It is almost impossible not to be aware of the amount of Roman ruins in Spain and Portugal. Below this introduction you will find a description of Italica near Seville, this is where I first realised that the Romans used concrete as well as stone and brick for their construction.
The Iberian peninsular was first visited by Phoenician traders as far back as 1500 BC who came in their ships from the area that we now know as Lebanon and settled all of the Mediterranean rim as far west as the Straits of Gibraltar. They did not come as conquerers but to trade with the locals, most of the major Mediterranean coastal cities were originally founded by Phoenicians.
From around 1200 BC they were exploring to the west and north of the Straits and were responsible for the creation of Cadiz and Lisbon as well as many smaller places in between. In 1000 BC King Solomon of the Israelites would most probably have used Phoenician skippers and ships for transporting ore and precious metals from the mines at Rio Tinto in Spain, which some believe was the location of King Solomon's mines. By 500 BC the Phoenicians were voyaging down the west coast of Africa and in fact in that year a Phoenician ship circumnavigated Africa under the orders of an Egyptian Pharoah. They were also travelling as far as Britain and buying tin and other metals from miners in Devon and Cornwall.
Phoenicia - a replica of the ship that circumnavigated Africa in 500 BC - This photograph was taken and supplied by Steve Burrows in August 2010 at Lajes das Flores in the Azores. Phoenicia had just arrived there having completed a passage from Ascension Island in the south Atlantic in 84 days. The ships that the Phoenicians used to travel up to Britain would have been very similar to this one. The Phoenicians reputation for seamanship and navigation was unsurpassed in the Mediterranean at that time.
The Phoenicians' most important city in the western Mediterranean was Carthage (very close to Tunis) in North Africa and then New Carthage (Now Cartagena) in south eastern Spain. By around 300 BC the Phoenicians in the eastern Mediterranean had lost control as a result of the expansion of the Greek empire under Alexander the Great. The descendants of the Phoenicians who had settled in the western Mediterranean became known as Carthaginians.
Control of the Mediterranean countries in the 3rd century BC was divided therefore between the Romans in Italy, the Greeks in the east and the Carthaginians in North Africa and the east of Spain. The Romans invaded Spain in 218 BC at the same time that the Carthaginian leader Hannibal was marching down through northern Italy to attack Rome. The Carthaginians that had been left behind under the command of Hannibal's brother Hanno to guard Spain from an attack by the Romans were outnumbered 2 to 1 and were quickly defeated. However the Carthaginians soon recovered from this defeat and the war continued for another 13 years until 205 BC when the Romans finally defeated the Carthaginians in Spain and then three years later in North Africa.
To see a satellite photograph of Italica on Google Earth click here....
Emperor Trajan (98 - 117 AD) was born in Italica, the better known Emperor Hadrian (117 - 138 AD) spent part of his childhood in Italica and his father was born there.
Much of the Roman city lies under the town of Santiponce, but there remains a large area of villas, public buildings, a theatre, thermal baths and one of the largest amphitheatres in the Roman Empire. Perhaps the most remarkable feature are many mosaic floors in almost perfect condition and with their original colours. All of this can be seen in the slide show to the right.
The magnificent amphitheatre is built of a mixture of stone, brick and concrete. There is a system of passages and galleries underground where the gladiators would have waited and been prepared for their combat. It had a seating capacity for 20,000 spectators and in the centre an underground area with brick columns that supported a wooden floor, under which lions and various other wild animals were kept to fight against gladiators for the entertainment of the spectators.
The city's drainage system was and still is an impressive feat of design and engineering. With underground pipes almost a meter in diameter placed deep underground and still today carrying rain water away from the streets and buildings. Fresh water was brought to the public and private buildings using lead piping which is still there now in a few places.
As soon as the Romans left Spain towards the end of the 5th century AD, Italica began to literally fall apart as the locals treated the town as if it was a quarry with the advantage of all the stone already having been cut and prepared. Much of Seville was built with stone that was taken from Italica.
Martin Northey - Yachtmaster Examiner/Instructor for Sail and Power
The Iberian Sea School - RYA Sailing, Motor Cruising and Powerboat School
Apartado 1039 - Vilamoura,
8126 - 912 Quarteira,
Tel: 00 351 965 800702
Web Site: www.theiberianseaschool.com