in Oriol Achón Casas, Paolo De Vingo, Toni Juarez, Julia Miquel & Joan Pinar (edd.), Esglésies rurals a Catalunya entre l’antiguitat i l’Edat Mitjana, segles V-X: taula rodona, Esparreguera-Montserrat, 25-27 d’Octubre de 2007 (Bologna 2011), pp. 243-252.

7. On how that all fits together, see soon Imma Ollich Castanyer, Montserrat de Rocafiguera Espona and Maria Ocaña Subirana, “The Southern Carolingian Frontier in Marca Hispanica along the River Ter: Roda Civitas and the Archaeological Site of L’Esquerda (Catalonia)” in Hajnalka Herold & Neil Christie (edd.), Fortified Settlements in Early Medieval Europe: Defended Communities of the 8th-10th Centuries (Oxford forthcoming), pp. 000-000.

One response to “In Marca Hispanica XXXV: new archæology at l’Esquerda

  1. Prof. Anderson


    It’s not about taste, it’s about evidence, and you serve us and the truth very well. I know that some day, you are going to find evidence of a theatre presentation somewhere among the Northern Franks or Southern Danes.


    Dick Anderson

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