Cisternas Romanas de Monturque


Useful Information

Location: Paseo de San Mateo (Cemetery San Rafael), Monturque, Córdoba.
(37.473693, -4.579230)
Open: All year Mon-Fri 9–13.
Only after appointment.
[2020]
Fee:  
Classification: SubterraneaCistern
Light: electric.
Dimension: V=850,000 l.
Guided tours:  
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no, staircase
Bibliography:  
Address: Cisternas Romanas de Monturque, Calle de Rafael de Lara Cementerio de San Rafael, 14930 Monturque. E-mail:
Town Hall, Plaza de la Constitución, 3 - 14930 Monturque, Tel: +34-957-535-614, Fax: +34-957-535-739.
Tourist Information, Tel: +34-667-507-920.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1st cty cistern constructed.
1885 discovered by accident when the cemetery was extended.
2006 cistern developed with electric light and staircase.

Description

The Cisternas Romanas (Roman Cisterns) in the small village Monturque near Córdoba is said to be the biggest preserved Roman cistern in Spain and the 4th biggest in the world. The cistern was used to store up to 850,000 litres of water. It was built during Roman times and later abandoned. Today the cemetery San Rafael is located right on top. Nevertheless, this caverns are not catacombs or in any other way related to death. The Romans built a temple beneath the cistern which later became a Christian church. And as it was custom during the middle ages, the cemetery was located beneath the church on sacred ground. That's why the Roman cistern is located below a Christian cemetery.

The cistern has a rectangular shape. Three parallel galleries or naves are separated by thick walls and covered with half-barrel vaults. They are divided into four chambers or compartments, connected by small doors with semicircular arches. The galleries run north to south. The ceiling has a series of circular skylights which are called oculi (eyes). They provide ventilation to the cistern. Also there are horizontal holes in the walls above the doors, which connect the compartments. The outflow was on the northern end of the eastern nave, a barrel vaulted narrow passage, which is partly collapsed. The cistern was filled with rain water, the inflow could not be identified. It might be in second chamber of the eastern gallery which has a square section conduit.

The walls were built from opus caementicium, the Roman concrete, which gave the walls the necessary stability. The walls and floor were covered by opus signium, the roman cement plaster which was made from crushed pottery and tiles with lime. It created a hard, water resistant and smooth surface, which made cleaning easier and the cistern watertight. It was used for aqueducts and spas, but also for normal floors. All the junctions, walls with floors or other walls were rounded and smoothed with the opus signium to avoid the accumulation of dirt and facilitate cleaning. However, in 1,500 years of neglect the opus signium partly fell off the walls, which look now like they were built of pebbles, a quite exceptional sight.

The town Monturque has at least eight other cisterns form Roman times. They are much smaller and obviously belonged to private homes while the big cistern was a public building. The cisterns were built in an orderly manner, in accordance with careful urban planning of the city.

The cistern was completely renovated in 2006 by a major museumization and enhancement intervention. A staircase, an elevated path, electric light and explanatory plates were installed. It was turned into an interpretation center on the uses of water during Roman times.

The cistern can only be visited on guided tours, which must be booked in advance. The tours also include the Museo Histórico Local, a small archaeological museum which shows neolithic artefacts. It is located in a small building in one corner of the cemetery.