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Where to see Roman Spain

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected]
Where to see Roman Spain
Where to see Roman Spain - Photo: Juanje 2712 / Wikimedia Commons

It's not just Italy where you can see some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Europe. Spain in fact has its fair share, from amphitheatres and temples, to chariot racing circuits, aqueducts and grand villas. Here's where to find them.

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Mérida, Extremadura

Mérida was founded by the Romans in 25 BC, under the name of Emerita Augusta and is a treasure trove of Roman ruins, many of them particularly well preserved. It’s home to not just one, but two theatres – the Roman Theatre and the Roman Amphitheatre.

The Roman theatre was built between 16 and 15 BC and much of this epic structure is still standing. In its heyday, it could accommodate 6,000 spectators. But the grand dame is the Roman Amphitheatre, inaugurated in 8 BC, which could hold up to 15,000 people. It was used for entertainment including gladiator shows.

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Another highlight is the Roman circus, one of the best preserved in the entire empire and also one of the biggest, where around 30,000 people would gather to watch the chariot races. And of course, what Roman city would be complete without its Roman Temple? The city’s Temple of Diana was built in the first century AD and is the only religious structure still standing today.

The Aqueduct of Miracles completes this amazing outdoor Roman museum and almost 800 metres of this vast structure remain.

Mérida's Roman Amphitheatre is quite a sight to behold. Photo: Miguel Bañuls Benavent / Pixabay
 
 

 

Tarragona, Catalonia

The Catalan city of Tarragona is another of the best places in the country to experience Roman Spain, home to several ancient monuments. Tarragona was founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC and is one of the oldest Roman settlements on the Iberian peninsula. The highlight of its Roman ruins is the grand Roman Amphitheatre, sitting right on the shore of the Mediterranean. It was built at the time of Emperor Augustus in the 2nd century AD and remains one of the best-preserved in Spain.

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But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Roman ruins in Tarragona – there are also the city the walls built between the 3rd-2nd centuries BC, of which 1,100 metres remain; the forum area from the 1st century AD and the circus from the same time – an ancient chariot racing track.

The Roman Amphitheatre in Tarragona overlooks the Mediterranean. Photo: Marc Pascual / Pixabay
 
 
 

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Segovia, Castilla y León

The Castilla y León city of Segovia is famed for its grand Roman aqueduct, thought to be one of the biggest in the Roman Empire. It was built between the second half of the first century and the early 2nd century, and has 167 arches, made up of a total of 20,400 blocks of stone. There is no cement or mortar between each of the stones, meaning each is balanced on the next.

The aqueduct was built to carry water from the River Acebeda to the city and has certainly stood the test of time.

Segovia's Roman aqueduct is made without any cement. Photo: WikimediaImages / Pixabay
 

Lugo, Galicia

According to UNESCO, the city of Lugo in Galicia is home to "one of the finest examples of late Roman fortifications in Western Europe". These huge sandcastle-like structures surround the centre of the city and were built in the 3rd century in order to defend what was then known as the town of Lucus.

The total length of the walls measures over two kilometres and takes up a space of 1.68 hectares. The height of the wall varies between 8 and 10 metres and features 85 towers and 10 gates.

Legend says the Romans built the wall to protect not a city but a forest - AugustusHoly Forest.

Lugo's Roman walls. Photo: D.Rovchak / Pixabay
 
 

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Santiponce, Andalusia

The small town of Santiponce, located in the province of Seville may not be a famed tourist destination, but it is where you’ll find some of the best ruins of a whole Roman city. It was the first Roman city in Spain, founded in 206 BC. Renamed Italica under the reign of Augustus, it was the birthplace of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. One of the most impressive remains is the amphitheatre, one of the largest in the Roman Empire, with a capacity to hold 25,000 spectators.

There’s also a Roman Theatre, thermal baths, remains of ancient walls and several Roman houses, some complete with stunning Roman mosaics.

Itálica, the ancient Roman city in Spain. Photo: Diego Delso / Wikimedia Commons
 

 

Pedrosa de la Vega, Castilla y León

This small Castilla y León town, 60km north of Palencia, is home to a Roman Villa known as La Olmeda, as well as two necropolises. The villa itself began life in the 1st or 2nd century AD, although much of what remains today is from the 4th century.

A palatial home, it has a whopping 35 rooms, which were distributed around a patio and are flanked by two square towers on the north façade and by two octagonal towers on the south façade. 26 of these rooms even have the remains of mosaics, making this the largest set of mosaics existing in a private Roman building today. 

Villa La Olmeda has a collection of incredible Roman mosaics. Photo: Valdavia / Wikimedia Commons
 
 
 
Torre de Hércules, A Coruña, Galicia 
 
The Galician city of A Coruña is not home to the typical Roman structures of the amphitheatres, temples ruins and aqueducts, but it is where you'll find a unique Roman tower. The Romans constructed the Torre de Hércules between the end of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century as a lighthouse, which is in fact still in operation today.
 
The tower is built on a 57-metre-high rock and rises 55 metres more into the air. Today, 34 metres of it remain from the Roman times and the rest was restored by the architect Eustaquio Giannini in the 18th century. 
 
The Galician Torre de Hércules Roman lighthouse. Photo: PxHere
 

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