When UNESCO announced that Antequera’s three prehistoric megalithic monuments, the Menga and Viera dolmens and the Tholos of El Romeral, were to be given World Heritage status in 2016, they described them as, “one of the most remarkable architectural works of European prehistory, and one of the most important examples of European Megalithism.” It’s hard to argue with that.
These fascinating temples or tombs were built 5,000-or-so years ago during the Bronze Age. Despite some hard evidence and many theories, they remain mysterious structures. The dolmens were built because they aligned with the summer or winter solstice, but it’s likely that their view towards the human head-shaped Peña de las Enamorados mountain was just as important.
The Dolmen of Menga, one of the largest megalithic structures in Europe, would have been an extraordinary architectural feat at the time. During its excavation in the 19th century, archaeologists found the skeletons of several hundred people inside. If you were here on the solstice, you’d see the sun rise over the Peña de los Enamorados and shine down the entrance corridor into the interior chamber. That’s not coincidence.
The prehistoric communities that lived in this area, and who were responsible for leaving these impressive structures behind, were farmers. They must have gone to some extremes to quarry and transport all the stones – the heaviest of which is 180 tonnes. For context, the heaviest stone at Stonehenge, which was built around the same time, is only 40 tonnes.
The Menga dolmen is only a short distance from the Viera dolmen, both are reached on a newly laid path from a newly constructed visitor centre, a result of funding from their new World Heritage Status. There were only a handful of people at the site, but its new found fame didn’t stop some of them from climbing on the mounds and entrance stones to take selfies.
Other than the interiors of the dolmen there’s not much to see. We popped into the visitor centre where there was a short video and some information on the history of the dolmen, but not enough to keep us for more than a few minutes. Back in the car we headed the 4km to the Tholos of El Romeral, which is the youngest and most dramatic of the three dolmen.
The drive to El Romeral was along a dispiriting road that passed through an industrial estate, picturesque it was not. The UNESCO money clearly didn’t extend to paying for good signposts. We got lost a couple of times before finally driving down an unpaved potholed road that ended by a portacabin, inside of which was the world’s most disinterested woman.
The walk down the entrance tunnel into the dolmen was thrilling though, the interior is a domed room with a smaller domed antechamber leading off to one side. Perfectly preserved for 4,000 years. It was humid inside, but just about as atmospheric as you could hope a prehistoric burial chamber might be. It was a fantastic place, but there wasn’t a scrap of information about the site anywhere.
We headed off bewitched by the mysteries of El Romeral, but also slightly baffled that a very new World Heritage Site could provide so little insight into itself. Maybe it’s an unintended tribute to the people who built these prehistoric structures, about which we also know very little.