Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Mountain treasures

This afternoon, as it was a little cooler, we decided to go out by car and explore the countryside nearby. We found our way to the neighbouring town of Alcanar. We noted its old church with octagonal tower, and its more recent urban expansion as a result of limestone quarrying and the cement factory several kilometres away on the edge of the sea shore - it simply looks and feels like a town with its feet deeply rooted in heavy industry. However, Alcanar has an ancient uphill footpath leading to L'Ermita del Remei, 500 feet up in the Montsià mountains behind the town. There's a good road leading up to it, a couple of kilometres from the edge of town. The views on the ascent across the plain towards Vinaròs, and up into the mountains are breathtakingly beautiful.
The church at Remei, dedicated to our Lady, was founded as a place for retreat and pilgrimage devotion in the 16th and 17th centuries. Like L'Ermita de Vinaròs, there is a working restuarant and bar in the buildings attached to the church welcoming guests today. The church's central cupola has suffered as a result of earth movements, and is shored up within by steel girders. Access is restricted to the nave, which is furnished as a sanctuary chapel of the Madonna. Floral bouquets on the pew ends indicated to us that despite problems in stabilising the building, it is still used for wedding ceremonies.
However popular the chapel may be for plighting one's troth, what brings many more visitors to this quiet little valley set into a larger hillside is its more dim and distant past. The hill top opposite the sanctuary facing east is the site of an unique and important iron age settlement, well excavated, studied, and well presented for visitors with archaeological interests. Here's an aerial photo from a local archaeological website.
It dates from the seventh century BC, and its thought to be the place from where the Iberian Ilercavones tribe ruled over the Ebre river delta region on the plain below. We were only able to roam on the narrow hillside paths around the base of the settlement. Proper access with guided tours is restricted to weekends. This is less than fifteen kilomteres from where we're staying, well worth the effort of a return visit.

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