Niebla is a small, fortified Medieval town on the Rio Tinto 30 kilometres from Huelva. Its history dates back to the end of the Bronze Age, roughly 1500 BC, when a farming community made use of the fertile river banks. Then silver was discovered nearby and Niebla became important because it was at a crossing place on the Rio Tinto part way between the mines and the coastal ports. The population evolved into part of the tribal culture now known as Tartessian whose wealth depended upon working metal, bronze (copper from Rio Tinto and tin from Cornwall), silver and gold. By about 800 BC the Tartessians of Niebla, already experienced traders with Cornwall (England) for the tin required to make bronze, were also trading silver with the Phoenicians and became wealthy enough to construct a wall around the town. Artefacts from this period show that the residents owned jewellery, ornaments, fine weapons and other luxury items.
The silver eventually ran out but Niebla survived as an agrarian society and so it was when the Romans arrived. They called the town Ilipla and it became an important political and commercial centre in the westernmost region of Baetica. The road bridge to the north of town is called the Puente Romano although the present bridge dates from much later.
In 713 the town came under Moslem control and they kept it until it was taken by Alonzo X in 1262 after which the town started to decline. However there is still a great deal to see, in particular the Alcázar and the city walls. The Alcázar you see today is actually the second to stand on that spot. The first was demolished in 1402 to make way for the existing one. The result was a magnificent royal palace that retained many of the fine features of the first Alcázar including the Muslim Tower of Homage that has been compared to the Giralda Tower of Seville.
Inside the Mediaeval walls, that are largely intact right around the town, you will find buildings mainly from the 13th and 14th centuries and the castle, the Castillo de Los Guzman dates to the 15th century. No less than six gates penetrate the walls.
Often found associated with bronze age settlements, particularly those settlements involved in metal working, are dolmens. These are basically graves, some for individuals and some were for communal burials over an extended period of time. Many people are familiar with the huge dolmens at Antequera but not too far from Niebla there is a group of six smaller but more interesting dolmens.
On an east facing ridge are six dolmens, all designed for use over a period of time. Their size and proximity to one another seem to indicate that they were perhaps family dolmens used in the same way as family vaults today over many generations and the whole ridge was a necropolis. Originally the dolmens would have been roofed with stone slabs and the whole covered with earth to make a mound with just the entrance showing. Some of the smaller dolmens here would have necessitated a crawl to reach the actual burial chamber. Sadly there is no information displayed, not even the location of any finds made inside the tombs.
Leave Niebla via the Puente Romano and turn left on the A427 to La Palma del Condado. Turn left on the A493 towards Valverde del Camino. At Km30 you will see signs for the dolmens taking you down a rough track to your right for a kilometre or so.
Close to the furthest dolmen is an old dwelling built in a timeless style employed during the bronze age and earlier. You will see that the floor is a metre or so beneath ground level so that the walls could be kept low and that the roof is stone slabs covered by earth. This building obviously dates from a much more recent period but again there is no information as to its origins.
However these are not the only dolmens in the area. 5 kilometres west of Niebla is the famous Dolmen de Soto. A corridor type, similar to Romeral and Vera at Antequera, it has been dated to between 3000 and 2500 BC. Originally the stones that support the dolmen’s interior were arranged as a stone circle similar to Stonehenge. Now restored the dolmen is 60 metres diameter and 3.5 metres high making it the largest of the 200 or so dolmens and megalithic tombs that dot the landscape of Huelva province.
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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