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Valor and Gutiérrez, The Archaeology of Medieval Spain, 1100–1500 (Catlos)

  • 08 Jan 2018 12:50 PM
    Message # 5667542
    Janna Bianchini (Administrator)

    Valor, Magdalena, and José Avelino Gutiérrez González. The Archaeology of Medieval Spain, 1100–1500. Studies in the Archaeology of Medieval Europe, 4. Sheffield: Equinox, 2014. xiv+336 pp., 153 plates & figures. ISBN: 987-1-84553-173-7. Hardcover $125.00.

    Reviewed by Brian A. Catlos

    Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder

    In the Foreword to The Archaeology of Medieval Spain, 1100–1500, John Schofield notes that the study of the medieval history of Europe has been largely carried out via the analysis of texts, and archeological methodologies have been largely neglected, or viewed as ancillary, and of secondary importance. This was certainly the case in Spain, where until the 1970s and 1980s, archeological studies, such as they were carried out, focused on either the Antique or Islamic periods, or on major monuments. In the editors’ introduction – “Chapter One: The Study of Medieval Archaeology” – Magdalena Valor and José Gutiérrez place the decisive awakening of the archaeology of medieval Spain in the mid-1980s, with the promulgation of the Ley de Patrimonio Histórico Español (“The Spanish Historical Heritage Law”), the passage of which has done much to preserve Spain’s historical past, uncover new evidence, and professionalize the field of archaeology. Virtually every significant architectural or development project now contracts an archeological service to survey, excavate, and in many cases preserve and incorporate remnants of past structures into new constructions. In the last twenty years the academy in Spain has also turned increasingly to archaeology, with major centers emerging in Barcelona, Granada, Zaragoza, Valencia, and Madrid, dedicated both to traditional archeological investigations and studies of village morphology, lower-status domestic spaces, and field and irrigation systems. Much of this work, carried out for the most part by Spanish and French scholars, remained unknown to Anglo-American scholars until the publication of Thomas Glick’s From Muslim Fortress to Christian Castle in 1995.1 Much work has been done in the intervening two decades, and the time is right for a volume such as the one under review, which provides an overview of the archeology of medieval Spain in the second half of the Middle Ages. The editors have judiciously limited their study to the post-1100 period and to the Christian-ruled kingdoms, both because of the “European” thrust of this book series, and because the Christian kingdoms present a profile that is many ways coherent and consistent. That said, reference is often made to the Islamic period, either by way of comparison, or in relation to the transition to Christian rule, and post-1100 al-Andalus figures in virtually every chapter.

    The book consists of ten topical chapters that run the gamut of archeological genres, techniques and topics (see Table of Contents, below). Chapter 2, “Rural Landscape and Settlement,” provides an overview of the non-urban humanscape in both al-Andalus and the Christian Spains, touching on village types, palaces, gardens and field and irrigation systems. Chapter 3, “Urban Settlement,” turns to the typology, morphology and evolution of larger urban centers, including Zamora, Barcelona, and León, as well as Islamic Seville. Chapter 4, “Housing and Domestic Life” presents intimate reconstructions of both aristocratic and peasant dwellings. In Chapter 5, “Technology, Craft and Industry,” a gamut of activities, from tanning and textile, mining and metallurgy, ceramics and glass, and milling are surveyed. Chapter 6, “Trade, Transport, and Travel,” focuses on maritime trade and shipbuilding and earthenware shipping containers (i.e., the funduqs that provided a framework for land-based trade). Chapter 7, “Castles and Fortifications,” includes purpose-built fortresses, city and town walls, and fortified rural settlements in both al-Andalus and the Christian lands. Three case studies—the Alhambra, the castle-palace of Olite, and Seville’s Alcazar—are the basis of Chapter 8, “The Display of Royal and Secular Power.” Chapter 9, “Religions and Religious Buildings,” reviews major mosques, mosque-to-church conversions and cathedrals. Finally, Chapter 10, “Life, Death and Memory,” looks at an Andalusi hospital and baths, and cemeteries, mausolea, and mortuary chapels from around the Peninsula. The brief concluding chapter notes the tremendous progress made in Spanish medieval archaeology and claims, perhaps justly, that Spain’s position as “a fulcrum or meeting point between the Christian part of Europe and the Islamic world… resulted in the most varied material culture of any country in medieval Europe” (257).

    Altogether this makes for a comprehensive, readable overview of and introduction to the archaeology of medieval Spain, suitable both for non-specialist scholars and students. It is surprisingly complete in its coverage, and its few lacunae are understandable given the scope of the volume. It is generously illustrated with color and black and white diagrams, illustrations and plates. Particularly useful are the numerous “Special Topics”: drop-in boxes that illuminate specific excavations, types of evidence, and issues of interpretation. Given the price, which effectively prohibits assigning it as a text, this book would be particularly useful for those teaching a medieval Spain survey to flesh out their lectures with archaeological content, and as a complementary resource for a course on medieval Spanish urban history. In any case, it is a book that all textually-oriented historians of medieval Spain should read.

    Table of Contents

    Foreword by John Schofield

    1. “The Study of Medieval Archaeology”: Magdalena Valor and Avelino Gutierrez

    2. “Rural Settlement and Landscape”: Magdalena Valor and Inaki Garcia Camino

    3. “Urban Settlement”: Magdalena Valor and Avelino Gutierrez

    4. “Housing and Domestic Life”: Magdalena Valor and Avelino Gutierrez

    5. “Technology, Craft and Industry”: Ricardo Cordoba

    6. “Trade, Transport and Travel”: Magdalena Valor and Avelino Gutierrez

    7. “Fortifications”: Magdalena Valor and Avelino Gutierrez

    8. “The Display of Secular Power”: Magdalena Valor and Avelino Gutierrez

    9. “Religions and Religious Buildings”: Magdalena Valor and Fernando Miguel

    10. “Life, Death and Memory”: Fernando Gil and Magdalena Valor

    11. “Conclusions and Hopes for the Future”: Magdalena Valor, Avelino Gutierrez and John Schofield

    1. Glick, Thomas F. From Muslim Fortress to Christian Castle. Social and Cultural Change in Medieval Spain. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.

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