The Cabanes Arch, an incomparable monument from the Roman Empire, still hides a lot of mysteries


The Roman Arch of Cabanes gives its name to the plain in which it is erected, Pla de l’Arc. It is situated next to the Via Augusta, which crosses the plain in a rectilinear line of more than eight kilometres following the pre-coastal corridor of Sant Mateu. The road to Vistabella, which went under the monument until 1873, and the Roman road crosses next to it.
The arch is one of the most outstanding monuments from the Valencian archaeological heritage. Although it is not firmly known the function it had, one of the hypothesis dates its construction in the second century B.C. indicating that it is a private honorary funerary monument.
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Archaeological documentation
The town’s owner’s family next to which it was situated probably erected it. In 1789 a funerary inscription probably related to this town was found nearby. On the contrary, other authors claim that it could have an honorific function, probably a war scene commemoration or that it was used as a territorial arch.

Triumphal arch structure of seven metres high

It had a triumphal arch structure, but nowadays it is only preserved a curvature1 and the two pilasters2, lacking the entire entablature3. It has a span4 of four meters and the height of the preserved part has 5,80 meters, although it originally had more than seven.
The Cabanes Arch presents some simple and proportionate lines with an ornamental development limited to the bases and imposts5 with simple mouldings.
Its peculiar architectural characteristics may be due to the lack of available resources for its execution. It forced its promoters to use simple architectural characteristics closer to those used in lower category arches or that were part of larger architectural ensembles rather than the ones used in great monumental arches.

Large blocks of calcareous rocks

To construct it, there were used blocks of calcareous rocks from the area, probably from the close mountain Gaidó.
The bond is made from opus quadratum6, an ashlar construction with large proportioned blocks joined together with mortar. They are disposed upright and crossed in the pilasters. As most of the Roman arches, the curvature lacks the key7. The blocks of stone used in the construction were worked right there with pickaxes, maces and chisels and raised by the help of a sheerlegs8. Wood scaffolds allowed the movement of workers who hold the voussoirs9 by means of a formwork10 during the curvature assembly. Above it there was the entablature concluded by a cornice.

Specialists date its construction in the second century B.C., but its function is unknown

Due to the lack of protection from any kind, the monument was vandalized in some different ways, such as graffiti and the theft of some ashlars. In Pou de la Riba, a place located 200 metres away, there are preserved three of these pieces: two moulded and one with no decoration belonging to the entablature. They were casted to use them as cattle troughs. Today they are watched over in municipal warehouses. Likewise, in the façade of a house in Nou de Cabanes street, which belongs to a seventeenth century wall’s ancient tower, there is preserved a large ensemble of ashlars probably of the same provenance.
Before starting the restoration process of Cabanes Arch, test excavations to know the state of the monument’s foundations and stability were carried out between the months of December 1994 and January 1995. The first one was realized 5 metres away from the arch (following its longitudinal axis towards the north)

The fact of being next to a settlement from that period indicates that it could be a private honorary funerary monument


A 2 m. x 1,5 m. trench with a 0,74 m. depth was made but it had scarce findings. The other one was made around the north pilaster with the intention of knowing its foundations. In the south side fundamental material to contribute to determine the dating of the monument construction was found. Moreover it was possible to document and rebuild with all details the originating process foundation.

Iron nails

The first notable data of these test excavations is that of the four faces only the southern one was free from being shaken when the first workings of protection of the monument were carried out in 1873. This face has been the only interesting one from a stratigraphic point of view. Seventeen iron nails between 4 and 10,50 centimetres length were found there. They probably might have been part of the wood structures related to the construction process of the monument, the scaffolds or the same formwork.

From the original structure it is only preserved the curvature and the two pilasters and it lacks the entablature or the upper part of the monument

However, there is all kind of details about the foundations of the pilasters thanks to the excavation of its four flanks. Thus a tray to the basement rock was dug, clogged11 by three layers of smaller stones and between them two mortar beds to finish with a more irregular layer of smaller stones and mortar above which the visible blocks rest.

Vilafamés shield engraved

The shield of the city of Vilafamés is engraved in one of the pilasters. The archaeologist Antonio Valcárcel already mentions this at the end of the eighteenth century. It can be explained because the arch was used as a boundary stone to the demarcation of the municipalities of Cabanes and Vilafamés.

Escudo de Vilafamés esculpido en el Arco Romano de Cabanes

For all of these reasons the Cabanes Roman Arch has a great historical importance as a witness of a time, for its location next to the Via Augusta and its possible relation with the Roman village constructed nearby. Its peculiar architectural structure is probably due to the lack of available resources. This fact forced to construct a monument with short proportions and scarce decoration. In fact, the Cabanes Arch is related to another Valencian monuments as, for example, Lliria’s Arch that shows the same model, measures and profile of the base’s moulding.

1 Curvature: a long narrow piece of material that alone or together with another, forms an arch or a dome. 2 Pilaster: square section pillar3 Entablature: group of mouldings that are on the top of a building4 Span: the distance or space between the supporting of an arch5 Impost: a corbel line of ashlars on which an arch is setOpus quadratum: structural system used in the Ancient Rome in which stone ashlars of the same height are placed in parallel regular lines, often with no mortar.


7 Key: central and higher stone with which the arch or dome is finished

8 Sheerlegs: a framework for hoisting heavy weights, consisting of two or more spars with their legs separated, fastened together near the top

9 Voussoir: the cut stone at the top of an arch

10 Formwork: the temporary structure upon which the stones of an arch are laid during its construction

11 Clog: to fill a dip or hollow using artificial procedures methods

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