Shame on me: my blog friend Trevor Huxham of A Texan In Spain pointed out that, in six years blogging about Seville, I’ve not ONCE written about Itálica, a former Roman settlement that you can practically see from the city. Trevor offered to write about this once-bustling city that saw Hadrian and Trajan grow up (while I go sulk in shame):
It’s a little-known fact that half an hour from the southern Spanish city of Sevilla you can find the ruins of an ancient Roman town. Now, I know you’re going to say, But Trevor, Sevilla started as the Roman city of Hispalis, why is this so special? Well, I’ll tell you. Modern Sevilla sits upon two thousand years of not just Roman history but also Moorish, Christian, and contemporary reworkings—so hardly any vestiges of the Roman city remain to be seen. The town of Itálica, however, was long deserted before major architectural upheavals beginning in the Middle Ages could erase its Roman character, so the ruins you see give you an idea what it was like ca. two millennia ago.
Itálica’s claim to fame is being the first Roman settlement in Spain. After a battle during the 2nd Punic War (which was fought between the ancient Mediterranean powers of Rome and Carthage), General Scipio’s troops became stationed at this outpost on the important Guadalquivir River. Centuries later, two of the city’s sons would become Roman emperors: Trajan and Hadrian. The brochure I picked up at the ruins explains that, despite being developed during those emperors’ reigns, the town fizzled out and was ultimately abandoned by the medieval era. The nearby pueblo of Santiponce was founded only in the 17th century.
The large amphitheater is what primarily draws folks to the ruins. About half the size of Rome’s Flavian Amphitheater (aka the Colosseum), it would have hosted sporting events and gladiator fights for the local population. For modern-day spectators, it no longer has such a Colosseum-esque grandeur, having lost its stair-step grandstands long ago. But you can still amble through the gently-lit galleries that link what remains of the seating and envision toga-clad Romans hurrying through the tunnels to the nearest urinal or picking up a box of popcorn from the concessions. (Forgive the anachronisms…I couldn’t resist!)
Beyond the amphitheater you can hike across an original Roman road and appreciate the ancient municipal street grid. Itálica has little left apart from a few house walls here, some foundations there, but what remains is particularly powerful. Colorful, pixelated mosaics set a scene of reclining diners enjoying bread and wine…or they recall the pensive, candlelit face of a woman pacing the colonnaded porch, in between first and second sleeps. You can touch the still-sharp, right-angle bricks that form corners of a shop or a bedroom and wonder—who must have made those bricks, who must have set them in place? Sleepy from too much bread at lunch, peer inside a shadowy oven and imagine a tunic-clad baker removing warm loaves that would have fed the town.
It’s fun to fantasize about what life might have been like in a Roman town, but there’s only so much you can do with stone foundations. Most of the fascinating artifacts, statues, and inscriptions are housed in the Archaeology Museum of Sevilla, a museum that you can find in the Maria Luisa Park just to the south of Sevilla’s historic center. Inside, you can see impressive, sprawling mosaics, serene busts depicting the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, and even political documents written on bronze tablets. Don’t miss this museum when you visit Itálica!
How to get there
The ruins aren’t technically in Sevilla proper but in a suburb called Santiponce. I took the M-172 bus line from Sevilla’s big Plaza de Armas bus station to the end of the line, where I was dropped off in front of the entrance (Avenida de Extremadura, 2). Itálica is free for EU residents and 1,50€ for everyone else.
Trevor Huxham is a language assistant in between teaching placements in Úbeda (Andalucía) and Santiago de Compostela (Galicia). A native of Texas, he blogs at A Texan in Spain where you are welcome to say “howdy!” and stick around for a while.
Have you ever been to the Itálica ruins before? Do you prefer exploring remnants of the past or taking in contemporary culture more? Comment below!