Making ancient history modern; Alicante’s MARQ museum

Museum visits are generally for rainy days. Problem is, there aren’t that many rainy days on the Costa Blanca. So visiting the archaeology museum in Alicante (the MARQ) probably means sacrificing some sunshine. But it is worth it.

The MARQ is housed in Alicante’s former hospital. It won European Museum of the Year in 2004 and it’s still really good. If your idea of an archaeology museum is dusty pieces  of obscure pottery with labels in spidery handwriting, then think again.

MARQ Alicante
The MARQ archaeology museum in Alicante. Housed in a former hospital, it won European Museum of the year in 2004
MARQ Alicante
Subtly lit galleries with video panels showing how life might have been for ancient peoples on the Costa Blanca

The MARQ is as technically advanced and interactive as any. And it has loads of stuff from my town Villajoyosa, 30 minutes drive up the coast.. Probably more even than Villajoyosa’s own museum.

One of the big finds was the Roman villa of Xauxelles, near La Ermita on the outskirts of Villajoyosa. Most of it was excavated by a priest and amateur archaeologist, back in the 1940s, and it hasn’t been touched since, because (frustratingly) it lies on private property.

Villa Xauxelles
A stucco carving of a gazelle being attacked by a lion, from Xauxelles
Villa Xauxelles
Stucco work showing a face-off between a bear and a boar from Xauxelles
Villa Xauxelles
Two stucco figurines of women from the Roman villa.
Villa Xauxelles
Fragments of mosaic floors from Xauxelles

But even that cursory excavation turned up some fascinating finds, which you can see in the MARQ. There are fragments of mosaic floors and beautiful carvings in stucco housed in subtly lit displays. Villa Xauxelles must have been quite a place back in the third century AD.

Behind the display cases are video panels running the length of the galleries, showing you what life might have been like for people living along the Costa Blanca in ancient times.

There’s even a large scale replica of a Roman ship in the central gallery, with walkways that allow you to move around the vessel, peer down into the hold and see the cargo of amphorae (storage jars).

A vessel very like this one sank off Villajoyosa port in the 1st century AD. Named the Bou Ferrer after the divers who discovered it, the ship is the most important find of its kind in the entire Mediterranean. More info about the Bou Ferrer here. See my blog on the ancient history of Villajoyosa/La Vila Joiosa here.

Roman ship MARQ
A lifelike model of a Roman ship, housed in the central gallery
Roman ship MARQ
Looking down into the hold to see the cargo of amphorae. A Roman ship similar to this one sank off Villajoyosa in the 1st century AD and is still being excavated.

Explanations are generally in Spanish, Valenciano and English. There are plenty of other finds on show from all along the Alicante coastline, including settlements of pre-Roman Iberian peoples and the Visigoths who followed the Romans.

The MARQ is on Plaza Dr. Gómez Ulla, round the back of Alicante’s castle. It also runs seasonal exhibitions, most recently on the Maya civilisation of central America.

Go by tram and get off at the stop MARQ-Castillo. Entry is only €3; probably the best three euros you’ll spend in Alicante.

© Guy Pelham 2018

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