The military man who in the 60s paved the way to discover an unknown Roman city in Artieda de Aragón


“The story is a bit bizarre or surreal”, warns Enrique Osset before beginning a story that goes back to the summer of 1963, with his family’s vacation in Artieda de Aragón, and that almost 60 years later has known its epilogue in the discovery of a hitherto unknown Roman city in the vicinity of this town located on the border of the provinces of Zaragoza and Navarra.

The first exploratory tastings carried out from July 19 to August 13 by a team from the University of Zaragoza (Unizar), the UNED, the University of Salamanca and the Institut Ausonius of the University of Bordeaux in the field known as the Forau de

the Tuta have confirmed the existence of network of streets of a city and they have brought to light a black and white mosaic with marine motifs in good condition, in what they believe were some hot springs. These first steps could not have been more hopeful. The archaeologists have no doubts that in those same fields of the Pre-Pyrenees a city of high Roman imperial times was built, of unknown name, which until now had remained in oblivion.

Section of street uncovered in excavations
Section of street uncovered in excavations – Zaragoza’s University

The studies began after the Artieda City Council contacted Unizar’s Department of Antiquity Sciences, as it was aware that there was something in that area. In the nearby hermitage of San Pedro, two Corinthian capitals that were used in its construction stand out, one on the outside and one on the inside (discovered in 2006 when the rebocado was removed), as well as column shafts and other construction materials monumental.

Roman capital in the hermitage
Roman capital in the hermitage

In the area of ​​the ravine, some hydraulic structures were also known, with a great Roman cement wall and sewers, which made us think that near there, centuries ago, the bustle of a city could be heard.

Another piece of information led to the same idea. In a field located just over a kilometer from the Forau de la Tuta, in Rienda, Enrique Osset Moreno discovered in 1963 a Roman villa with a magnificent mosaic that is now preserved in the Zaragoza Museum.

Now, almost sixty years later, the work that this military man carried out on his own has been of great help to researchers. “We are heirs to his legacy, we have followed in his footsteps a bit,” says archaeologist Paula Uribe, one of the research directors.

Enrique Osset Jr. barely keeps some somewhat blurred images from then, as he was only 6 years old, but the documents kept in his house have allowed him and his brothers to discover the long fight that his father had in those years of the Franco regime to bring to light the past buried in the fields of Artieda.

Enrique Osset with two of his children drawing their findings in Artieda
Enrique Osset with two of his children drawing their findings in Artieda – Loaned by the Osset family

The Osset family came that summer to spend a month in the house that their maternal grandmother had in the village and in conversations with the locals, it did not take long for the accident that a young farmer had suffered during the spring to come up. Francisco Iguacel had tested his new tractor in a field, which was making a deeper furrow, and had run into a huge stone that broke the plow share. Enrique Osset went to see the stone they were talking about and realized that it was a Roman column. «He was an infantry captain, but he liked history and had certain knowledge»Explains his son.

The appearance of more remains and the tastings that he was doing in the field made him conceive the idea that he was in front of a Roman villa. «In the town people thought that the remains that were appearing in the countryside were from the time of the Moors. Some had a stone sarcophagus that was used as a trough for livestock, and sometimes they found rare stones, columns … but they did not associate it with the Romans, ”says the oldest of the Osset family.

A spectacular mosaic

Although he was digging alone, since it was harvest season and everyone in the town was busy, the military man soon discovered a spectacular mosaic of about 90 square meters with hunting and fishing themes. Immediately, he alerted the authorities of the valuable find and the news spread. At that time a note from the Logos agency was published in this newspaper, which mistakenly attributed the find to the farmer. Days later, Osset sent the ABC newsroom a letter clarifying the matter and that the newspaper extracted on October 16. In it he said that there were already two fine tile mosaics that he had found.

Detail drawn by Osset of the main mosaic of the town of Rienda
Detail drawn by Osset of the main mosaic of the town of Rienda – The Osset family

He even uncovered several more in Rienda, in a worse state of conservation, and was recognizing the entire area during that summer. Enrique says that he spoke with the forest rangers, asked the people of the town and compiled everything that the locals had to say. Thus he learned of the remains that had been found here and there. With all the information, he wrote a report in which he placed three main sites: the Forau de la Tuta, where he believed to identify remains of a Roman camp, and to the left and right two Roman villas, that of Rienda and another called Villa del Sastre. “My father assumed that the Forau de la Tuta was the nucleus, the Roman camp that later became a city, and that later the wealthiest were building villas in the countryside to the left and right, because the river was still the border” , Explain.

Sketch of Osset from the Forao de la Tuta
Sketch of Osset del Forao de la Tuta – The Osset family

Osset dedicated that summer to excavating and investigating the area, more focused on the town of Rienda, where he had found the most spectacular mosaic. At the end of the vacation, the family returned to Ceuta, where the military was stationed. But from there and later from Jaca, he dedicated himself to writing articles and sending letters to the civil and military authorities, experts and newspapers, so that the Roman town could be rescued. “He was there for 6 years and they ignored him”his son laments. There was only funding to move the main mosaic to the Museum of Zaragoza, under the supervision of Professor Antonio Beltrán. The rest stayed there and the field continued to be plowed afterwards for years. Enrique Osset fell ill with cancer in 1970 and died the following year, without achieving his purpose.

Years later, their children found their ‘Red Book’ with their writings and drawings, which they have digitized and shared with the researchers who have contacted them and, of course, with the University of Zaragoza. Enrique, who was present as a child when the mosaic was removed, has been placing the places noted by his father on current maps thanks to Google Earth.

«This story is like a relay race. My father, who was an infantry captain and fond of stones, intervened in the summer of 1963, locating the sites and recognizing with tastings what he could; Antonio Beltrán with those of Fine Arts removed the mosaic for the museum and the subject was abandoned. They took it up a few years ago, we cooperated with them, we passed them our papers and data and since 2020 it is the archaeologist Paula Uribe who has been in charge, I think it’s pretty good, “he sums up.

His father already wrote it down in an article he published in the magazine ‘Ejército’: «The traces of a village practically do not disappear; it is only necessary to know how to discover or interpret them ».


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