The Forum of Torreparedones at sunset. It was built in the time of Augustus. :: BAENA TOWN HAL
The heart of the Cordoba countryside contains one of the most important archaeological sites to have been discovered in recent years. Torreparedones, an old Iberian and Roman town, has remained underground for centuries, but after the excavation works which began in 2006, this enclave, which is situated about 20 kilometres from Baena, has recovered part of its history.
The latest findings took place very recently indeed, when part of the road network of the town was uncovered. The Romans are believed to have called this place Ituci Virtus Iulia (although it has not been definitely confirmed that this was its name, and others - such as Bursavo - have also been suggested).
This land had already been inhabited since ancient times (the 4th century BC) and the Romans were followed by other populations, such as the Iberians and the Moors.
Baena council inaugurated the archaeological park in 2011, although the investigations into the area have continued ever since and historians have confirmed that there is still a great deal to be discovered at Torreparedones.
A visit to this site, which is at the top of the ‘campiña’ land (at nearly 600 metres above sea level), is fascinating for lovers of history. It is also a delight for tourists, especially those who come here in summer and watch the sunset. Every Friday, for just three euros, there are guided tours beginning at 8pm.
Among the principal attractions of the old city are the eastern gateway, the sanctuary, the forum, the public market, the Castro Viejo castle and the Ermita de las Virgenes chapel as well as numerous votive offerings and Roman sculptures.
Away from Torreparedones, there are also plenty of reasons to visit the town of Baena. The streets of the old part of town and especially the Almedina (which means town in Arabic) tell the story of its history. In this area there are several viewing points, churches and squares which are worth seeing, but perhaps the most symbolic elements are the castle and La Leona de Baena.
Of the first, only the remains still stand of what was an important Christian fortress in the 14th century. However, intensive reconstruction work is returning the castle to its original appearance. The mayor of Baena, Jesús Rojano, has said that the present works will be completed in September and then a complementary project will be carried out to make it easier for people to tour the castle via the water deposits and the courtyard.
With regard to La Leona, which is a stone sculpture dating back to the 6th century BC, this was discovered at another archaeological site in Baena, called Cerro del Minguillar; it is an Ibero-Roman settlement that used to be called Iponuba. Most of the monuments that appeared there, including La Leona, were acquired by the National Archaeological Museum and are on display in Madrid, but in Baena there are various replicas of its popular Leona, and one of them can be seen in the Plaza Palacio de la Almedina. Other statues of felines have also been discovered at the Cerro del Minguillar site. They formed part of the Iberian necropolis, and some of the others can be found at the History and Archaeology Museum in Baena.
The Museum of Olive Trees and Olive Oil, and the Holy Week Museum are two other collections that should not be missed when discovering Baena and its culture. The principal treasure of this region is its liquid gold, its virgin extra olive oil. The different oils which come under the Baena Denomination of Origin have won various awards, some of them international, including the honour of being one of the best in the world. The objective of the Olive Oil Museum is to encourage people to enjoy this healthy product and to show off the rich history of the olive tree and its fruit.
Meanwhile, the ‘Museo de la Semana Santa’ features Baena’s most popular festival, which has been declared of National Tourist Interest. One of its greatest attractions is the figure of the Jew: dressed in a red jacket, black trousers, with a kerchief at the neck and, most unusually, a helmet with a coloured plume and a pony tail which can be black or white, depending on the brotherhood to which it belongs. And, of course, there has to be a drum, which fills the streets of the town with continual sound, not only during Easter Week but at other local festivals such as the night of San José, when the people of Baena play drums as they tour the different bonfires which are lit in various parts of the town.
Also, as an added tourist attraction, on some days of the year the Cueva del Yeso, the fourth largest cave in Spain and the first in the country which was able to be visited, is open to the public. And as if that were not enough, it is the only cave in Cordoba to contain water and is inhabited by a large colony of bats which are in danger of extinction and several species of shrimp which are unique in the world.
As the cave is on two levels, the first, which is easiest to access, is used for tourist visits, and the second is reserved for researchers. This project, and others which are also diversifying tourism in Baena, is largely being financed by European funds.
While nature lovers are waiting for the imminent opening of the cave, they can take part in other outdoor activities such as walking the Vía Verde Guadajoz-Subbética which runs to the old railway station of Baena. In the Albendín district there is also the lovely Vadomojón reservoir, which is one of the biggest of the Guadalquivir and which has swimming areas. A jetty and a recreation area are also in the process of being created here.