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Antequera Dolmen Sites

Date of Submission: 27/01/2012
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports
State, Province or Region:
Andalusia, Málaga, Antequera
Ref.: 5668
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The properties nominated to be included on the World Heritage List as a series of cultural properties are the Antequera Dolmen sites, an ensemble of megalithic monuments made up of the Menga and Viera dolmens and the tholos of El Romeral. They are outstanding examples of megalithic architecture and are amongst the most recognized and quoted in the world. They are also connected to two first-class landmarks:  la Peñade los Enamorados (Lovers’ Leap) and the mountains of El Torcal, Antequera. They are two mountain formations of outstanding geomorphological make-up which were the focal point for positioning the megalithic monuments; Menga is positioned towards the Peña de los Enamorados, whilst the Tholos de El Romeral is positioned towards El Torcal. Indeed, these natural landmarks themselves hold priceless archaeological sites.

Menga and Viera dolmens are very near to each other, whilst El Romeral is around1.700 maway from them.La Peñade los Enamorados (Lovers’ Leap) focused from the Menga dolmen, it is7 kmaway.  The tholos of El Romeral is the same distance away from El Torcal, which it is positioned towards.

It is worthy of mention that more than 95% of the recognized dolmens are positioned towards the south east, the solar ortho on the equinoxes, as is the case with the Viera dolmen. The unique feature of the Antequera Dolmen sites is that the other two: Menga and the tholos of El Romeral, have an anomalous positioning.

The positioning of the Menga dolmen is unique, towards the northeast; it is the only dolmen in continentalEuropethat is positioned towards a land object, towards the mountain of the Peña de los Enamorados (Lovers’ Leap).

Lastly, the tholos of El Romeral is one of the few examples where the positioning is towards the western half of the sky in all the peninsular. The axis of the chamber is directed exactly towards the mountains of el Torcal.

Therefore, in these two cases, instead of positioning towards the sun it has been positioned towards a landmark. This is a unique situation.

The nomination is set in the neolithic-chalcolithic period, in a culture characterized by a pronounced identity which has arrived to us through these outstanding megalithic monuments. They are associated not only with the landmarks mentioned but also with a wide range of rock art.

The nomination proposes a wide area which includes the nominated property, the three dolmen sites forming part of the Archaeological Ensemble of the Antequera Dolmens, and a buffer zone made up of visual cones which connect them to the aforementioned natural landmarks. 

This area is under the authority of Antequera, a very dynamic city due to its historic role, and at present, it is in a central position for communication inAndalusia.  However, due to this reason, some buildings and infrastructures have recently been built in the visual protection zone, however, they are not tall buildings and they do not hinder the vision of said natural features. This condition, of keeping the vision unhindered, should be maintained in the management of the nominated area.

Concerning the protection of the nominated properties, the Antequera dolmens and the Peña de los Enamorados (Lovers’ Leap) are protected under the category of a Good of Cultural Interest, and El Torcal site comes under the category of a Natural Reserve.

The buffer zone corresponds to the field of vision from the “Dolmens” to the two natural landmarks.

Lastly, the management of the site of the three dolmens and their buffer zone corresponds to the institution Archaeological Ensemble of the Antequera Dolmens, which comes under the authority of the Council of Culture of the governing body of this autonomous community, the  Regional Government of Andalusia.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Antequera Dolmens have been nominated for their inclusion on the World Heritage Indicative List due to the monumental character of the megalithic constructions, the beauty of the natural formations surrounding them, and the importance of the relationships established during the Neolithic period between the elements of cultural heritage and their natural setting.

It is a culture in which the natural landmarks acquire the value of monuments whilst constructed monuments appear to be part of the natural landscape.

This close liaison between culture and nature is especially apparent in the precise positioning of the megaliths in the architectural site. Also, the relationship between mountains with a sacred or cultural significance and megalithic architecture is outstanding.

Concerning the outstanding nature of the actual megalithic monuments, the most representative example is the Menga Dolmen. This is one of the largest known dolmens; it is so large that the lintels had to be reinforced with interior pillars, a unique architectural solution.

The uniqueness of the Menga monument led to it becoming an outstanding reference point in the creation of the actual concept of megalithic archaeology of the XIX century within the small group made up of the well known British monuments of Stonehenge, Averbury and Newgrange and the Breton monuments aroundCarnac.

A great deal of the international bibliographic references about dolmens in the XIX century refer to the Menga Dolmen;  for example,  Lady Louisa Tenison (1853), the  Baron of Bonstetten (1865), Lord Talbot of Malahide (1870), James Fergusson (1872), Émile Cartailhac (1886) and Henri and Louis Siret (1887). In the XIX century, Menga turned into the comparative reference for dolmens in any other country or continent concerning size, beauty or perfection.  Indeed, according to the French author Jean d’ Estienne, in 1878, it could be considered as “the most beautiful and perfect of all known dolmens”.

The outstanding nature of Menga grew at the beginning of the XX century when the megaliths of Viera dolmen and the tholos of El Romeral were discovered. Thus, an ensemble of monuments representative of three different types of architecture was created in the same area. The types of architecture were:

1      A lintelled chamber and passageway tomb in Menga.

2      A simple passageway tomb in the Viera dolmen.

3      A complex construction of two chambers with false vaults and a lintelled passageway in the tholos of El Romeral.

Such a rare typological diversity is due to the fact that Antequera is a central point between many routes; between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean regions, between Africa andEurope. This explains why Antequera can offer the two most important examples of the main types of European megalithic cultures: one corresponding to that of the Atlantic side, with such examples as the lintelled construction of Menga and Viera, and the other corresponding to that of the Mediterranean side, as shown with the architecture of the false vaults of the tholos of El Romeral.

Another outstanding value concerns Menga and its capacity to join, focus on and centralize the ritual funeral landscape of prehistoric and subsequent eras. Menga is not only a Neolithic megalith; it is also an Iberian Roman necropolis; it is as well a medieval sanctuary; and today the beautifulcemeteryofAntequera, built at the beginning of the XX century, still stands adjacent to it.

The following criteria can be inferred from the previous description of the outstanding universal values present in the megalithic landscape of Antequera:

Criterion (i) The three Antequera dolmens are amongst the most outstanding and universally recognized examples of megalithic architecture.

Criterion (ii) The fact that Antequera is a central point for different long distance routes, of seas and continents, a meeting point of different peoples and cultures, has given rise to the birth of these outstanding architectural models and a specific culture based on the interaction with the landscape.

Criterion (iii) The Antequera dolmens are masterpieces of the megalithic culture developed in the recent prehistoric period and it bears an exemplary testimony to this era which took place more than five millennia ago.

Criterion (iv) It represents an outstanding representative example of the culture of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods in which Megalithic architecture came about.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: As a result of the research carried out over more than one and a half centuries, a generalized consensus amongst the most prestigious specialists in megalithic architecture has been reached about the authenticity of the property in this nomination and the assigning of it to prehistory throughout the Neolithic period and the Copper Age. The Archaeological Ensemble of the Antequera Dolmens has a collection of written documents corresponding to the specific bibliography concerning such matters. The research activities carried out are conclusive and unanimous concerning the time period assigned to the monuments, the authenticity of the stone used in the construction of the chambers and the make-up of the earthen tumulus. This is true for the authenticity of the two types of architecture of the monuments in which two different building traditions are apparent; the lintelled technique of Menga and Viera and the false vaults magnificently present in the tholos of El Romeral. The funeral and ritual significance of the monuments is also significant. This is not only present in the era when they were constructed but archaeological research has shown their presence during the protohistoric period, the Roman period, the Medieval Islamic period as well as today. 

The original structure of the three megaliths and their surroundings has hardly been altered. The only interventions that have taken place intended to assure the stability of the structures which are subject to the natural erosion due to weather conditions. No substantial modification has been carried out, and all the alterations are reversible.  Regarding the natural sites, they have substantially kept both their natural karstic geomorphologic make-up, the uniqueness of their flora and fauna and the richness of their archaeological sites, without having gone through any important human intervention. Their condition as protected spaces in the case of el Torcal as a Natural Reserve and the Peña de los Enamorados (Lovers’ Leap) has helped assure that their authenticity has been preserved.

Integrity: Their conditions of integrity are also outstanding. The site defined as a Good of Cultural Interest contains the complete structures of the three dolmens of Menga, Viera and the tholos of El Romeral.

The three monuments conserve the stone structure of the dolmen as well as the tumulus which covers them. This is uncommon in this type of monument. The integrity that said parts of the dolmens have kept, is exceptional in comparison with the state of other monuments of the same period, in which due to the lack of essential pieces, they have had to be reconstructed. This has not been the case of the Antequera dolmens.

However, some threats do exist to the landscape of the dolmens today, (connected with the plans for new infrastructures in the surrounding area). Nowadays there are improving plans to correct this situation.

Comparison with other similar properties

As already mentioned, these monuments are closely linked both physically and conceptually to their natural surroundings; this may be common in the case of other megalithic examples, but what is truly peculiar (and this fact is unique on a worldwide level) is the convergence of certain qualities of outstanding universal value in the very monuments themselves that make up the cultural heritage and in the natural landmarks surrounding them.

However, the feature which makes the ensemble even more priceless is that these two values are not dissociated; the natural values being added to the cultural values. The latter is true for the sites which fall under the category of Mixed Heritage, both natural and cultural. However, in our case the exceptional feature comes from the dialogue established between the megalithic architecture, and the rock art of this period, with nature; a fact that awards it with a unique relevance on a universal scale which has no parallel on the World Heritage List or amongst other recognized property of the same type.

The megalithic culture has reached a universal scale. It took place over a long period of time which, since its first appearance in Anatolia 12 millennia ago, has reached some cultures of Africa and Asia today. However, the presence of the megalithic culture on the World Heritage List is very scarce. There are only ten megalithic sites, five of which are on islands, three in the British Isles and two in the Mediterranean, and another, of a later chronology, in the Eastern Mediterranean, on the Peloponnese Peninsula.

Outside Europe one is found on the American continent; the San Agustín Archaeological Park, another in Africa; the Stone Circles of Senegambia, another on the Asian continent; the Godiang Hwsung and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites, and another, the Rapa Nui Natural Park in the Pacific Islands. Concerning the Indicative List, the representation of megalithic culture is even less: one in Africa; the Stone Monoliths of Alok Ikm, one in Europe; the megalithic sites at Carnac and another in Eastern Asia; the megalithic sites at Xien Khouang and another in Anatolia; the Archaeological Site of Göbklitepe. The representation lowers further if we restrict the category to Prehistory, the period during which said culture began to create great monuments in the Neolithic period-the Age of Copper (which the monuments at Antequera correspond to), and to a lesser extent, during the Bronze Age. In this case the concept of space is also reduced. 

Concerning the Neolithic period, the most important monuments are located towards the Atlantic side of Europe and North Africa, extending to the Western Mediterranean, with two nuclei of special note: that of the British Isles and the French Brittany, and that of the Southern Iberian Peninsula, located respectively to the north and the south of this extensive area.

The northern nucleus corresponds to the British Isles and Brittany, France, where most of the nominations are from, as many as three on the World Heritage List: the Archaeological Ensemble of the Bend of the Boyne, with the megalithic passageway tomb of Newgrange, Ireland, the Archaeological Ensemble of Stonehenge and Averbury in England, and that of the Orkney Islands in Scotland, and another on the Indicative List, Carnac, in Brittany, France.

The most relevant examples in the southern nucleus are: The Megalithic Ensemble at Antequera; the Megalithic Necropolis and the village of Los Millares; the Alberite Dolmen; the semi-megalithic Necropolis of the Algarve; the Megalithic Landscape of Valencina; the Megalithic Landscape of Gor-Gorafe; the Megalithic Landscape of Las Peñas de los Gitanos (the Cliff of the Gypsies); the Soto Dolmen; the Megalithic Landscape of El Pozuelo-Los Gabrieles; the Megalithic Landscape of Alcalar in the Algarve, Portugal. These have clear typological differences with respect to the northern nucleus. They are located in the southern area of the Iberian Peninsula, in the Portuguese Algarve and Alentejo, and Extremadura and Andalusia in Spain, whose most representative example is the Archaeological Ensemble of the Antequera Dolmens. In opposition to the well represented northern area, this southern nucleus lacked representation on the World Heritage List and on the World Indicative List.

Another significant area corresponds to the Mediterranean islands. This insular location created the need for very specific architectural solutions which are different to those used in Antequera. In this domain, the World Heritage List has only one case from the Neolithic period, the Temples of Malta, and another from the Bronze Age, the Nuragas of Corsica. From the same period, the Bronze Age, Mycenaean architecture of the Peloponnese Peninsula is also included on the list, and the Talayotic monuments of the Balearic Islands, which are not on the List, are worth a special mention.

Concerning  Prehistory, only two Asiatic examples are worthy of mention: one in the west, on the Indicative List and the other in the east, already inscribed on the List; both are very far from the previous ones mentioned, in space and in time. The oldest example, with an outstanding Epipaleolithic chronology of twelve millennia before present day, is the Anatolic site of Göbeklitepe. The other case, the dolmen site of Gochang, Hwasun and Gangwwa, in the peninsula of Korea, corresponds to a more recent chronology, the first millennium before our time, in Protohistoric times. A third Asiatic example, also on the Indicative List, and of late chronology, the Bronze and Iron Ages, is that of the megalithic Sites of the province of Xiang Khouang in Laos.

Concerning far more recent megalithic architecture, always subsequent to our era, the World Heritage List has examples from Africa and America. In both cases they are very different culturally and stylistically speaking from the sites of Antequera. On the American continent there are two examples on the World Heritage List: the Archaeological Park of San Agustín in Columbia, dated from between the I and VIII centuries, and the later National Park of Rapa Nui from the X to XVI centuries, on the Easter Islands, which belongs to Chile, but is located in the Pacific Ocean, very far from the continent.

Concerning the African examples, the megalithic Stone Circles of Senegambia, dated from between the II and the XVI centuries, are on the World Heritage List. The Alok Ikom Stone Monoliths, corresponding to a tradition which is still alive in Nigeria, are on the Indicative List.

As well as megalithic architecture, there is schematic rock art in Antequera, representing another artistic expression from Prehistory. Rock art has enjoyed a broader recognition: up to 15 sites from all over the continents are on the World Heritage List, and another seven on the Indicative List. However, none of them shows the specific relationship Antequera has with megalithic architecture, and the schematic art here represented is very scarcely represented elsewhere.

Another characteristic feature of Antequera is the relationship of megalithic architecture with rock art concerning two especially significant mountains: La Peña de los Enamorados (Lovers’ Leap) and the mountains of El Torcal.  Indeed, the World Heritage List has grown due to the reference of sacred mountains for different cultures.  From the Ayers Rock of the National Park of Uluru Kata, as a ritual element to the Aborigine cultures of Australia, to the sacred mountain of Sulaimcrim in Kyrgyzstan, related to Islamic worship, and the Christian monastic ensemble of Mount Athos, Greece. Recently, this type of expression is more present on the Indicative List:   Mount Taishan in China, a group of five sacred mountains, which have been considered sacred for 3000 years, since the Neolithic era; Mount Kokino in Macedonia, with art rock with astronomical symbolism corresponding to the Bronze Age; the Mounts of Kungen and  Myohiang, in North Korea, associated to Budhist temples, or the sacred mountains of Mongolis in  the Empire of Gengis Khan.  However, none of these examples have the same association of mountain-megalithic architecture as Antequera.

Therefore, on the one hand, it would seem reasonable to promote an outstanding megalithic monumental ensemble located in the south of Europe in order to reach a balance between different cultural expressions. On the other, Antequera’s inclusion on the List would represent the first step towards a great transnational series of megalithic sites; therefore, the Andalusian examples situated around Antequera would be added to those of Ireland, the United Kingdom, Brittany (France), the Alentejo in Portugal and Extremadura in Spain. Within of Archaeological Ensemble Antequera’s Main Plan, a proposal for creating a network of Megalithic Sites and Landscapes across Europe has been made. Thus the value of this common heritage would be enhanced, just as it has occurred with the European rock art on the World Heritage List.

Therefore, the initiatives taking place in Brittany, France: Barnenez in the north and the monuments at the Bay of The Morbihan, in the south; as well as those which should begin in Portugal, would not be in competition with those of Antequera but they would act as a reinforcement of the declaration of the great transnational culture spread over the Atlantic Basin and the west of the Mediteranean, which has been wrongfully postponed until now and limited to a specific point in its wide domain of characterization.