Tag Archives: Archaeology

A Life in Ruins – Segobriga, Spain

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We needed something to do for the afternoon so after consulting the guide book and the information available at the hotel reception we decided to drive to the Roman ruins at Segóbriga about fifty kilometres away.

I wasn’t sure that there would be a great deal to see there so I drove deliberately slowly and stopped often for photo opportunities of the fields with their attractive contours and delightful pastel hues.  Along the way we looked for somewhere to eat and passed through a couple of villages but there was little chance of food and drink because the people that lived there probably think that Belmonte is exciting.  Along the way we left the road to follow a track to the castle of Almenara but it too was in a state of disrepair and closed so we returned to the road and carried on.  Close to our destination we spotted a hotel and a restaurant and we pulled in and took a table in the garden, but the menu prices were considerably higher than we were prepared to pay so we left abruptly before the staff had noticed us and continued on our way resigned to staying hungry.

Within a few minutes we spotted the signs to Segóbriga and as we turned into the historic site we were immediately astounded by the size of the place and it turned out that this is the most important Roman archaeological site in all of Spain.  Amazing! And I had never even heard of it.  There was a café on site where we had an overpriced bocadillo and a small beer before moving on to the entrance where a Spanish lady seemed genuinely pleased to see visitors from England and gave us some precise and clear instructions to make sure we enjoyed our visit to the full.  First of all there was a little film about the Romans in Spain and then a considerable walk to get to the main site and the excavations.

Segóbriga was a textbook designed Roman city, there was a theater, a five thousand seater amphitheater, a chariot racetrack  (circus), a basilica, a temple, public baths, a cistern and a complex system of sewers, everything in fact that you would expect to find in an important city of Rome.  It was incredible to walk around the old streets, wander through the corridors of the amphitheatre, sit in the seats of the theatre and imagine that in this very place there were gladiators in its arena, actors in its theater, emperor worshippers in the temples, Roman Legionnaires swaggering through the streets,  Senators and Magistrates, merchants, artisans and slaves.

Segóbriga was a mining town and the mines brought great wealth and made some of the local families very rich but they weren’t mining for precious metals or for fuel but for a very specialised commodity – plaster, or rather gypsum, which in its crystal state (selenite) is transparent and the rocks could be split into fine sheets to make windows in an age before the Romans had begun to manufacture and use glass.

In ancient Rome buildings had wind eyes, which were square or rectangular holes in walls to let in light and air but without glass panes.  To let in the light had the disadvantage of letting in the weather as well so probably most of the time people kept those windows blocked with a curtain or a shutter.  The idea to use the sheets of crystal gypsum for window panes came around the turn of the millennium when an architect imported some from Spain and used them as skylights to light the public baths in Rome. This caught on quickly and the rich started doing the same for their houses and villas and in time it was used as wind eye glass and the very best quality gypsum came from right here in Segóbriga.

Because we had to wait so long for uncooperative people to move so that we could take the perfect uncluttered photographs it took almost three hours to explore the site and then to visit the museum and it was a long walk round so what had started out as a planned easy day had turned out instead to be very full and very tiring.

This was our last night in Belmonte and as we packed our bags so that we could make an early start in the morning we reflected on what had been three excellent days in Castilla-La Mancha and we looked forward to a long drive in the morning to the city of Toledo and after that on to Ávila in Castilla y Leon nearly three hundred kilometres away to the west.

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Related Articles:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

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My Personal Greek A to Ω – Δ (Delta) is for Δήλος or Delos

Delos, one of the great classical archaeological sites of the Mediterranean, is a tiny island stretching only five kilometres north to south and barely one and a half kilometres from east to west. It was here, that Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, son and daughter of Zeus and his lover Leto, were born and, like Delphi, is a major sanctuary dedicated to Apollo, the Titan god of gods and one of the most important in the Hellenic pantheon.

I visited Delos in 2005 during a holiday to the island of nearby Mykonos.  It is the epicentre of the Cycladic ring and an uninhabited island ten kilometres from Mykonos, and is a vast archaeological site that together with Athens on the mainland and Knossos on Crete makes up the three most important archaeological sites in Greece.

The reason we are not so aware of it is because whereas a lot of the work in Athens and Crete was undertaken by British and American archaeologists Delos is predominantly a French excavation site and we prefer to concentrate on British rather than Gallic achievements.  The excavations in the island are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean; ongoing work takes place under the direction of the French School at Athens and many of the artifacts found are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. In 1990, UNESCO inscribed Delos on the World Heritage List, citing it as the “exceptionally extensive and rich” archaeological site which “conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port”.

We left the port of Mykonos on a small ferry boat where we sat on the open deck and watched Mykonos slip away behind us and the approach to tiny Delos which took about half an hour or so.  It was already hot as we stepped off the boat and paid our admission charge to the island and took the pathway into the site.  There is no set route and visitors are allowed to ramble in all directions along the rough paths and the dark grey stony earth overgrown with vegetation, strewn with ancient relics, ravaged by wind which moves across the embers of a past civilization and, if you listen to the warnings of the locals, home to poisonous snakes which will attack if disturbed so keeping an eye out for this danger we set off first to Mount Kythnos, the highest point and a stiff climb where, at the top, we were rewarded with sweeping 360º views of the Cyclades and beyond.

It was a lot easier going back down and once back in the main city which was once home to thirty-thousand people we walked through a succession of excavated buildings, some with frescoes and mosaic floors, dismembered statues, alters, sanctuaries, agoras and reconstructed temples and arches.  At the centre we stopped to see the Delian lions, one of the iconic images of the Greek islands.  These were only plaster copies however because they are now kept in the island museum and one is missing because it was stolen and taken to Venice to become a symbol of that city.

Walking through the centre of the ancient city we passed the sacred lake where Apollo and Artemis were born and then to the far north of the island and the site of the ancient stadium and a view back across the water to Mykonos.  We had been continuously walking now for about three hours in the blistering sun without any shade so we made our way back to the main site and to the museum where we hoped it might be a bit cooler.  There was no chance of that and although it was light and airy inside it was oppressively hot so we rushed through the exhibits a bit too quickly to do them justice and were soon outside again looking for refreshments.

Delos is well worth a visit but here are two bits of advice, firstly don’t miss the last boat home or else you will be stuck on the rather remote island all night long with the spirits of Ancient Greece and the snakes and secondly take plenty of water and a snack because there is only one small shop on the island attached to the museum and it is meteorically expensive and bearing these two bits of advice in mind we finished our tour of Delos by wandering back to the jetty and taking the early afternoon ferry back to Mykonos.

Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

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The amphitheatre at Pula in Croatia is the sixth largest in the world and one of the best-preserved examples of its kind.  The Colosseum in Rome was of course the biggest Roman Amphitheatre and could seat a massive fifty thousand spectators, the second largest was Capua, also in Italy but now sadly in ruin, which was only slightly smaller, and the third was in El Djem in Tunisia with a capacity of thirty-five thousand.

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Segóbriga, A Roman City in Castilla-La Mancha

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We needed something to do for the afternoon so after consulting the guide book and the information available at the hotel reception we decided to drive to the Roman ruins at Segóbriga about fifty kilometres away.

Read the full story…