A History of Hamilcar: Akre Leuca, Dream City of Hamilcar Barca– Part II
Like ancient Carthage, Akre Leuca was not only a military center but also a culturally-advanced city in its time. There was no other city like it. If evidence in the urban structure of Castelo Branco and the city walls with their arches confirms its Carthaginian military identity, Castelo Branco’s builder and designer, Hamilcar Barca, planning for his dream city to be the capital of his new Iberian empire, also left here two cultural imprints which were, like the armies he built, so strong that all the subsequent Roman obsessive ethnic-cleansing could not remove their mark. They remain, like the mystery of the name, intrinsically-linked with the city’s identity. They are the city’s embroidery and the famous gardens.
The Enigmatic Origins of a City’s Identity
Historians have failed to reach a conclusion about either. They claim the ‘bordado de Castelo Branco’ was brought back from the mariners when they returned from India in the age called the Portuguese ‘discoveries’. However, they cannot explain the most important thing— why Castelo Branco? Even leading local historian and writer Jaime Lopes Dias admits in his introduction to the bordado of Castelo Branco that ‘the final word about its origin has yet to be heard’.
Bordado de Castelo Branco Lusitania Tradition. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The gardens are claimed to have been built by an 18th century local bishop, Joao Mendonca. Without a doubt, he was instrumental and perhaps even the architect of the gardens, but of their rebuilding— not their origin. Nowhere is it stated that he decided to build some gardens. Could it be that the original architect is the same man who built the prototype, there in ancient Carthage, known as ‘Hamilcar’s gardens’? Comparison of the two can leave little doubt that they are the same design and style.
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The two gardens, Hamilcar’s Gardens in ancient Carthage (left) and Jardim do Paco (right) (Images via Tom Hamilton)
With regard to the embroidery for which Castelo Branco is famous, the Phoenicians and their fellow Carthaginians were famous for their embroideries. It was their ‘Ex-Libris’. Not only so, but contrary to modern concepts about the silk trail from China and the silkworm, the Phoenicians and Carthaginians had silk long before the Christian era. They had it, produced it, and sold it all over the Mediterranean world. Their embroideries, just like the famous ‘colchas’ of Castelo Branco, were famed for their elaborate designs and even more so for their bright and beautiful colors. They invented the beautiful and famous Tyrian purple, worth more than twenty times the value of gold.
A fragment of the shroud in which the Emperor Charlemagne was buried in 814. It was made of gold and Tyrian purple from Constantinople. ( Public Domain )
Can it be any wonder that Hamilcar Barca, a charismatic and highly-cultured man, would have spared no expense in building his dream city? Recently in nearby historic Idanha Velha I asked an old man as to the origin of the old Mulberry tree in the main square. ‘Ah’ he replied, as if surprised by my ignorance, ‘the Phoenicians brought that here to produce their silkworms to make their embroideries’.
Artist’s reconstruction of ancient Carthage from SEGA Total War Gamepage footage and (right) Castelo Branco in the last century (public domain).
Long ago, a Luso-Carthaginian Celtic general, Hannibal Barca stood at the gates of Rome. With the help of his longstanding and close Lusitanian and Numidian allies and friends, he had done the impossible: He had taken an army across the whole Iberian Peninsula, crossed firstly the Pyrenees, then the extensive Alps and conquered Roman legions on Italian soil. He only had to finish the job and achieve the goal towards which his amazing life had been directed; as a child he had sworn to make no friendship with Rome, held as a nine-year old boy over the fires of an altar in Carthage. He had spent his youth, grown up, been taught and tutored in Greek and Latin and had his military training in what is now a small Portuguese city in the interior of Portugal. Castelo Branco was once upon a time a unique place, the dream city with a military character, which it has remained to this day. For though the military barracks have now been demolished to make way for modern progress, even today in front of the historic part of the city there are a small group of buildings with a sign which reads ‘military recruitment’.