This week it is our pleasure to offer our readers a museum update. Spring is definitely
in the air because the necropolis at Puig des Molins has recently re-opened its
doors to visitors. After being off-limits all winter, Ibiza's 'City of the Dead'
belongs, once again, to the land of the living. Speaking as one who has been to
the catacombs and back, I rank it as one of the island's top sightseeing attractions.
For the sake of clarity, it should be mentioned that there
are two archaeology museums in Ibiza, both under the capable curatorship of Jordi
H. Fernández. One of these is the Museo Arqueológico de Ibiza y
Formentera, located in Dalt Vila at the Plaza of the Cathedral N° 3. The other
is the Museo Monográfico del Puig des Molins, located in the Vía
Romana N° 31. This latter museum, the subject of our instalment this week,
is situated on the grounds of Ibiza's ancient necropolis and houses the finds
uncovered at this millenarian cemetery. Unfortunately, the main body of this museum
has been closed for the past six years and will probably remain closed for at
least two more years. To gain a better understanding of why the museum felt it
necessary to close and what changes have been made in the interim, Ibiza History Culture
has interviewed the museum's resident archaeologist, Banjamí Costa. He
speaks of the centre's new goals and objectives in respect to both tourism and
the island's permanent population.
Ibiza History Culture: Could
you clarify the meaning of the museum's name? It's always struck me as very long
Benjamí Costa: (laughs)
Well, we refer to it as a monographic museum because it deals only with those
aspects of the island's archaeology that pertain to the discoveries made at the
city's necropolis. There are other smaller, rural necropolises and excavation
sites, but the finds from these are included in the museum at Dalt Vila. The term
Puig des Molins refers to the name of the hill on which the necropolis is located.
In Catalan 'puig' means 'hill' and 'molins' mean 'mills', so the name literally
means 'hill of mills'.
This denomination comes form the
late Middle Ages, long after the necropolis ceased to be used as such and the
land was put to agricultural use. Actually, Puig des Molins is now considered
an ethnological space because, over the centuries, it has served many functions.
It was the site of a Moorish settlement with its own small cemetery, distinct
from the main necropolis; and after that there was a traditional casa payesa,
a farmstead of sorts, surrounded by olive, fig and almond orchards. In fact, they
used to plant trees in the access wells to the underground tombs. So, there is
a wealth of historical legacy here that spans many ages and embraces many cultures.
LI: Why did the museum feel it necessary to close?
BC: We made the decision to close because our permanent
display had become antiquated. It was set up in 1981, and subsequently research
has been done that sheds an enormous amount of light on old issues. Several important
discoveries have completely changed our perception of past events and have allowed
us to re-analyse certain aspects of history.
What aspects, for example?
BC: Well, one important
breakthrough was conclusive evidence that the Phoenicians founded Ibiza, not the
Carthaginians. Their period of influence lasted only one hundred years, roughly,
but they were the first civilization to settle on the island. The idea that it
had been the Carthaginians was based on a wrong interpretation of Theodorus' writings.
Apart from the fact that the display no longer reflected
the island's true archaeology, we wanted to rethink the whole focus of the museum,
to infuse it with new life and make it more accessible to the average visitor,
especially children. We've come up with new showcases and models that are much
more attention grabbing than the former exhibits - more dynamic.
So, not only the content of the display is being updated, but also the style of
BC: Exactly. We want to attract visitors
of all ages and from all walks of life. A museum is a cultural service offered
to society in general, and we want ours to generate a "social payoff",
so to speak. At the island level, this can only happen through children and requires
a long-term, on-going collaboration with the schools.
the tourist level, it means catering not only to history and archaeology buffs
- who would come anyway - but also to the average, open-minded person who, despite
not being especially congnizant in ancient studies, would probably feel enriched
by visiting the museum. To attract a wider scope of the tourist sector and to
instil a sense of cultural heritage in the island's young people is our double
aim. We feel the new layout will really capture people's imaginations.
Why will the entrance be through the side gate and not the front doors?
Because we are not opening the main body of the museum, only part of the necropolis
and an information area at the side of the building. If you like, we can go down
and see it to give you a better idea of what the exhibit is like.
By all means.
BC: (At street level) Well, as you
know, this side gate is the entrance to the exhibit. It's not the ideal entrance,
but at the moment it's the only one available. Visitors come along this path and
make their first stop at the information area. Here they can get an idea of what
they're going to see in the necropolis - the different types of tombs and burial
practices that were used down through the centuries, etc.
How long was the necropolis in use?
BC: From 600
BC to AD 700 approximately - over a thousand years. So obviously there were many
changes in funerary rites. The Phoenicians cremated their dead and buried the
ashes, while the Punic interred the bodies. The Romans made use of both practices,
with a marked accent on cremation. Also, the use of grave goods and/or substance
for the departed souls varied from epoch to epoch.
Sounds fascinating. How long does the tour take, on average?
The information area takes about an hour to visit. There are photographs, maps,
explanatory panels written in three languages (English, Spanish and Catalan) as
well as several models of the tombs, some life-size and some done to scale.
Who actually make these models? They're so well crafted.
An interesting point. They were made by young men who were conscientious objectors
and therefore opted not to do the year of military service that used to be obligatory
in Spain. Instead they were assigned a substitutional social service. In this
case, they were sent to us and they did a very fine job under our supervision.
LI: Who else makes up the technical staff at the
BC: Basically it's the curator Jordi Fernandez,
the restorer, Angela Morcilo, and myself.
back to the tour, after this first stop for preliminary enlightenment, then were
BC: Then people can set off on a walking tour
around the actual necropolis. There are four points of interest, which we've marked
out and explained on leaflets. Also, we've roped off a path that leads from one
point to the next. It's advisable to stick to the path because, although at first
glance the ground may seem quite solid, it is actually riddled with subterranean
perforations: I've seen people fall into these holes accidentally and injure themselves.
In fact, the group of hypogea I'm about to show you are called the "Mule
Hypogea" because they were discovered during one of the digs in 1946 when
a mule fell into one of the access wells.
in the burial chamber) My goodness! Are those sarcophagi real?
Yes, they are the original ones, over two thousand years old, hewn in sandstone.
LI: And those bones? Are they real too?
No, most of the bones disappeared in the early digs, which is a pity. The few
that were left have been removed for safe keeping as they contain a veritable
storehouse of information. The DNA reveals the genetic and racial past of the
people who lived and were buried on the island. They also give us information
about the physical stature of the people, what diseases plagued then, the average
age of death - and thus, life expectancy. The teeth tell us what they ate - if
the diet consisted of mostly cooked or raw food, proteins or carbohydrates, etc.
LI: Well, thank you for the tour. It's been fascinating.
And kind of spooky, too!
BC: It's been our pleasure.
There's so much more to tell, but I've been sworn not
to give away secrets to the uninitiated. For example, why ostrich eggs were placed
in the tombs, or why oil lamps were placed over the pelvis of the deceased in
Punic times are mysteries too esoteric to reveal in print. If you want to discover
the arcana of the crypt, you'll have to make the descent yourself. The only information
I am permitted to disclose at this time is that the exhibit is open from Tuesdays
to Saturdays from 10 am to 1 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm, as well as on Sundays from 10
am to 2 pm. There is a small entrance fee.
That brings us to the end of our history page. We
hope you've learned something new and will pay a visit to the necropolis and/or
the museum the next time you are in Ibiza Town. See you next week.