These days the street is called Calle de Nuestra Señora de los Santos, because halfway down on the right is the little Chapel of the Virgin of the Saints. In print, it would be written “La Fuente Salada” [the salty spring], but in times gone by we children pronounced it “La Fuente la Salá”. Consequently the hill that lead down from the Alameda to the Prao was called “La Cuesta la Salá”. That was the road to childhood freedom, down which we went in the spring to set traps for small birds on the banks of the River Barbate, and in summer to swim naked in the formidable pools left by the river.
Sánchez del Arco said that, in the 19th Century, Alcalá had three notable caves; La Coracha, La Salada and La Mesa de San Antonio. In fact La Salada wasn't a cave at all, but two abandoned Roman depositories, all of which remained were some arched walls and a generous spring which never dried up. The source of the spring was at the top of La Coracha, but it appeared above ground further down, on the side of the hill by “La Cuesta la Salá”.
That lofty water source might have become a cataract, but the practical Romans clipped its proud wings to submit it to imprisonment in a depository at the foot of La Coracha, which provided water to the whole town. On moonlit nights when we played on “La Cuesta la Salá” the water-trough from the spring was filled with songs of silver. It was clean, quiet water which scorned the sound of victory until the sun came out, converting itself then into songs of gold.
In the mornings the greenfinches and goldfinches came up to drink there, when the spring stopped dreaming and turned back into ruined stone blocks. Later the muleteers and millers would arrive with their animals to allow them to drink. Hidden amongst the stones were leeches, lying in wait for the animals so they could enter their mouths, fasten themselves to their gums and suck their blood. And all through the day dogs would come along to drink from the overflow, where ticks would take the opportunity to attach themselves and fill themselves with blood.
When we climbed the hill and got ourselves hot, we would refresh ourselves at the spring. We would form bowls with our hands to drink, because we were afraid of the leeches and ticks. The water didn't taste very good, because it contained certain minerals with medicinal properties, which made it salty and strange-tasting. The animals drank it without hesitation and sometimes we did too. But it was always refreshing, in winter and summer, and it purified our insides.
Sánchez del Arco says that, in 1820, the cave of La Coracha was a masonic temple, and the meeting place for the conspirators who proclaimed the Constitution of 1812, known as “La Pepa” - the bicentenary celebration of which Cádiz is looking forward to in 2012. But Gabriel Almagro Montes de Oca makes it clear, in Note 36 of the History of Alcalá, that this is a bad interpretation of the book “Memories of an Old Man” by General Antonio Alcalá Galiano, about his participation in masonic meetings in Alcalá in 1820 concerning the Pronouncement of Riego [a call to the troops in Cádiz to support the 1812 constitution].
Manuel and Salvador Montañés Caballero, archaeologists, wrote an article in 2003 entitled “La Fuente Salada de Alcalá de los Gazules. Dos mil años ofreciendo agua” [The salty spring of Alcalá de los Gazules – 2000 years offering water]. Regarding the works carried out on the site in 1998, the article summary says the following:
The Fuente Salada of Alcalá de los Gazules (Cádiz) is a public resource built in Roman times and used without interruption in the mediaeval, modern and contemporary periods. Today the Roman depositories by the spring can be seen, as can some structures from the medieval and modern eras, among them a ceramic kiln. The construction belongs to a society with some level of technical development, as was Roman society, which employed a significant workforce including specialist workers such as masons, reflected in the careful finishing of the visible structures. The revaluation of the archaeological site is the ultimate goal of the work begun, but by no means finished, as there are still areas to be excavated and preserved.
Now the spring has been moved further up the slope of La Coracha and the Roman depositories of the source have been left uncovered. Thinking about “La Fuente la Salá” gives me the feeling of a Roman castle of stone, of water and of memories. Left to its fate for centuries, it stays faithful to its promise to provide the people with water. So it has done for two thousand years. But let's not forget the birds, the dogs, the mules, or the little silversmiths. We don't know who may have forgotten about it, but not the children, of course not. Those of us who are in our third age today and who see how our lives are drying up look at the water of “La Fuente la Salá” like a song for voices of silver, gold, and hope.
Translated by Claire Lloyd