Cártama is one of the towns in Malaga province with the longest history. Digging in the Plaza de la Constitución has offered evidence of how layers of the town's past have been continuously superimposed over the last 2,800 years. This starts with dwellings from the Turdetanian civilisation and climbs up through houses and walls of an Iberian town, a Roman basilica and Byzantine-Visigothic buildings. These are covered with more recent constructions such as the shrine of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios and the Renaissance parish church of San Pedro. Despite all these changes, the town's name has remained intact.
The name Cártama evolved from Cartima, a word with a long history that lends its name to a theatre and schools in the town. This place name has the same root as Carthage, an ancient city in North Africa (in present-day Tunisia) that was the capital of the Punic state founded by Phoenician emigrants.
As explained by the municipal archaeologist, Francisco Melero, this place name arose in the Phoenician-Punic context in the 6th century BCE.
"It is the moment in which the Phoenician colonisations of the south of the [Iberian] peninsula took place. Cártama was a village and later became an Iberian town, but the name has a clear Phoenician influence," he explained.
This root corresponds to populations that have the character of a city or large town, according to Melero.
"In Iberian times, Cartima became a large town. Although we do not have any Phoenician records that tell us, the origin is in that context."
The archaeologist points out that the name of Cartima does not appear in the works of the Greek or Latin authors "despite being an important town".
He says that the name appears for the first time in the Roman epigraphy found during the excavations of the ancient basilica. "We see it on the pedestals of statues of gods, such as Iunia Rústica, which reads: first and perpetual priestess of Cartima."
Thus, he says, the first empirical proof of this name are the Roman epigraphs.
Although the Hispano-Roman populations evolved towards the Visigoths and Byzantines, all of these new communities maintained the site and also the name. Cartima appears written in Islamic documents from the 9th and 10th centuries, in the context of the revolt of Omar ben Hafsún.
"There was a perpetuity in medieval times. It is significant that the Muslims, when they occupied the [Iberian] peninsula in the eighth century, also kept the name. At that time, remains of the Roman town were still visible."
Although the place name has Phoenician-Punic roots, the archaeologist explains the proof of a large town standing on the site in Iberian times.
"The necropolises that we have found were Iberian, and all the tombs have weapons and ceramics from those communities. It is a hybrid between the great city of the bay of Malaga, where the Phoenicians settled, and the Guadalhorce valley with its Iberian communities. This name is a paradigm that has many influences," he said.
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