Ithaka! Is this Ithaka?

Updated May 2017

25 characteristics of Ithaka in Doña Blanca that agree with the descriptions of Homeros.

  1. The Phorkys Landing with the holy cave nearby and the two rocky sheltering capes
  2. The good probability of explanation of the “looms of the nymphs”, and the cave’s furniture
  3. The location of the piggery with oak forest on the San Cristobal hill, with local water source
  4. The big, rich flowing, fountain near the ancient settlement, with heavy retaining walls
  5. The poplar forest encircling the fountain
  6. The prominent location of the palace of Odysseus, with overview over the ancient (open) Cadiz Bay where now is agricultural land
  7. The “sports field” before the palace
  8. The (later Phoenician) harbour close to the settlement, originally just a cove
  9. Reithron landing plausibly situated east of the settlement (“bay of return ”)
  10. Hermes Hill near the ancient cemetery (that burial site thus implicit mentioned by Homeros)
  11. The cremation and urn burial rites (according to excavations) which are very Homeric
  12. The generally well-fitting walking distances between locations mentioned by Homeros
  13. The headland (“Cefallenia”) protruding into the Ocean, with Chipiona at the extreme
  14. The real peninsula of “Cefallenia” in the Tartessos period, lying most to the West of all “islands” mentioned by Homeros
  15. The Sharp Isles explained as contrasting with generally “soft” sandy and clayey beaches elsewhere
  16. The Holy Isles explained
  17. The Asterisk rock (island) in perfect place for the ambush of the wooers
  18. Doulichion with its many inhabitants, fertile and large, situated south of the ancient Bay
  19. Krounoi (the “Sources” at the seaside) well situated for a short visit to the sandy beach
  20. Chalkis as copper/bronze export site in El Rocio
  21. The correct distance of sailing to Huelva, being sandy Pylos, with plenty sand indeed
  22. Huelva as rich Bronze Age site, steeply built, and with much grazing land around
  23. Neriton and Neion explained with their characteristics, Neriton being visible from the beach
  24. The holy (poplar) forest of Apollo near the settlement, protected from grazing
  25. The 8th century BC date of urban settlement of Doña Blanca and the mixed use of iron as well as bronze in this period in the region

More may be found in coming years.( “Woody” Zacynthos can be seen as a pile settlement where shipyards were active. Guess where the lumber stacks came from.)

Explained as small corruption of the text: the wrong wind (west) for the outward sailing trip of Telemachos, which wind should be east. But this might also disputed because sailing “beam reach” would be possible on a course for Huelva from cape Catalina using a southwestern wind.

In the page Invasions, Ilium and Homeros it is tried to give a scenario of Homeros’ course of life.

Apollo:Artemis copy


Does Homeros write about Greeks? No, he does not use or even seems to know the word.  He speaks of Achaioi, sometimes specified as Danaioi, Pelasgoi, Argeioi, Myrmidonoi etc. This absence of the Greeks, which is said to be a name introduced by the Romans, and also the replacing of the Achaioi by Greeks is a sign. It means that the incorporation of the epics of Homeros by the later Greeks was quite strong. Homeros mentions Athenians, but their town is not so powerful as it became later on. And he speaks about Mykene, which was found, some think, by Schliemann to have existed. Is it the Mykene of Homeros?

According to Moses Finley ( 2002) there is only flimsy evidence that there is a relation between the Mycenaean civilization and the daily routine and habits as well as arms and combat customs in the epics of Homeros. It seems just wishful thinking to see it. I feel a bit irritated that even Finley, being quite critical, still uses the sloppy formulations – e.g. Greeks as name for the Achaioi – that were handed over to us since Antiquity, but that are not founded in Homeros’ texts.

But, what’s in a name? Even Troy, now located by some in Turkey, might have been called Troy indeed, or better Nova Troia, New Troy, being a town of resettlers from a (probably) destroyed city of Troy elsewhere. We speak of New York, of New Amsterdam etc, and we know their status and descent. Do Gypsies come from Egypt? And is that Egypt the country mentioned by Homeros? As a matter of fact, Homerus speaks of the river Aegyptos. Could that be the Nile? Then why not use the real name given by the inhabitants? No pyramids, but indeed chariots plenty. Egyptians do name their country Masr since thousands of years, and the word Egypt is just our idea of its name. Westerners such as the English (and Dutch) have a habit of giving their own names, for ease of pronounciation of for “knowing better” and this is the explanation why I do not use the spelling Homer but use the original name Homeros. So, what’s in a name? A name should be an inducement to go on further explorations to see what is behind it. Thus the extensive work done by Wilkens (2009) should be a start for checking the facts behind a confusion of names, not hindered by letter worship.

In my opinion, the making up of the “homeric world” by the ancient Greeks should be a basic concept when doing research on Homeros. The ancients could not get it done perfectly, and that is where one should start research. Was Ithaka an island? The Greeks said so, but Homeros does not call it an island directly, in no place in his works. He even leaves open the possibility that people like beggars (without money for the ferry) could reach the place on foot. And then, there is the option he used the indication that it lay amidst (other) islands for characterizing it as a peninsula, just as that other “island” (which Homeros, by the way, does not mention anywhere): the Peloponnesus. Ithaka is “amphialos, sea-girt” (but better said with sea at two or three sides, as in an amphitheatre), says Homeros. When the Phaeacians arrive to bring Odysseus home it is said they come near to “the island”. Is that about Ithaka? Or is Cadiz island meant which pops up first as a point of orientation when coming from the south? Or is it just “the peninsula”, as with the Peloponnesus? If you say an island is a piece of land surrounded by water, what then with all those pastures in the Dutch province of Zuid Holland that are surrounded by ditches? What is the minimum width of that water needed to call it an island? A man’s jump? Are wet feet enough?

Another country that is called by Homeros indeed an island is Syria, in the story of Eumaios about his youth. How can you make that an island, the Syria we now know as the unlucky region north of Libanon and Jordania? Homeros must have had another region in his mind, at the place where the sun turns (annually?), and Wilkens suggests it was Eire, Ireland, with indeed two cities of importance and a mild climate. We will see below that this region had a link with Southern Spain already in the era of the Megalithic cultures.

Dating the fall of Troy based upon the assumption that Hissarlik indeed is Troy, is not acceptable for me, seeing what the landscape shows and what town is reconstructed from the ruins. Is this the mighty Ilium, with broad streets, as Homeros says? And is this horse-land? Of course there were horses, but that many horses as Homeros suggests, a centre of horsebreeding and -taming? Can one drown in Skamandros in Turkey as Achilles nearly did, while the rivulet we see is just enough to wet your feet? Even when heavily flooded it would not become deep enough, all water dispersing over the floodplain. And the plain before Hissarlik was so narrow at the time that there was no place for the one hundred thousand of warriors. The actual plain is recent, a result of silting up with erosion deposits. All this great song about a cute little country town!

And I again find Finley at my side, who does not accept Hissarlik to be real Troy. Check and double-check and see the scanty evidence, even in Hettite texts that speak a few times of Wilusa (Ilium?) or a certain Alexandros as king of Wilusa. What king?  would Homeros say. One of the princes indeed, but not a honoured one (See also Latacz, 2010).

To find out what really was there in a place that is named, one must concentrate attention on the characteristics of locations described best by Homeros. After Scheria that is Ithaka, the much sought homeland of Odysseus. Troy is far less accurately described. Finding characteristics congruent with those described, and coherent with context and surroundings, that is a form of proof in itself.

If you find a coat in an unexpected place, and you recognize it as yours, as it smells like you, it has the right fabric, texture and colour, it fits you when you try and moreover you need it badly. And you find the tissues in its pocket you always use. Is this your coat? You forgot to put your name in it, alas! And your neighbour, who never saw you wear it, says that without name tag it is something to be brought to the police. Do you?

And suppose you find a coat that looks attractive, and is in the usual place. What is more, someone has put your name on the tag inside. It does not fit, at places it does not fit at all. You need it badly however, it is winter. Do you take it, adopt it? As a poor Greek, I would do that, put it on, live with it, make it my own. Defend it as your coat, as it indeed has become after some time.

Ilias and Odyssey in due time even have become holy books for some of their readers.

Of course we should ressort to the help of Science, that destroyer of convictions. And that is what should be done. There must be found, as they probably exist, statistical tests which can handle this! And sometimes, a verbalist should not expect tags that are in characters, as it is unreasonable to ask for such evidence. What’s evidence? The same plays in justitial cases, where judges need a neutral view, and even the public prosecutor needs such when formulating his charge.

Ithaka! Fraught with emotions is this name, it is a sensitive subject, yes. In this chapter I will try to substantiate the hypothesis that Ithaka was located in the bay of Cadiz, more exactly under the ruins of the antique Phoenician city now excavated near the tower named “Castillo de Doña Blanca”. There is a lot of evidence I think. Cailleux (1879) must have named this as the place, according to Gideon (1973). The texts of Cailleux are quite abundant, and although I thought to read French easily, this was too much to stow away. Hope to find later on as where in his work Cailleux gave the indications. (I have  sometimes called him a Frenchman, but he was Belgian).

1Tartessosnova copycorr

Fig. 1  Tartessos coast line in ± 800 BC. The yellowish hatching indicates the Pyrite Belt.

We start with a map of the Cadiz and Huelva region in the period of Tartessos, in the 8th century BC. See Fig. 1, and also  Atlas de historia de España (Garcia de Cortazar, 2012).

A simplified but more detailed map is given in Fig. 2 (Museo de Puerto de Santa Maria). The actual situation is best shown by the Google Earth image in Fig. 4 and the Mapa do Parque Natural Bahia de Cadiz from which a detail is given in Fig 5.

2 Romeinse Tartessos copy

Fig. 2  Tartessos coastal outline in Roman times (exposition in Museum of Puerto de Santa Maria)

3 Europe in Late Bronze Age

Fig. 3  Europe in the late Bronze Age

Tartessos was a rich region, actually supposed to be part of the Atlantic Bronze Age (Fig 3). The Tartessos region even may have had Celtic language links to the north (Koch 2009). Only in the last decennia more is known about what was once here, and the links with the later Greeks and the Romans are quite strong. The Greeks knew the region, and even may have understood the local language when visiting. The Phoenicians were present early, and dominated in later time.

I continue with the description that Odysseus gives of his country when he finally says his name to the Phaeacians in IX 19-27: I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, who am known among men for all manner of wiles, and my fame reaches unto heaven. But I dwell in clearly seen Ithaca, wherein is a mountain, the Neriton with needle-rustling forests, visible from afar; and round it lie many isles hard by one another, Doulichion and Samee and timber-rich Zakynthos. (Ithaka) itself lies low and the furthest toward the gloom, but the others lie apart toward the Dawn and the sun- it is rugged, but a good nurse of young men. The “gloom” denotes the West. I leave out the other description of Ithaca given by Athena in XIII 235-249, for the moment, but it might give even more proof.

The estuaries of the Rio Guadalquivir, flowing through Sevilla, and of the Rio Guadalete flowing along Jerez de la Frontera were much less silted up in Tartessos and Roman times as compared with nowaday’s situation. They were called Lacus Ligustinus and Sinus Tartessos respectively.

The peninsula between these waters juts out to the Atlantic as a bull’s head, due West (the Gloom, region of the dead). I suppose this was Kefallenia, the headland, literal, because κεφαλη means head, and homeland of Odysseus. Several islands lie south and east of this headland, to wit the isle of Cadiz, Gades, which I think was rocky Samee before the Fenicians established (better: re-settled) their town there. Next there also is what is now called San Fernando island, which I think was Zakynthos, the “woody island” (huliessa, ύληεσσα, rich in timber/lumber or forest), which was most probably a pile settlement on low ground where the sea was near, according to the explanation given by Cailleux.

4 Baai van Cadiz2014

Fig. 4 Bay of Cadiz, Google Earth image


Fig. 5A   Bay of Cadiz, Mapa Guia MOPT, detail

The area lying south of the Bay in my opinion should be seen as fertile Doulichion. It is bordered by streams. The name Sinus Tartessus is placed here on the map in Fig.1, and in Fig. 2 a settlement called Bolanus Portus lies here. In Doulichion (according to The Catalog) the leader Meges held sway over plenty warriors in 40 black ships. Fifty men per ship, that makes for 2000 men. Meges had also the Holy Isles, the Echinades. No need to seek further for these Echinades, as there is the famous Isla de Leon with its very, very old Temple of Melquart (the Phoenician god, also called Heracles), and various other small islands around, not all of them so rocky and erosion-resistant. These rocks are crumbling and quite sharp for ships (and human bodies). See also the paper of  Mederos Martin (2015) on this temple.

In Doulichion, so Homeros tells us, did Odysseus have grazing lands for his many cattle, and also his father Laertes had taken a town there, named Nerikos, in his heydays. But Odysseus did not take the command over the Doulichion warriors going to Troy. It is not told why, but he may not have trusted that folk. Or cunning Odysseus just wanted to keep a low profile in this risky war, taking only some 12 ships. For 2000 warriors sent to war, in 40 very expensive ships, you need an (estimated) population of 20 times more, so 40000, all-in, men women, children. Maybe someone has a better rate, more scientifically based. Odysseus in this calculation would have had some 600×20 = 12000 subjects. I think the Achaioi were the upper class, lower in numbers.

In those times this Tartessos region was already a booming business area since long, and it has long remained so. Copper, silver, other precious metals, pyrite dug since Neolithic times for export as “pyrites” (Latin), a sparking stone to make fire easily. It probably gave its name to the Pyrene River sought for later in the Pyrenees, a mistake indeed. This must have been one of the rivers descending from the mining areas north of Huelva, part of the Pyrite Belt of Spain.

I think Huelva was the steep rising Pylos”, with plenty of grazing areas around, large enough to make frequent hecatombes of cattle not too onerous for the cattle raising activities. The number of people feasting when Telemachos arrives there is amazing, nine times 500, thus 4500. Another exaggeration of Homeros? Paper won’t blush, but audience makes comments. The estuary of the Rio Guadalquivir, near where now Sevilla is, in Tartessos times was probably the territory of the Homeric Elis, where the Epeians lived as neighbours of Nestor in Pylos, and they also lived on rich soils. The Romans established Italica here as capital of the region. Distance of Pylos to Doña Blanca is about 110 km over open sea.

The location of Doña Blanca in Fig. 1 is where I suppose Ithaka (town) was situated, at the shore of the bay. A very old settlement is professionally excavated there, a place now famous for its Phoenician city ruins, where also indications are found of an earlier Urnfield Culture. A big spring coming from travertin formations is there very near, and the hill range north of it could be the Neion, actually called Sierra de San Cristobal. More about this later. The Famous Neriton then is the Sierra de Grazalema, seen from El Puerto de Santa Maria in clear weather. Here should lie the Parnassus where Odyseus had his adventure with the boar, and at whose foothills his uncle Autolykos lived. Easy to go there in those days, with a ferry over the bay near the Guadalete river mouth (at the time) and then some kilometres walking/driving.

I understand the aversion for this explanation with people grown up with Ithaka situated in the Aegean, in the middle of nowhere, on a poor rocky island where goatherds can barely find support. How can Doulichion in Greece have been so rich? People are still believing this interpretation, and that has led to the idea that Homeros was wrong in describing that classic Ithaki, to the extent that he is or was considered a fanciful poet. But what if he just sang/spoke of countries elsewhere? What’s in a name? We need no beliefs or opinions, but arguments in the discussion.

These maps in Fig. 1 up to Fig. 5 will be referred to often in following subchapters on various places around and near Ithaka mentioned by Homeros (Odyssey book XIII and others).

Phorkys beach

We start with Phorkys beach, that may also be called Phorkys Landing. Here come together some very important and yet until now unexplained descriptions that must lead to finding Ithaka. This beach I do place at the Punta de Santa Catalina, Playa de las Murallas, one of the beaches of Puerto Santa Maria (found in Fig. 5). On the satellite image one sees the underwater rocky reefs that protect the beach. On a more detailed image, (Fig. 5B) a large and a smaller rocky zone is visible, the last named is quite near to the beach. Another rock zone lies under the artificial cape of Puerto Sherry, and a (here not shown) photograph of the situation in 1984 shows this. The beach is quite fit for rapid landing directly from the Ocean, but is not a safe haven during storms. This is not just a beach. Ships came here to take in the drinking water for long travels around the world, such as the journey of Americo Vespucci to Venezuela in 1499 (yes, he gave his name to the continent). Fresh water from the dunes, very pure to keep it potable a long time, was loaded here, in casks transported over land from the springs on Fuentebravia, now called El Manantial, in some 4 kilometres distance. On the map in Fig. 5 the location at Phorkys beach is marked as Caleta del Agua (“Water Creek”, blue vertical text).

5B Kaap bij Forkysbaai

Fig 5B. Close-up of the Punta de Santa Catalina

This Punta de Santa Catalina has been used to build a fortress on it, starting with a tower early 15th century. At the time Puerto Santa Maria had become rich and important by its colonial trade. In later ages the whole cape was used for fortifications. This has erased much of the pre-existing constructions, but we know that at the time there was a chapel (ermita) dedicated to Santa Catalina. ( Ruiz Gil, Lopez Amador y Perez Fernandez, 1988) This cape was a sanctuary for sailors. The Christian Church has always had the strategy to build chapels and churches on former pagan sanctuaries, and this will most probably have been the case here too.

An entry to a subterranean construction is visible on the grounds of the fortress, (Fig. 6) and by using a camera on a stick for photographing it was shown that this is a cistern, an “Algibe”, constructed probably together with the fortress buildings. It is remarkable however that it lies quite deep, apparently unnecessary deep -some 4 metres at the bottom- for a cistern supposed to be fed with rainwater from the roofs of the buildings. The reason for this deep placement is probably a soil layer impervious for water, that helps keep the cistern to hold water. The photograph (Fig.7) shows patterns of algae, purplish-red in colour on the cistern’s ceiling. What has this to tell us?

6 catfortkelder

Fig. 6 The subterranean entry to the cistern. The Atlantic in the background.

7 Algibe2014reduct

Fig. 7 Interior of the cistern

8A Dolmen de Viera, Andalucia

Fig. 8A Dolmen de Viera, Andalucia

8B Tarxiensquarestones

Fig. 8B Squared slabs and stone basin in Tarxien sanctuary on Malta. A spring-fed cistern is near.

In my opinion here on this cape was originally a megalithic sanctuary, constructed with finely cut stone slabs from the Sierra de San Cristobal, probably the way as now is seen in the Cueva de Menga near Antiqueira and the Dolmen de Viera with its rectangular slabs, as well as in Tarxien on Malta (Figs 8 A and B). Several more such megalithic monuments are found in western Andalucia. The French call such dolmens an “allée couverte”, leaving the question open if it was a burial place or not. (Our Christian churches are places of both reverence and burial). The (floor of the) “cave” always has water says Homeros (he mentions no springs however, while some translations suggest that), and water presence is an important aspect of such dolmen sanctuaries.

Here follows the translation of the text on the bay and cave, at various places in the Odyssey. I use the texts of Butcher (1949) and Murray (1976) with some corrections of my own. Their archaic English is a disadvantage in translation attempts by computer, and they also do add words sometimes that are not found in the text of Homeros:

(XIII 96- 115) There is in the commons of Ithaka a certain beach of Phorkys, the old man of the sea, and there two projecting crumbling coastal ridges sheer to seaward, but sloping down on the side toward the beach. These keep back the great waves raised by heavy winds without, and inside the ships with their strong benches stay without mooring ropes when they have reached their final measure of landing (i.e. When the ships have far enough been pushed on the beach, as also the Phaeacians do.) At the head of the beach is a long-leafed olive tree, and near it is a pleasant shadowy cave sacred to the nymphs that are called Naiads. Therein are mixing bowls and jars of stone, and there too the bees are humming loudly. And there are in the cave long looms of stone, at which the nymphs weave webs of purple color, a wonder to behold; and there is always water. Two entrances are to the cave, one to the North Wind by which the humans enter; that to the South Wind is sacred, no humans enter there, it is the way for the immortals. Here they rowed in, knowing the place of old: and the ship ran full half her length on the shore in her swift course, at such pace was she driven by the hands of the rowers.

(XIII 344-353) (Athena speaks to Odysseus) This is the beach of Phorkys, the old man of the sea, and here at the head of the beach is the long-leafed olive tree, and near it is the pleasant shadowy cave, sacred to the nymphs that are called Naiads. This thou must know is the vaulted cave (σπεος κατηρεφες) in which thou was wont to offer to the nymphs many hecatombs that bring fulfilment; and yonder is Mount Neriton, clothed with its forests. So spake the goddess and scattered the mist, and the land appeared. Glad then was the much-enduring goodly Odysseus, rejoicing in his own land. (Odysseus then prays to the Nereids and Naiads that have helped him to come home)

(XIII363-371) But let us now forthwith set thy goods in the innermost recess of the wondrous cave, where they may abide for thee in safety, and let us ourselves take thought how all may be far the best. So saying the goddess entered the shadowy cave and searched out its hiding-places. And Odysseus brought all the treasur thither, the gold and the stubborn bronze and the finely wrought raiment, which the Phaeacians gave him. These things he carefully laid away and Pallas Athene set a stone at the entrance.

9 original basin stone

Fig.9 New Grange, the stone basin

The cave is dimly lighted, and the terms used for describing it (XIII 349) do indicate that its roof was constructed (κατηρεφές, which has the verb for roof making in it), rather than natural. The construction must have lost its soil cover partly in Homeros’ time, letting in some light. The orientation and the two entrances indicate a function as solstitium sanctuary, the location indicates a strong connection with the sea and its Naiads and Nereids. Such nymphs are the eldest of divine beings. The later name Santa Catalina keeps the tradition of a sanctuary of matriarchal origin.

The cave had various chambers probably, as Athena can easily find places to stow away the treasures of Odysseus. This type of sanctuary reminds of New Grange in Ireland, where also a large stone basin is found (Fig. 9). Such furniture is typical, and also known from sanctuaries on Malta. Lately a stele with New Grange type concentric decoration was found, coming from the Sierra de San Cristobal, barely rescued from dumping at the sea shore, and now in the Municipal Museum. Atlantic contacts as far as Ireland are actually becoming clear evermore in archaelogy.

The presence of bees is logic, as there was no fresh open water for several kilometres around, while the commons (demos, δημος,), the grazing lands of Ithaka, where the young sheperd roamed that later on proved to be Athena, were quite good for bee forage. Bees do not enter pitch dark natural caves, but here they like the “cave”. The weaving looms on which the nymphs did weave purplish textures are the rectangular stone slabs with their bottoms in the humid floor, creating good conditions for the algae such as we also now see in the cistern, be it periodically changing in aspect and pattern because of varying humidity. Homeros not often says it is wonderful, but here he does. No need to take recourse to a stalactitic cavern here. Sometimes the solution is easier than was thought.

The sanctuary thus is not natural but an old dolmen. That it is named a cave is normal for all stone chambers underground in many languages. E.g. in English, French and Spanish natural caves and artificial caves are all summarized as caves. The treasures of Odysseus are well kept there by the will of the gods says Homeros. In traditional celtic regions in Ireland still an elfin location is sacrosanct and no wanderer will take away goods (hoards) deposited there, as stealing is punished by the elves. The olive tree will have been planted by an expert, as it had access to fresh water in deep soil on the impervious soil layer, which it severely needed so near to the sea. Homeros says the cave is not far from the beach where the Phaeacians did lay down the sleeping Odysseus. He must have seen the gleaming new bronze treasures when he woke up, so the olive tree was not far from him, where he was laid down on the beach. On the satellite image the distance from the beach to the cave is about 150 m. The heavy walls of the later fortress must have asked for reshaping the cape, and it may have been less steep at the time of Odysseus, giving place to the olive tree, near to the sand of the beach. The impetuous landing of the ship is deliberate, to avoid being floated up soon by the upcoming tide. Homeros says they knew the place; it always was a dangerous reef for large ships. The “beach of Phorkys” is shown in Fig. 10.

How can we know that the above explanation is true? More research is needed, but indeed justified by all this found. Maybe pieces of the old slabs can be found which have been used in the construction of the fortification, maybe some cautious digging by expert archaeologists can demonstrate traces of the floor of the sanctuary. Or in old archives more may be found written about the history of the chapel.

To convince Odysseus, Athena lifts the haze around Neriton mountain range, some 70 km away. A photograph taken from the Playa de la Puntilla, east of Puerto Sherry, shows the mountains of the Sierra Gaditana dimly appearing from the clouds (Fig. 11) . The highest peak is the Pinar, at 1645 metres. Fig. 12 shows its south flank, clad with Pinsapo conifers, due to reforestation projects. These conifers with their rustling needles do enchant visiting climbers with their eternal song, an experience many people have had and do remember. This is in my opinion what Homeros summons up with this (cited) phrase in book IX, and not just falling leaves.

10 Phorkysbeach

Fig. 10 “Phorkys beach” with Las Murallas (of the fortresss) and the reef in the Atlantic

11 Neriton

Fig.11. Neriton unveiled, seen from the Playa de la Puntilla

12 Neritonflank 2

Fig.12 The flank of the Pinar (about 1600 m high). Grazing has destroyed much forest here.

The swineherd’s domain

Odysseus is changed by Athena into a beggar, and departs for a 10 km walk to the pig farm where his serf Eumaios lives. See Fig. 13. This farm I think is on the southern slope of the Sierra de San Cristobal, where oak forest should have been reserved to accomodate the pigs (that need shade and water in hot weather), as even today is the custom in Spain. The oaks have long gone, and the forest is badly degraded, but oak wood of some thousands of years ago has been found in the ruins of the Fenician town at Castillo de Doña Blanca. On the calcareous Sierra are caves, mostly man made to produce stones and slabs, and there is also water at various places. The area of forest I estimate at 200 -350 ha, for the 600 sows and 360 boars that remained of all swine Eumaios had reared. More land was probably used for so many animals, be it swine of lesser size and semi-feral.

Pork was highly prized food for the elite at the time of Odysseus, and he, the king, must have had the prerogative to have his own pig farm on this dry southern forested slope, not fit for farming. Herding swine is a specialty, these animals are quite intelligent but also appreciate easy living, comfort and good food, so do not run when provided with all this. Theft, more specific poaching, is a problem and that is why Eumaios has several ferocious dogs and a safe sty. Today, in Spain, the jamon de bellota, dried ham from swine fattened on acorns is a top food, good for much export.

In this Sierra de San Cristobal (see figs 14 and 15) are found remnants of megalithic and later cultures, and the indication on the map of a “hermita” also testifies of a long history. It is regarded as a sacred place since long. From here came the decorated Megalithic stele in the museum. The Raven’s Rock mentioned may be known to local experts, but it is also possible that it has been destroyed by the gigantic quarry that now disgraces the western part of the Sierra. See also the website <> about all sort of information on this region. Probably the eastern part of the Sierra was the Neion hill/mountain that lay high above Ithaka, while the Hermes Hill mentioned by Homeros may be connected with the 100 ha cemetery (necropolis), as it is Hermes who leads the souls of the deceased to the Hades (book XXIV).

13 RoutesIthaka

Fig. 13 The walk of Odysseus to the Sierra de San Cristobal (some 10 km) and from there to Castillo de Doña Blanca, the supposed Ithaka place (yellow marker pin).

14 Dona3

Fig. 14 Sierra de San Cristobal with the spring and the Phoenician ruins below the E-W road. The new highway crosses the quarries in the western part of the hill complex. Highest point about 100m.

15 Cristobalmapreduc2

Fig. 15 Map of San Cristobal mountain

A beggar goes to town; the return of Odyseus to his palace

A pleasant stay in the countryside, with good meals, and good stories, is broken off when Odysseus decides to go to town. The undulating path is sometimes slippery, such that an old man needs a stick, as Homeros suggests. The swineherd and his disguised lord arrive near town and then first pass the spring where the citizens fetch their water. See the map with the routes walked by Odysseus (Fig. 13).

This spring was, together with the already discussed cave at the seaside, one of the essential but most puzzling characteristics in the age-old search for Ithaka. In the Aegean (Greece) context there is no elegant solution for this, as there is usually scanty evidence of palace ruins, let alone a town’s ruins, and the “springs” found are too far away, or just dry, or nonexistent. Goekoop’s solution (Goekoop 1991) is the best of all this, but his Phiscardo source has no water, a far cry from kalli-rho-oon (καλλιροον, fair flowing) and also is not stoutly built ((τυκτην, tektoon) as a multi-generation project of the forefathers Ithakus, Neritus and Polyctoor. No poplar forest around there; the Aegean context is fruitless. See also Figs 16, 17 and 18.

The spring near Castillo de Doña Blanca has been subject to several changes over time. In 1726 there was reported to be a chapel complex called La Piedad, in which context the spring was also tapped and led over an aqueduct to nearby gardens. History information is given on the website <>. The spring is flowing richly, with hundreds of litres per minute, rising from the dept of a calcareous formation, and originating from the heights of San Cristobal, as also Homeros appears to suggest when he speaks about the spring. It surely was the grand reason to settle here on the nearby heights in already the Urnfield Culture period and earlier.

16 lokatie bron en stad

Fig. 16 Doña Blanca castle with the Phoenician ruins and the two poplar forests. Pine forest lies adjacent to the grey asphalt road. The residential area at left will be discussed below.

17 DonaBlancaspringand field

Fig. 17 More details of Doña Blanca site. Poplar forest at right might be Apollo’s holy forest, the poplar forest at left is around the spring (but partly gone through the grazing). The outflow of the spring is dark, and shows to be profuse. The earth retaining walls are covered by the forest. Open space inbetween the two forests is sandy, quite flat, at 10 m altitude was never flooded, and still used for sports nowadays. The site of the palace may have been below the tower in the right hand upper corner. Distance between tower and spring is about 200 m. More in the text.

18 DonablancaView

Fig. 18 View on Castillo de Doña Blanca from the path that passes above the spring. Here may have been the scene that Odysseus the beggar got kicked by the goatherd. Next minute he hears Femius play the lyre in his own palace. After the insult by the goatherd he now expects some hundred of brash young men to see and loath him. Full of emotions he grasps the hand of his swineherd.

19 Springflowreduc

Fig. 19 The flow of the spring is rich. Καλλιροος (beautifully flowing) is the word that Homeros uses.

On the detailed map of San Cristobal mountain (Fig. 15) one may see the (little) sign for a chapel that was formerly here. About the spring Homeros gives one more word, viz. that it was “strongly built” (τυκτην). And there are strong earth retaining walls built above the level where the travertin formation, on which the poplars grow, starts to deliver water. Those walls we now see are quite recent, but such walls must have been needed from the beginning to keep the water-drenched soil from shifting down. Homeros says that some three forefathers, Ithakos, Neritos and Poluktoor had built them, thus it was a great public work. Older walls or the foundations may be found on inspection. The actual spring location (see also Fig. 19) may be the result of sapping of the water source over time. The water flow may partly have been increased since a watering channel leading from the Guadalete to the West along the asphalt road has been built. The channel may leak.

Below the translation of the text of Homeros is given:                                                                                                                      (XVII 204-213) But when, as they went along the rugged path, they were near the city, and had come to a well-wrought, fair-flowing fountain, wherefrom the townsfolk drew water – this had Ithakos made, and Neritos and Polyctor, and around was a grove of poplars that grow by the waters, circling it on all sides, and down the cold water flowed from the rocks above, and on the top was built an altar to the nymphs where all passers-by made offerings – there Melantheus, son of Dolios, met them as he was driving his she-goats.Then Melantheus gives a torrent of abuse.
(XVIII 233-238) So he (Melantheus) spoke and as he passed he kicked Odysseus on the hip in his folly, yet he did not drive him from the path, but he stood steadfast. And Odysseus pondered whether he should leap upon him and take his life with his staff, or seize him roundabout, and lift him up, and dash his head upon the ground. Yet he endured, and stayed him from his purpose.
(Melantheus dies a terrible death after all wooers have been killed)

The spring was fully surrounded by poplar forest, but the cattle grazing has reduced this, as visible on the Google Earth image in Fig. 17. One of the great things of Google Earth is that the altitude of the spot is given quite exactly, and the poplar forest at the right in Fig.17 is also on high soil not flooded by the waves of the bay. Maybe it is the holy forest of Apollo, where on that ominous day the citizens went for a ceremony. Some sort of city parkland.

I assume that Homeros and his contemporaries did know that the water came from under the hillside, the more because uphill there are water reservoirs in the caves made there. We should not underestimate our forebears. Already in the third century BC a certain Eratosthenes was able to calculate the circumference of the earth using two distant deep wells and a plumb. Eratosthenes was quite right in his outcome.

Shortly after the kicking scene Odysseus sees his house, when the two come out of the poplar forest, and he hears the music of the feast therein. (see Fig. 18) Emotional this must have been, and it even gets worse, as when entering his place, he sees his old dog, very neglected and nearly dead. And the dog, Argos (Rapid), the symbol of Odysseus’ once vital youth, does recognize his voice! Odysseus can barely hide his feelings from Eumaios, but has to wipe his tears. Even his meeting with Penelope does not evoke this later on, he has in this stage even more learnt to keep a cool face.

Homeros says the old dog dies soon after this: But as for Argos, the fate of black death seized him straightway when he had seen Odysseus in the twentieth year. Right in the sphere of Homeros, Hermes let me find a bleached dog’s skull on this path leading to the hill of Dona Blanca. Sometimes reality is really fantastic. I kept the skull of course, to give it a new name.

The book of Goekoop (1991) gives several useful discussions, e.g. about the position of the town Ithaka and the palace. He concludes that the palace was nearer to the spring than was the city, and that the harbour was East of the city. The meeting place may have been inbetween palace and city, and the Phoenician city may have engulfed all these separate locations later, heaping much rubble on them.

20 Secuencia Dona Blanca reduc

Fig. 20 Chronology of the occupation of the site at Dona Blanca

The folder on the archeological excavations at Dona Blanca mentions a thousand-year break between the first occupations in the 2nd milennium BC and the later period of the Phoenicians starting building their walls at about 800 BC. A posted sign on the ruins gives a chronology. See Fig. 20. So no occupation was found dating from around 1200 BC, the time that the Troy war is supposed to have taken place. The site is about 6.5 hectares, and only for a very small part yet excavated, and the rubble layers are many metres deep. My own idea is: The absence of evidence is no evidence of absence. (Addendum of march 2016:  if the date of Troy’s fall is changed to 9th or 8th century BC there is no conflicting evidence  anymore, see page  Invasions, Ilium and Homeros)

21 Playfieldreduc

Fig. 21 The playing field seen to the West, from the position of the palace (but much higher nowadays). Puerto Santa Maria is visible over the poplar forest around the spring.

A few words about the estate of Laertes: It was some distance from the meeting place, as on the morning after the slaughter Odysseus trusts he can take a good breakfast when only he sets out a watchman to look out for the enraged citizens to come and fight. I assume it was somewhere under the residential area now called La Piedad, or even more near to the spring, under the residences visible on the image in Fig. 17. Laertes had first choice of estate locations but he had to fight (or work) for it to obtain this estate, says Homeros. No watering of the orchard is mentioned, maybe because the phreatic water was well near the topsoil on the travertin. A map indicating the occurrence of travertin is in the publication on Doña Blanca ruins by Ruiz Mata & Perez, (no year given, maybe 1995). This booklet also gives photographs that make clear that a huge landfill has been made just above the spring.

That the palace is nearer to the spring than is the city indicates the status of the inhabitants of the palace. It is a desirable place for living. I further assume that the nymphs of the spring made the people a bit shy of building houses too near that place, as it was considered sacred.

22 Phoenician harbour

Fig. 22 Reconstruction on paper of the harbour in Phoenician times. (The southern beach is sketched too near of the town)

The harbour was improved in the Phoenician period, and a reconstruction was drawn. See Fig. 22. I suppose the little bay was quite smaller in the times of Ithaka, with some choice of water depth wherein to moor the ship when not drawn on the beach. Remember the Sinus Tartessos was an open bay with sea water, although the large waves of the Atlantic did not reach to here usually. Spring tide and storm combined may have had its effects however.

Telemachos to Pylos and Sparta

The journey of Telemachos is initiated by his meeting with Mentes, a (business) friend of his father, in the first book of the Odyssey. Mentes is indeed Athena disguised as a man, and he convinces Telemachos to hire a ship and go for information about his father. He has to speak to Nestor, in Pylos, which I think is Huelva, and to Menelaos, who lives in Sparta, some two days driving with chariot from Pylos. Mentes says he has landed his ship in the Reithron bay. On the maps this is rapidly identified as the bay that leads to what is now Jerez de la Frontera. Here one turned back from a trip through the Sinus Tartessus. See maps in Fig. 1  and 2.

Pylos            (revised in March 2016 as for the riddle of the wind direction, and again in July 2017 for the same subject)

Telemachos departs at dusk, admonished by Mentor to ask his companions to sit at the oars (II 402 and following) and appears to set sail nearly immediately. He will have rown at least a short distance before setting sail. The distance over sea from Ithaka in the Sinus Tartessos to Pylos (Huelva) is about 110 km, which can be done in one night sailing with favourable wind. Homeros says a strong West wind was sent, and then for the first time in this interpretation a problem rises, as with the usual square sail of the time one could not sail out of the Sinus, which is some 10 km, when a plumb western wind was blowing, unless he first sailed south to Samee and then changed course to the northwest. But Homeros tells the story as if Telemachos went straight for Pylos. They even fixed the ropes of the sail. Homeros does not mention that they have to row until the ship is out of the bay, but this use of oars near the harbour is often mentioned and seems the usual procedure before hoisting the sail.  It should be mentioned that it was at night, and that the wind sang in the rigging of the ship. That last remark points to a transverse wind I think, not a following wind. An elegant solution is that  the Zephyr also will include a southwestern wind, and such wind makes a course possible with “sail beam reach” (the wind blowing about perpendicular to the ship’s keel). Such a course indeed gives a pleasant action and sound of  ropes, sail and waves.

This approach makes the assumption of a corruption in the text quite unnecessary. The text below thus is superfluous, but is kept for the moment  to avoid confusion

(A possible solution of this riddle of the wind direction came to me when looking at the names of the winds in Greek, as the name for the eastern wind is Euros. The Eu is a diphthong, and thus Euros fits the metrum of Zefuros.  With an east wind it is perfectly possible to sail directly from Ithaka (Doña Blanca) to  Pylos (Huelva).)

It is thus the solution of this riddle to assume a (small) corruption of the text in Antiquity, to fit it to the usual interpretations of the locations  in Greece of Ithaca and Pylos, for which an east wind (Euros) would be unworkable and thus has been changed into a west wind (Zefyros). The metrum of the verse had  no need to be altered.

Nestor receives Telemachos and his company very friendly. He is just feasting with his men on the broad beach of the sea. His town is very often indicated as the “sandy Pylos”, and indeed so much sand as there is near and especially south of Huelva is seldom found in Europe. Here lie the sandy pleasure grounds of the Coto de Doñana. Nestor’s settlement is characterized as steep rising, and Huelva city still is. The forefathers of Nestor had taken the place a few generations before, and there is no mentioning of the riches won by the mining in the region. I suppose that was kept in own hands by the ancient tribes mining the deposits in the mountains, and that there was paid a good tribute, but Nestor’s people were mainly interested in cattle breeding, horse taming, training for fighting, all sorts of rich man’s pursuits. And stealing cattle from neighbours of course. The town was fortified, steep.

23 swords in Huelva copy

Fig. 23 A hoard of swords from the river bottom near Huelva. Possibly lost from a ship by accident.

Huelva has a rich history, visible during a visit to the museum. E.g a bronze hoard of swords is shown there that has been found in the estuary of the Rio Odiel and Rio Tinto. (Fig. 23) The region is very fit for cattle and horses, as well as chariot driving. His son Antilochos was an expert charioteer, very unlike Odysseus, who always fought on foot, and sometimes seems to glorify in that. The city of Nestor was close to the sea shore. See Fig. 24.

Where the metals and ores from the mining may have gone will be discussed later, when the trip back to Ithaka is described, passing past Chalkis.

24 Huelvafasenreduct

Fig. 24 The peninsula of Huelva in Tartessos times. The bay was salt, or slightly brackish, as the two rivers have little flow rate, and the salty shore close to the citadel (upper red dots). Photograph of poster in the Huelva museum.


Next traject of the journey is to Menelaos, who can be visited with a two day’s trip on a chariot, with a stop at Pherae, at the house of a renowned man, Diocles, who was a child of the river Alpheus. It is a bit bold to link this river Alpheus with the Guiadalquivir, but indeed this Alpheus is mentioned as the river flowing through Elis (Ilias II 592). Looking on the modern map (not shown here) we see the very old town Cordoba lying in a distance of some 200 km from Huelva.

If this is Sparta, where Menelaus lived, it must lie low in a valley (as a contrast with the steep rising Pylos), be rich in plow-land fit for wheat growing, and there must be a characteristic visible, to wit many ravines around town. A Google Earth image of Cordoba shows a typical geological formation north of the town, with many ravines (Fig. 25). I suppose this has to do with the availability of plenty spring water there, for which the town was chosen for a very early settlement already in the Neolithicum, and was favoured since then many times, especially by the Moors. One of the other riches of Cordoba is the excellent agricultural land in the river plain south of town. Homeros calls the region of Menelaus Lakedaimon.

25 Cordobareduct

Fig. 25 Cordoba, lying low amidst many ravines.

Cordoba had nothing to fear from suddenly appearing seafaring pirates and thus could be built in a low place. Menelaus does not have unexpected guests often, as is shown by the behaviour of his majordomo Eteoneus, who hesitates to be hospitable when seeing strangers. What a contrast with the reception at Pylos!

Cordoba can be reached from Huelva by chariot without need to cross deep rivers. From Huelva to Sevilla one has to ford only minor streams and when reaching the Guadalquivir just driving along the northern shore of the Guiadalquivir is sufficient. This road through the river plains must have existed since the Neolithicum. Ships can be hauled to Cordoba coming from Sevilla  (“Elis”), but it is not a rapid and open traject, as one has to pass the people of Elis. Telemachos would not use that route either, the chariot was much faster and safer.

Menelaus is rich, very rich, like his brother Agamemnon was, who had very many people under him, which situation is characterized with the epitheton “anax androon”, which means ruler of people. He had much power over his subjects, living from agriculture, who were easy to tax and to command. There was little way out of this for the farmers. The archeologists have found in the El Argar early Bronze Age culture in Eastern Andalucia/ Murcia that such situations could easily lead to near-slavery. In contrast, Odysseus is called “herdsman of his people” (poimen laoon, ποιμην λαων) which sets a quite different picture. That title could mean there was more freedom in Ithaka. Odysseus as leader in Ithaka is often mentioned by Homeros to have been gentle with his people.

The characterizations of these two leaders in the discussion between Priamos and Helena in the Ilias also gives such different impressions. These two see the Achaian army settled down before the ramparts of Troy, during an armistice, and Odysseus, going through the ranks of his men, is compared with a ram pacing through his flock, while Agamemnon holds himself as a real king.

The kingdom of Agamemnon must be sought elsewhere, but surely in a region where wheat land was plenty available, as this must have been the preference of Atreus, their (somewhat insane) father. This wheat crop can best be grown on rich soils that can be plowed, and this restricts the choices. Actually the fertilizers we can use have changed this aspect deeply. More about that later.

Back to Ithaka

Returning from Pylos in a hurry, Telemachos passes several locations explicitly named by Homeros We try to link them to the map in Fig 1. They fare past Krounoi first. This means “springs” and these indeed can be found on the shore of the Parque de Coto de Donana, somewhere between Mazagon and Matalascanas. These springs, coming from the fossil dunes eroded by the Ocean, had none and still have no important habitations near, except some fisher’s huts. I assume the danger of pirates was too great, and also no agriculture is possible. The springs are good for a rapid visit by ship to take in fresh water. See Figs 26 and 27.

26 Manantial

Fig. 26 Fresh water springs at the sea coast of Coto de Doñana

27 ManantialPalo

Fig. 27 Another spring at the Coto de Doñana sea coast

Then the ship passes Chalkis, which name indicates copper or bronze. See Fig.1. I suppose this Chalkis is El Rocio, where at the time much copper was shipped, as marked on the map of Tartessos (page 37) in the Atlas of Garcia de Cortazar (2012). The river flowing through a flat sandy landscape near El Rocio is indeed paradisaical; I give a photograph in Fig. 28, taken from the Kathedral’s sandy square. No mud here. El Rocio is famous for its pelgrimage with nearly a million of participants trekking through the Coto de Doñana park.

28 ElRocioB reduc

Fig. 28 El Rocio borders on beautiful streams

Then Pheae is passed by the ship of Telemachos. Maybe this was the sandy cape that ended the sea coast along Coto de Doñana. It extended less far than actually is the case, maybe already at today’s Matalascanas. Here one could turn to Elis, over the Lacus Lagustinus to sail up the river Alpheus (See Map in Fig 1).

Telemachos next had to change course somewhat, to round the first cape of Kefallenia, near actual Chipiona. He ponders about how to escape the ambush of the wooers, and has found the solution by landing on the shore near actual Playa de Fuentebravia, before the ship had to turn into the Sinus Tartessos. To land there is a bit more complicated than on Forkys beach, but with some manoeuvres they succeed. He then sets out alone on foot to the swineherd on San Cristobal Mountain. His crew fears no killing by the wooers, as it is Telemachos who is the only target.

Telemachos thus avoids crossing the strait between Samee and Kefallenia where the much sought “sharp isles” must be found. And there they are, on an old map found in the exposition in Municipal museum of Puerto Santa Maria. See Fig. 29. Several islands are shown on the map, but the most likely is the one called “El Diamante”. This must be the “Star island”, Asteris (Odyssey IV 844), a rock that has been eroded away since and only is a submarine rock now marked with a buoy. The others have interesting names too: Los Cochinos (the boars); Las Puercas (the sows), and La Olla (the cooking pot). Down under San Fernando island, which I suppose is Zakynthos, can be seen the holy island where was the temple of Melkart. The erosion of this geological formation is quite rapid, as testified by the state of the fortress on the Santa Catalina cape, that was built in the 16th century and already is tumbling down the shoreline. Another map which is of later date is given in Fig. 30.

The harbour of Ithaka where Telemachus’ ship finally lands was already discussed above. Mark that the harbour should have been visible from the hillside above, which Homeros calls Hermes’ Hill. On the map in Fig. 31 a little knoll is visible with a height indicated of about 66 m above sea level, lying above the Necropolis. Here Eumaios  should have seen the ship with armoured men entering the harbour (Od. XVI 470-475). An ancient foot path still runs here.  Would  be good to check that visibility with a field observation.

More information may be found when local experts do read the Odyssey and recognize characteristics which for me now are not yet visible.

29 Asteris as El Diamante

Fig. 29 Asteris here presented as El Diamante, or maybe it is Las Puercas

30 AtaqueDrakes

Fig. 30 Map from the time of admiral Drake. Very schematic, but it shows Las Puercas as well as El Diamante, being important places for the ships during the siege.

Fig. 31. Map with contour lines of the Doña Blanca site. From  Ruiz y Perez 1995.


The above discourse will surely be supplemented or even completed from further information locally provided by people that know their environment much better than I could during my few short visits. I remember that a certain Menestheus was reputed to have been active in the region, and I hope this may open new perspectives in further research.