Ruinas de Acinipo (Acinipo Ruins)
During the 1st millennium BCE, the hut villages settled in Acinipo and Ronda housed craft facilities that became more evident between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE due to the important role played by pottery, as well as iron and bronze metallurgy. Having made contact with the Phoenician colonies on the coast, inhabitants introduced innovations into their lives, such as square-shaped buildings, vine growing, and the use of pottery wheels.
The archaeological site of Acinipo stands on a large limestone plateau of Tertiary origin with an average height of 999 m. above sea level and which lies 18 km from the town of Ronda. Its prominence in the Ronda Depression meant that it was of great strategic importance, a key consideration during pre-Roman and Roman times in determining the location of the population centres.
The earliest mention of the name Acinipo appears in classical texts by Ptolemy and Pliny. The site has attracted the attention of a number of researchers, the first recorded archaeological reference being made in the 16th century by Lorenzo de Padilla, with Fariña del Corral identifying the theatre as belonging to the Roman era in 1650.
Though most of the visible remains are of Roman origin, the town is also home to important Prehistoric remains. The oldest findings pertain to the Neolithic Period, with traces of the Copper and Bronze Ages also to be found. The Prehistoric Period and the arrival of the Phoenician colonists marked the beginning of Acinipo’s golden era, which would reach its zenith during Iberian and Roman times.
Many factors combined to determine the location of Acinipo on its present site. Its prominence as one of the highest points in the depression conferred key strategic importance upon the town, from which the whole of the surrounding area could be monitored. In addition, this Roman settlement stood in a zone that was well communicated with other areas of the Roman province. The clearly-visible routes that provided access to the Guadalquivir Valley, the coast of Cádiz and the string of depressions in the Intrabaetic Basin facilitated contact and commercial relations with other areas, a fact witnessed by the numismatic discoveries made here (Acinipo was authorised to mint coins).
Another factor which influenced the location of this settlement was the availability of potentially-fertile agricultural land. In fact, the land in question, which has been exploited since the Neolithic Period, acquired great importance during Roman times and even today is still the best suited to agricultural activity in the whole of the Ronda Depression.
At the same time, Acinipo also benefited from the proximity of other resources, such as marble, stone for building, iron minerals and top-quality clay for use in pottery production.
In view of the ruins excavated, the Roman era can be considered the most important. However, structures dating back to the Late Prehistoric Period, including circular huts with stone porches, have also been found here.
The end of the 1st century BCE signalled the beginning of a period in which the town’s urban design and buildings began to display a marked Roman flavour, the best example of this being the theatre, whose technical characteristics suggest that it was built towards the end of this same century. Similarly, the centre of the plateau is home to remains of what may have been the forum or public square. Alongside this location, which would have been used for social, political, economic or religious purposes, in the walled area of the town, other public buildings also once stood, such as the public baths of which three swimming pools still survive, the theatre and a number of temples, one of which was still standing as recently as the beginning of the century. This is proof of both the urban growth experienced by Acinipo during the early centuries of Imperial rule and the significant development undergone by the town, a clear sign that it was an established power.
From the 3rd century CE, the exact opposite seems to have been the case. Acinipo went into decline, and by the 4th century CE, it had lost its position as the dominant town in the area, being replaced by nearby Arunda (Ronda).
Modern research has shown that Acinipo had three burial grounds. The excavation of the first one unearthed 42 urns containing ashes and a body. Built on a series of terraces, this necropolis stands outside the town boundary. This practice of burying the dead at the entrance to the town was not a typical Roman custom—it had been copied from the Iberian settlers who also inhabited the peninsula.
This necropolis must have been built in around the 4th century BCE and used until the early years of the Christian era. Cremation in Iberian civilisation was carried out in a place known as an “ustrinum”, with furnishings, which normally appear burned, being arranged around the ashes. Archaeologists have discovered that this was a family crematorium and was used for several centuries. Also discovered here were remains of the wooden boxes in which the bodies were transported to the funeral pyre. These discoveries have enabled experts to form a clear idea of the funeral rites observed in Acinipo, in which the ashes and bones were subsequently sifted and deposited in funeral urns. Other items unearthed here include pieces of bone, small metal brooches (used to fasten the togas), and, in the grave found, a bronze mirror, pegs, a small plate and the remains of a tear duct, a surprising discovery in view of the fact that cremation was the usual custom.