Naveta des Tudons, the oldest preserved building in Spain

Being thousands of years old and reaching the present day in one piece is a luxury that few buildings can claim. The most extreme case in Spain is the Naveta des Tudons, near Ciutadella. It is the longest surviving complete building in Spain. It is a communal tomb located in Menorca and was created by the Talayotic culture in its initial phase. Its inverted boat shape gave it its name. But it is its incredible state of conservation that attracts the most attention. Almost miraculously its stones still form the cyclopean structure with which the construction was born. A major archaeological site.

The front facade of the Naveta des Turons

The front facade of the Naveta des Turons. | Shuttestock

A vestige of past eras

The navetas had two typologies, depending on whether they were a house or a burial site. The first use ceased before the second. Thus, domestic naviform buildings stopped appearing between the middle and the end of the second millennium before Christ. They consisted of elongated horseshoe-shaped buildings with a double wall. The hole created was filled in, while the roof could be made of plant or stone. The technique used was the cyclopean one, that is to say, to fit rocks of great size, without more element of union.

However, on the Menorcan island they kept this type of building for longer. While the villages moved around the talayots, mysterious stone towers in the shape of a truncated cone whose use is unknown, the navetas continued to exist with funerary uses. A unique tradition from Menorca that some scientists have identified as a constructive evolution of the dolmen. The megalithic character or certain slab placements point to it but do not serve to confirm it. Be that as it may, in 1,000 B.C. navetas like the one at Es Tudons continued to rise.

The condition of the Naveta des Tudons is exceptional

The condition of the Naveta des Tudons is exceptional. | Shuttestock

A tomb for the Menorcans of the past

The excavations in the mid-20th century, which worked definitively on the Naveta des Tudons, brought to light the bones of more than a hundred people. It had already received attention and study. Along with the remains, important items of clothing were found that helped to better understand the rituals of Menorca’s first Talayotic period. Hair pots, small ceramic pots, decorative bone elements and even bronze weapons were among the offerings that these ancient Balearics made to their dead. Due to the communal nature of the space, however, the bodies appeared mixed.

Head of the Naveta des Tudons

Head of the Naveta des Tudons. | Shuttestock

This Balearic necropolis is about 14.5 metres long. The width reaches six and a half, while the height exceeds four and a half. A monumental size that stands out for the almost perfect appearance of the exterior. The restorations of 1960 contributed to this, although these were mainly focused on the interior. In any case, it is the best preserved naveta on the island and its integrity makes it the oldest preserved building in Spain, as well as one of the oldest in Europe.

After the entrance a narrow passage, similar to that of the dolmens, leads to a double road. On one side you can go up to the upper chamber and on the other you can go down to the lower one. In both, the floor with enormous slabs separates the spaces. The roof, meanwhile, is exceptionally intact. The tendency to create corridors and pre-funeral rooms came from before and would be reflected later. In this way, the hypogea, elongated funerary caves dug out of the rock, would be the preferred form of burial for the later Talayotic periods.

Side of the Naveta des Turons

Side of the Naveta des Turons. | Shuttestock

Naveta des Tudons in posterity

The thousands of years this Menorcan building has been standing have made it an outstanding part of the local folklore. Thus, an imaginative and invented explanation for the imposing construction became a popular legend. In this two giants, sometimes brothers, competed for the love of a lady. One had to make a naveta and the other a well. As it usually happens, everything ended badly. On his way to lay the last stone, the manager of Es Tudons saw his rival find water. So he threw the rock at him, killed him and then killed himself out of remorse. Both their loved one died of the displeasure. This explains the fact that a stone is missing from the top left of the monument’s façade.

Night sky over the Naveta des Turons

Night sky over the Naveta des Turons. | Shuttestock

In addition to this folkloric trail, the Naveta des Tudons was the protagonist of the first exclusive Spanish book on archaeology. This is Juan Ramis y Ramis’ Celtic Antiquities of the Island of Menorca, published in 1818. In the meantime, the name by which it has come to the present day is translated as “Naveta de las Torcaces”. This type of pigeon is one of the most common birds in Europe. Likewise, the most regrettable event that it has experienced occurred in 2018, when it was vandalized with spray paint. Fortunately, there is no trace of the attack.

Plans of the 1912 naveta, made by Émile Cartailhac

Plans of the 1912 naveta, made by Émile Cartailhac. | Wikimedia

The visit to the funeral monument costs two euros, except on Mondays. You can leave your car for free in a small parking lot. After a short walk you can reach the funeral naveta. It can only be seen from outside, as access to the roof and the interior is forbidden. The reason is not to destroy the millenary building. Ciutadella or Ferreries are the two places of reference to go, as it is located on the road that connects both towns. Other navetas to visit on the island are those of Biniac or Rafal Rubí.

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