Architecture students can explore Roman arches still standing at the remains of a once opulent Roman village fish farm that showcased its prestige at the Punta del Arenal in Xàbia.

* Report and photos Copyright by Karla Darocas (

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Such was the level of luxury of this maritime enterprise that there were also public hot spring bathing pools, as there were findings of various ceramic tubes and other ceramic elements related to the heating systems of those structures.

The arched footbridges and other walkways are of outstanding construction with magnificent and unique views of the capes of San Martín and San Antonio as well as the mountain Montgó.

The Punta del Arenal in Xàbia is one of the largest remnants of a Roman fish farm in the Iberian peninsula, a site located at the northwest tip of the Bay of Xàbia and occupies a long stretch of tosca rock behind the Parador.

To the Romans, owning and controlling the sea was limited to the most powerful. The possession of VIVARIA PISCIUM (pools made by open channels on the coast to raise saltwater fish) became a symbol of social status.

It is called "Baños de la Reina" (Queens Baths), which is actually the name of all the fish breeding farms on the coast. There are others in Calpe and another in Campello. This surprising name is not Roman but was invented by the Islamic settlers.

The beach area known as Muntanyar was the name of a large Roman settlement that thrived for more than six hundred years, between the last decades of the 1st century BC to the 7th century. The population can only be estimated by the more than nine hundred burial pits that were discovered.

A series of elements combined to favour the presence of a Roman fish factory, dedicated to fishing and salting, at the Punta del Arenal.

First of all, the Greeks had previously defined this zone as a prime area for fishing tuna. Watchtowers, (hēmeroskópeion in Greek) were built along this coast to monitor and control the passage of schools of tuna in the annual migrations, hence this area served as the center of fishing operations.

Secondly, the existence of natural bays, where fish could be trapped, were close. The Bay of Jávea and Cala Blanca were the major trapping zones.

Thirdly, fresh water for cleaning the fish was available from the channel of La Fontana where there was a natural spring and the river Gorgos which could be dammed to create a reservoir.

Lastly, a natural salt marsh, a place where salt water is trapped and allowed to evaporate leaving only the salt, was not too far away in the area called "El Saladar". The Punta de Castell is where the "Séquia de la Nòria", a large channel cut and excavated into the tosca, is located. This channel was used to allow the seawater to come into the salt marsh.

Within the fish farm complex are found deposits for fish preparation, a large nursery tank, and other tanks of different sizes. Some are made from mortar and lime masonry supported on rammed earth. Others are carved directly into the tosca stone and coated with lime mortar and crushed red clay ceramic. Some are carved rock with no inner lining. Most have a circular hole carved into the rock beside a square hole, no doubt to fit their dolliums, large ceramic pots with stone caps used for storage.

It has been reported on many websites that the Punta del Arenal fish farm was also in the business of making "garum"(a stinky fish sauce made from fish guts), but according to Gabriela Martin, a well researched author on the subject, this was not the case.

In her research paper, The Roman Fisheries Of The Coast Of Alicante, she notes that on her evaluation of the Punta del Arenal, she did not find any remains of "garum bottles nor garum amphorae". Hence in her speculation, from studies on other sites that indeed made "garum"  that this fish farm was dedicated to tuna and the industry was packing the tuna in brine to be shipped in amphorae.

She also points out that on the Alicante coast there is still a large amount of salted dried tuna consumed. It is found everywhere in Alicante and Valencia under the name of "tonyina de sorra".

So, the next time you are in the area, walk around to the coastal side of the Parador and evaluate the Roman ruins for yourself. KD.

Research notations...
* Gabriela Martin; The Roman Fisheries Of The Coast Of Alicante
* Gabriela Martin and Maria Dolores Serres; The Roman fishing factory of Idvea (Alicante). Various Works Series of the Prehistoric Research Service. Provincial Council of Valencia (in press).
* Gabriela Martin; The supposed Greek colony of Hemeroskopeion. Archaeological study of the Denia-Ivea area. Papers of the Archeology Laboratory of Valencia, NA Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of Valencia 1968.

Base of a tower... notice the reinforced plinth