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C/ Lope Nuñez, 4
05001 Ávila (Ávila)
Concejalía de Patrimonio
 
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Why did they use tombs to build them?

Many of the people who gaze at the walls of Ávila notice a number of "stones" whose purpose is not immediately clear. Their shapes and positions have nothing to do with the ashlars and masonry work that is so prominent in the defence construction. This is because they have been REUSED and many of them come from earlier Roman buildings that were probably taken down. Indeed, the builders had no qualms about using funeral steles from the ancient cemetery that is thought to have existed in the area around St Vincent’s Basilica at the time.

Therefore, when the walls were reinforced and extended in the Middle Ages, there was no reason for not using these ancient stones, which can be seen in abundance in the eastern perimeter and at specific places on the western and southern faces of the walled enclosure.

The following are some of the most common uses given to these stones before they were reused as building material:

Cists. Like many other ancient civilisations, the Romans cremated their dead and placed their ashes in cists. The cists sometimes took the form of ceramic vessels, but they were often carved in stone, as shown in the photos.

Cupae. Cupae, or urns, were positioned above the cists as stone elements placed on the burial site to protect it and mark its location. Some of them bore an inscription about the deceased person.

Steles. Steles were also used to mark the location. They were positioned vertically in the ground and usually bore an inscription revealing the identity of the person who was buried there and details about his profession and origin.

Verracos. These are animal sculptures, usually pigs, cows or bulls, and they were made originally by the Vettones - the indigenous people that inhabited the present-day provinces of Ávila and Salamanca and certain areas of Toledo, Cáceres and Portugal. Their most relevant pieces are these ‘bulls', which are thought by some researchers to have been used to mark out pastures. The Romans were open to other cultures and religions and when they occupied these areas, they continued to use verracos, among other things, as funeral monuments. Many were reused for the walls and one good example is that which protrudes vertically from and lends its name to the round turret of La Mula (Mule).