1. Baelo Claudia
The Roman city of Baelo Claudia in Andalusia is one of the best surviving examples of an ancient Roman town in Spain. Sitting directly on the coast, Baelo Claudia is a beautiful site to visit, with both stunning views and ancient ruins.
Today, Baelo Claudia is a place where visitors can observe the fundamental characteristics of a classical Roman city and there are many aspects to the site that can still be viewed. hese include the forum and the temples of the Capitolium as well as temples of eastern character such as that which is dedicated to Isis. Beyond these elements are a Basilica, administrative buildings or the municipal archive, market, theatre, baths, city walls & gates, streets, aqueducts and cisterns.
Step back in time with the top ten Roman sites in Spain
So goes the line in the famous Monty Python movie "The life of Brian" but as far as Spain is concerned, the Romans actually did quite a bit for the country and much of what they built still exists today, so we picked out ten of our favourite Roman sites that you can go and see when you visit Spain.
History of Roman Spain
The Romans first came to Spain in 206 BC when they invaded the Iberian Peninsula from the south. They fought the Iberians and defeated them at Alcalá del Rio, which is near today’s Seville. On this site the town of Itálica was founded and Spain fell under Roman occupation for the next 700 years. In the north, however, the Celts and Basques continued to fight the Romans and didn’t fall until 19 BC. In all it took the Romans two centuries to gain complete control of Spain.
The country was divided into two parts, initially. These were Hispania Citerior in the East and Hispania Ulterior in the South and West. There are many towns and historic sites that you can visit in Spain that show the impact that the Romans had, and still have, on the country.
Itálica is an archaeological site close to Seville, in Andalucía. It is one of the largest Roman sites in Spain. In fact work is still continuing today and may never be completed as it covers such a vast area, including the ruins of one of the biggest amphitheatres in Roman Europe. The town was the birthplace of many famous Romans including the emperor Hadrian. Carmona, also close to Seville, contains an amphitheatre and a necropolis as well as impressive archways and mosaics. The necropolis actually holds the remains of over a thousand Roman families that lived around 2,000 years ago. One tomb is the size of a nobleman’s villa.
Another town in Andalucía that was founded by the Romans is the port of Córdoba. It was the furthest point that the Romans could navigate up the Guadalquivir River and became extremely important for exporting olive oil, wine and other goods back to Rome. The bridge over the river, “El Puente Romano”, is one of the few remaining structures that was built by the Romans. Baelo Claudia, near Cadiz, is another coastal town worth visiting. There is a Roman settlement just north of the present village. It was an important link between Spain and Africa and fish salting was its major industry. Other Roman sites in Andalucía include the villa at Rio Verde which has outstanding mosaic floors, the Roman baths at Manilva that were allegedly used by Julius Caesar and Asido Caesarino at Medina Sidonia which has some of the earliest examples of Roman plumbing.
In the west of Spain is the city of Mérida which is the capital of Extremadura. This was the capital of the Lusitania region, founded in 25 BC and was linked with Seville by road. It has a huge wealth of Roman monuments including the Trajan archway, Roman bridge over the Guadiana river, remains of a forum, the Temple of Diana, the Circus Maximus, the Milagro aqueduct, the Mitreo villa, the Embalse de Proserpina and Cornalvo reservoirs. In fact there are so many preserved Roman remains here that the town has been declared a World Heritage site.
In Central Spain, to the south of Madrid, you will find Toledo which was originally the capital of Spain. It is built on a hilltop, overlooking the plains. The main fortress, the Alcazar, is on the original site of the Roman fortress. The Alcantara Bridge and the many remains of Roman walls signify how important the city was in Roman times. There are also the remains of a Roman circus which was the largest of its time and was remarkably close in style to the Circus Maximus in Rome. Northeast of Madrid,near the town of Soria you’ll find Roman ruins at Numancia. This town was the capital of the Celtiberian people and proved remarkably resistant to Roman rule, only falling after Scipio starved the population into submission.
To the north of Madrid is Segovia. By far its most impressive Roman monument is the aqueduct. It is actually used as the emblem of the city. It dates back from the 1st or 2nd century and is held together by the weight of the blocks and gravity. There is no mortar whatsoever. It is 728 metres long with 167 arches. At its highest point, it reaches almost 29 metres. Throughout central Spain you will find evidence of the Roman occupation. Also, there are examples of the traditionally straight Roman roads and the bridges that they had to build over the numerous small rivers to continue the path of the road.
To the north east of Spain is Catalonia, with its capital, Barcelona. However, it is the city of Tarragona that was one of the most important Roman cities during the 3rd century BC. It was a military and political centre and the capital of the largest province in Roman Spain at the time. Because of its mild climate and coastal location it was actually one of the Roman’s first resort towns in Spain. There is a wealth of amphitheatres and aqueducts among other remnants of the Roman occupation. Further north on the coast of Catalonia is Empúries where there are fine remains of a Roman town which was built on a Greek colony.
Spain has a wealth of historic sites that you can visit to see evidence of the Roman occupation. The above is just a small sample of what you can see on your visit to Spain.
When the conquerors of the Roman Empire came to this area of León they discovered gold, so the place quickly became a priority that they had to defend and exploit. In what is now the natural-historical park of Las Médulas, the Romans extracted the precious mineral from the limestone by violently channelling the water through the interior of the mountain. This practice left for posterity an impressive set of tunnels and remains of mining operations, since 1997 a protected heritage, which spread around the 12,000 hectares that include the park, piercing and forming impressive balconies inside the reddish mountains.
Sand Dunes Preserved These Roman Baths in Spain for Thousands of Years
Archaeologists at the University of Cádiz recently announced the discovery of a series of ancient and prehistoric structures along Spain’s southern coast, offering a glimpse into the varied, long history of human settlement in the country’s Andalusia region.
First, report Zamira Rahim and Vasco Cotovio for CNN, the team unearthed the remains of a sprawling Roman bath complex, or thermae, where the empire’s ancient citizens gathered to wash, exercise and relax. Preserved beneath sand dunes for nearly 2,000 years, the baths’ 13-foot-tall walls have now been excavated for the first time since their abandonment in late antiquity, per a statement.
So far, researchers have only surveyed two of the rooms from the complex, which sits on the coast near the Caños de Meca beach. They estimate that the entire structure once extended over 2.5 acres.
The site features multiple rooms decorated with red, white and black stucco and marble, suggesting the baths once boasted rich decorations, reports Colin Drury for the Independent. According to the statement, double-walled structures such as these allowed the ancient Romans to create heated thermal enclosures for steaming and ritual bathing.
The Roman Empire first seized land in the Iberian Peninsula in the second century B.C., eventually coming to control a majority of what is now Spain, notes Encyclopedia Britannica. Roman leaders established public baths in the imperial style throughout the empire, including in the city of Toledo to the north.
At the same site, archaeologists also uncovered more recent fragments of history, including medieval ceramic remains that were likely crafted during the 12th or 13th centuries.
In an added twist, about a third of a mile down the coast, at the Cape of Trafalgar, researchers discovered two more ancient treasures: a collection of at least seven Roman-era “salting pools” and a 4,000-year-old Bronze Age tomb, reports Isabel Laguna for Spanish wire service Agencia EFE.
A view of a "salting pool," where ancient Romans prepared garum, a fermented sauce made from fish guts (Courtesy of the University of Cádiz) Archaeologists tour the various dig sites near Cape Trafalgar, a cape in Spain's southeastern Andalusia region. (Courtesy of the University of Cádiz)
Like the bathing complex, both the pools and the tomb were preserved for thousands of years beneath sand dunes overlooking the Mediterranean, per CNN. The salting pools were likely used to prepare foods, including garum, a fermented sauce made from fish guts, herbs and salt.
The Bronze Age burial structure, on the other hand, stands out as remarkably intact. Inside, notes EFE, researchers discovered at least seven corpses, including the complete skeleton of an adult woman adorned with a green beaded necklace, shells, two small gold earrings and a bone comb.
The individuals who buried their kin here “must have felt that it was a special place to bury their loved ones,” archaeologist Eduardo Vijande, who is leading the Bronze Age site investigation, tells EFE, per a translation by Spain’s News.
All told, the newly discovered sites will help archaeologists learn more about the various fishing communities that have thrived along the southeastern coast of Spain for centuries. The fact that researchers have discovered such an array of settlements in the region is “wonderful,” says Patricia del Pozo, Andalusia’s culture minister, in the statement. She tells EFE that officials are hoping to create a museum or historic heritage designation at the site of the many digs.
The finds, adds Pozo in the statement, indicate that the coastal region was “an incredibly attractive area for all types of civilizations, which endows us with incredible history.”
As CNN reports, these aren’t the only recent Roman-era discoveries in the region: Last July, authorities conducting a routine inspection of a frozen seafood vendor in the southern coastal town of Alicante discovered 13 Roman amphorae among the sellers’ wares, prompting an official investigation into their provenance. Per a statement from the Spanish Civil Guard, ancient Romans may have used these clay vessels to transport oil, wine or garum across the Mediterranean Sea.
Roaming Acinipo’s Roman ruins
R onda has Roman, Arab and romantic history, although it can be hard to feel it when caught up in a crocodile of tourists following a guide with megaphone and flag. Travel up into the mountains 12 miles north-west of Ronda, however, and if you’re early enough, you can have an entire Roman town to yourself.
Nothing much has happened here since the town of Acinipo was abandoned some time in the fourth century. The site is fenced and there is a watchman but little in the way of infrastructure or, thankfully, re-enactments and interpretations.
View from the site of Acinipo. Photograph: Alamy
Half a mile or so from the entrance, at the top of the hill, there is a 2,000-seat Roman theatre dating back to the first century AD. With its facade, towering narrow arch and seating intact, it’s one of the best preserved Roman theatres in Spain, and it is literally and metaphorically the high point of Acinipo most of the other buildings have been reduced to rubble.
In Roman times the town was important – a strategic point between Seville, Cordoba and the Cadiz and Malaga coasts – and wealthy. If you have a good imagination or a background in archaeology, it’s possible to envisage the walls around the paved forum and the bustle of the populace, the statues on the many empty plinths, the temples and houses, and the men discussing politics in the baths (cold, warm and hot).
The theatre remains. Photograph: Alamy
The entire windswept site is full of rocks from collapsed buildings, some brought by the Romans from El Torcal de Antequera, 30km north of Málaga others are local and were first used in the Neolithic, bronze and copper age settlements that predated the Romans by a couple of millennia. There are remains of the oldest dwellings nearer the entrance. To stand here is a priceless kind of time travel.
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 9am-2.30pm, free. Nearest village, Montecorto
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PULA ARENA, CROATIA
Most people come to coastal Croatia expecting beaches and clear waters, and they certainly get that – but they also get one of the most impressive Roman ruins on Earth, the 23,000-seat Pula Arena. Built between 27 BC and 68 AD, the Pula Arena is the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have all four side towers still intact. The amphitheatre hosted gladiatorial combat until the practice was outlawed in the 5th century these days it's a concert venue.
LEPTIS MAGNA, LIBYA
This huge site is without doubt one of the largest and best-preserved Roman settlements anywhere outside of Rome itself, though it's sadly off-limits to all but the hardiest of adventurers at present, given its location in Libya. Leptis Magna was a major trading post in its heyday, and prosperous enough to warrant the construction of numerous temples, arches, churches and basilicas, most of which are still in an excellent state.
The ruins of Conimbriga aren't as visually impressive as some of the others mentioned here, though this is one of the largest Roman settlements excavated in Portugal, and of historical importance to the empire. There are remnants here of a large forum, several thermal baths, an aqueduct, and numerous well-preserved residential buildings. Only 10 per cent of the site has so far been excavated, which means there's still plenty to discover.
BARDO MUSEUM, TUNISIA
This isn't a ruin as such, but rather a museum that houses a stunning collection of Roman mosaics that were discovered in nearby Tunisian sites such as Carthage, Hadrumetem, Dougga and Utica. There are also several elegant marble statues here from Roman times, though the main attraction is the collection of mosaics, many of which are huge, intricate and incredibly well preserved.
ASPENDOS THEATRE, TURKEY
Aspendos, just near Antalya in southern Turkey, was once a Greek power base (conquered by Alexander the Great) turned Roman settlement, an area with plenty of interesting ruins, though none so spectacular as its theatre. This 12,000-seat venue was in fact built by the Greeks at the very end of their reign, and then used first by the Romans for entertainment, and later by the Seljuk people as a caravanserai.
The Spanish city of Segovia is known for three impressive historical attractions: its Gothic cathedral its spectacular "Alcazar", or castle and its huge, multi-tiered Roman aqueduct, dating back to the 2nd century BC. The aqueduct is an extraordinary architectural achievement, a construction of 25,000 granite blocks held together without any mortar, with more than 170 arches up to 29 metres high. And it's still used to deliver drinking water today.
Zaragoza Spain is the capital of the Zaragoza region and of the autonomous region of Aragon. The city is situated in the popular northeastern area of the country and is located on the Ebro River. With more than 2,000 years of history to explore, this vibrant city is full of life and is often referred to as one of the most beautiful in Spain, and its central location makes it easy to visit Madrid, Bilbao, Valencia, or Barcelona on the same trip. It is also home to some of the best Roman ruins in Spain and is full of medieval, Moorish and Gothic architecture. The temperatures are mild year round here and it is a great destination if you wish to explore Spanish culture and architecture.
Zaragoza Spain is located between the two popular cities of Madrid and Barcelona, making it easily accessible. The city is perfect for a one-night stay or a day trip from one of the surrounding areas. Those who are really into history may find it beneficial to take more time at this great city, really getting a true feel for what it has to offer. The best times to travel to Zaragoza is during the spring and summer months when the temperatures are in the high 60s and 70s. The temperatures during the rest of the year tend to be mild and there are fewer tourists so if you prefer a low-key, uncrowded atmosphere then this is the time to travel. Keep in mind that the heaviest rainfall occurs from April through June and in October and November.
This gem of a city has many attractions to offer, including the famous Zaragoza Basilica. The full name of the basilica is Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar, which is dedicated to the Holy Virgin of Pilar, the patron saint of the town. Zaragoza Basilica was completed in 1681 and is designed in the baroque style. It is flanked by four beautiful towers and also features a neo-classical façade that was added some years after the building was completed. There is a wonderful cupola inside for viewing as well as many religious works of art. Outside of the basilica is a beautiful plaza that is perfect for taking a break from sightseeing and is also home to the famous La Seo Cathedral.
The city is also known for its wonderful Roman ruins Spain. The city still boasts some of the Roman wall that was built during the third century. Visitors can visit the wall and the well-conserved parts are near the Tower of Zuda and the Iglesia de la Magdalena, next to the Ebro River. In addition to the wall, there is a Roman forum located at the opposite end of Zaragoza Basilica plaza. Here visitors will find some of the best Roman ruins Spain with a forum, theatre, baths and Roman walls. Although the ruins are not in the best condition, it is great to explore the area and get at true feel for the former Roman occupation of the area. There is also a Roman museum that houses various artifacts and traces Roman life at Zaragoza.
Zaragoza Spain is the perfect destination if you are looking to expand your mind, explore Roman ruins and learn about the various types of architecture that are found in the country. Book a stay in one of the Zaragoza hotels and spend a few days exploring this delightful town.
The Roman Province of Hispania
Before Spain became Spain, it was part of the Roman province of Hispania.
To understand the language, and geography of not just Spain but of the entire Iberian Peninsula, you have to understand Hispania.
Learn more about one of the greatest provinces in the Roman empire, and how it created modern Spain on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
This episode is sponsored by the Tourist Office of Spain.
Spain is a country that is rich in history. In almost any small town or village you visit, you will find churches, ruins, and buildings which harken back to the countries’ past.
In Spain, you’ll find layers of history. You’ll find 20,000-year-old rock art, Roman ruins, Arab architecture, Renaissance Churches, as well as Art-Nouveau and Art Deco buildings.
You can start researching your dream trip to Spain today by visiting Spain.info where you can get everything you need to know to plan your Spanish experience.
Roman influence on the Iberian Peninsula is profound and can still be seen today.
The name the Romans used for the area that covers the Iberian peninsula, which today consists of Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar, and parts of France was Hispania.
The word for Spain in Spanish is Espana and considering that the letter H is silent in Spanish the name of Spain today is pretty much the name word that the Romans used for the land.
It is also obviously, the origin of the terms “Hispanic” and “Hispaniola”.
Spanish is a Romance language that evolved from Latin, so you really can’t have modern Spain without ancient Rome.
The word Hispania itself probably comes from Phonecian, via Carthage. Before the Romans were on the Iberian Peninsula, the Carthaginians had set up colonies along the coast.
Carthage was in modern-day Tunisia and they were establishing colonies and trading outposts in the western Mediterranean well before the Romans.
The Roman interest in Hispania was directly due to the Carthaginians.
Carthage began building colonies there around 250 BC when they lost their colonies in Sicily after the First Punic War.
Rome entered Hispania in 218 BC as a front in the Second Punic War and remained there in some fashion until the end of the empire.
Both the initial Roman and the Carthaginian presence was confined to the Mediterranean coast. The majority of the Iberian Peninsula was inhabited by Celtic Tribes, distantly related to the Celtic peoples in the British Isles.
It wasn’t until 27 BC in the reign of Augustus, and the conclusion of the Cantabrian Wars, that Hispania was fully conquered by the Romans. For almost 200 years the Romans had been fighting sporadically with the Celtic tribes in the region.
One of the reasons it took 200 years is because at no point did Rome ever explicitly set out to conquer the peninsula. It wasn’t like Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, which was all about gaining territory.
It was mostly a long series of reactionary moves to counter rebelling tribes.
Over time, the Roman administration of the region evolved and became more complicated as the people became more Romanized.
Eventually, the single Roman Province of Hispania was divided into two provinces: Hispania Citerior, which was the northern part along the coast, and Hispania Ulterior, which was the southern part where Andalusia is today.
In 27 BC, Marcus Agrippa, who I did an earlier episode on, created a third province called Hispania Lusitana. It consisted of much of what is today Portugal and Extramadura.
By the time the western empire collapsed at the end of the 5th century, there were 9 provinces in Hispania.
The cultural assimilation of Hispania took centuries but was close to 100% by the time of the collapse of the empire.
The original Celtic languages went extinct over time, and today they are totally lost. No one knows what they sounded like.
Much of the cultural transformation was due to the creation of colonies, which was mostly for the settlement of veterans of the Roman Legions.
With all the wars Rome was fighting, they needed something which was an incentive to get men to fight. The biggest incentive was the allocation of land. As most of the land in Italy was already claimed, Hispania proved to be an ideal place to settle troops.
It solved several problems. It provided a recruitment incentive, it helped Romanize the country, and it settled a group of men with combat experience who now had an incentive to protect their own land. They would be very hard to evict.
Many of the major communities in Spain today had their starts as Roman Colonies.
The city of Merida in Extramadura has a population of about 58,000 people. It was founded as the Colonia Emerita Augusta, which translates into the Colony of Augustus’ Veterans.
Emerita eventually evolved into Merida, which is the name of the city today. 2,000 years later, the city still has the basic same layout it had when it was founded.
The city of Zaragosa is the 5th largest city in Spain. It too was founded as a Roman colony with the name CaesarAugustus.
CaesarAugusta became saraqusta in Arabic, which then became Zaragosa in Spanish.
You would probably never have guessed the Zaragosa came from CaesarAugusta, but once you know you, you can sort of see it in hindsight.
Likewise, other major cities such as Barcelona, Seville, Pamplona, Cordoba, and Valencia, all had their starts as Roman Colonies.
The capital of Hispania and the oldest Roman city was Terraco, or what is today Taragonna, which lies just down the coast from Barcelona.
Over time as Hispania grew in importance, the people of Hispania assumed important roles in the Empire. There were Senators from Hispania pretty early on, and eventually, there were several Emperors from Hispania.
Trajan, Hadrian, and Theodosius were all born in Hispania.
Romanization made Hispania wealthy. A single government, a lack of internal strife, common currency and language, and great infrastructure, meant that conditions were ripe for commerce.
Hispania was perhaps the best mining region in the empire. It held some of the best mines for silver, gold, and cinnabar, aka mercury. Its location on both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts made it great for fish, fish sauce, and salt production. As with much of the Mediterranean, it was also a prime location for the production of olives and wine.
With a large population, economy, and 500 years of Roman rule, you can find Roman ruins all over Spain today. Some of them are the best Roman ruins in the world.
The previously mentioned city of Merida probably has the best collection of Roman ruins I’ve seen in the country. The have the best-preserved Roman theater in Spain, pulse a well-preserved amphitheater, the longest intact Roman bridge in the world, a massive aqueduct, and several temples and other buildings right in the middle of town. There is also the outline of the circus which is still visible outside of town.
The nearby town of Alange has a Roman bath which is still in operation today as a spa.
Merida is also the home to the National Museum of Roman Art, which is actually one of the best museums in Europe, both in terms of the building its housed in, and the collection.
The other great collection of ruins in Spain is in Tarragona. An easy day trip from Barcelona, they have a well-preserved amphitheater, as well a museum in the still preserved parts of the circus bleachers. If you look closely you can find Roman evidence all over town, including in the city walls.
In Segovia, you’ll find one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts in the world. It is in such good condition that it still carries water today, albeit in pipes that were laid on the aqueduct.
In Cordoba, the bridge dates back to Roman times and it is still used today.
Baelo Claudia is no longer a city, but it was once an extremely important port for trading with Africa. It is located near the southernmost point of Spain and today you can see the ruins of the town.
In Lugo in the north of Spain, not far from Santigo de Compostella, you can see one of the best-preserved Roman city walls.
In many cities all over the country, you’ll be able to find minor or small ruins. Even in Barcelona, which is not often thought of as having Roman sites, there are extensive underground ruins that you can visit.
So, when it comes to modern-day Spain, everything from the name of the country, the language, and many of its cities, all owe their existence to the Roman province of Hispania.
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