Exploring the Roman Ruins of Itálica Near Sevilla

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!

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Great post. We loved travelling around the UK as a kid and seeing the Roman heritage for ourselves. Over on Gran Canaria, any archaelogical finds relate to the canarii, the Berber-descending people who occupied the island prior to the Spanish conquest in the 15th century.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted..Casa Cueva El Mimo, ArtenaraMy Profile

  2. Hey hey! This turned out great! Thanks again for letting me guest post on your blog, Cat! :)
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..A Pilgrimage to Fisterra, SpainMy Profile

  3. I had never heard of Itálica but after this post it’s been added to my to-visit list. I loved visiting Madinat al-Zahra outside of Córdoba, as well as Mérida’s Roman ruins, so I’m certain I would love to explore this well-preserved town as well!
    Cassandra recently posted..20 Spanish Things I Miss in AmericaMy Profile

  4. Great article! I must make the effort to slide down to Sevilla sometime and have a look-see at these ruins (although the amphitheater looks very much like the one at Mérida!)
    Sue Sharpe recently posted..Are you going to Za-fa-ra fair…..?My Profile

  5. Love this – old ruins are so fascinating.
    wanderingeducators recently posted..Crater Lake: Brought to You by the Color BlueMy Profile

  6. I had a great visit to Itálica shortly after I arrived in Sevilla. It makes a great day-trip from there! I recommended it to my sister and mom when they visited, too, and I think they really enjoyed it. Like Mérida, you get neat Roman ruins without all the crowds you’d find in Rome or other more popular ruins.
    Kirstie recently posted..Why AREN’T You Traveling the World?My Profile

  7. Wow – 1,50€ is a fantastic deal. We spent (literally) days wandering around the Roman ruins in Greece.

    Loved the article, Trevor!

  8. Beautiful photos!
    I have been to Italica – I felt like I was in the middle of the movie Gladiator!

  9. Great post, Trevor! I loved Italica both times I visited, and, particularly, the mosaics. I’m curious, though: what are/were first and second sleeps?!

    • Thanks, Kate! First and second sleeps refer to the traditional sleep patterns of most humans before the industrial era that brought in artificial lighting: people would go to bed at sunset, sleep for a few hours, and then wake up again for an hour or so and have conversations, read, wander around, or make love, and then go back to sleep again for ~5 more hours until sunrise.

      I just imagined a Roman woman strolling around her courtyard at midnight in between her sleeps as a very striking vision of what life would have been in Itálica, or anywhere, for that matter, in pre-modern times. :)

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783
      Trevor Huxham recently posted..Sevilla, Spain: The Heartbeat of AndalucíaMy Profile

  10. Oh my god, I forgot I even went here! This was one of the places I visited during our Sevilla trip when I was studying abroad in Malaga. I am kind of over Roman ruins of any kind outside of Italy so it seems this place didn’t make a huge impression (I do like the ones in Merida though)! In fact the only thing I could dig up on my blog was that I was super annoyed when visiting the amphitheater because some vigilante would use a whistle each time visitors got too close to the rocks in the center. So I remember being pretty meh about this place. Not sure if I would go back!
    amelie88 recently posted..A Look Back at the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona 2: Illegal Immigrants and Border PatrolMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I’m kinda iffy about them, too, but ruins are also not a top priority on my list. I will say that they run fantastic workshops for kids, and they were tons of fun for me as the teacher, too!

  11. Congratulations to Trevor for writing such a fantastic article :)

    Over the past few months my interest in all things Italian history has jumped (may have something to do with spending the past four months here) and this is just the kind of thing I’ve started to really enjoy reading about. It does make me wonder though: are the very towns we live in one day going to splutter out and disappear?
    Dale recently posted..Travel As a Couple – What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You StrongerMy Profile

    • Thanks, Dale! You bring up a good point–I always wonder what future archaeologists are going to think about contemporary civilization in the next millennium, especially now that so much of it is virtual and online. But there’s even modern-day villages in Spain that have either become ghost towns or are on the verge of “sputtering out,” tiny pueblos in rural Aragon or Castilla y Leon whose sons and daughters have all left to find work in bigger towns. Sometimes it’s like a look into the Middle Ages!
      Trevor Huxham recently posted..A Pilgrimage to Fisterra, SpainMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Yikes, scary thought!

      Though I wonder where your sudden interest in Italian history comes from… ;)

  12. What a fascinating snippet of living history. I love how accessible all this seems — and that the amphitheater is NOT on the same level as the Colosseum.
    Terry at Overnight New York recently posted..Ace Hotel: Music to Help Kids Get BetterMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      It really is – it’s close to Seville, cheap, and with tons of educational activities. I took a first grade class there to see reenactments of Roman life and learn about their daily activities. There is loads of potential to make it even more well-known, in my opinion. Merida and Tarragona get all the glory in Hispania.

  13. That third photo is so magical!
    Lillie – @WorldLillie recently posted..YUM! An Italian Food Market Tour of Boston’s North EndMy Profile

  14. I love Roman ruins, and I love that you can find them all over Europe and the Middle East. Thanks for sharing these, which I was unaware of :)
    Larissa recently posted..Are RTW plane tickets right for you?My Profile

  15. That’s amazing — I love ruins! And that looks very well-preserved!
    Travelogged recently posted..Geneva and the South of France: My 10-Day IntineraryMy Profile

  16. Wow!!! I love Roman.Great post.Thanks for sharing.
    Gabi (The Nomadic Family) recently posted..The Ming Behind The Making of The Movie Country #11- Pillows and Toast Heritage Hostel, SingaporeMy Profile

  17. These roman ruins look like they are in pretty good shape. Thanks for sharing the history of Italica. I had never heard about it before now.
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..ANTARCTICA: The Haunting Beauty of Icebergs in AntarcticaMy Profile

  18. Great post – very helpful for my visit to Italica.

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  1. […] arhcaelogical sites in Spain? Don’t miss Carmona, the dolmens in Valencina or Roman gem Itálica while you’re in Seville! Share this:Email Pin It Filed Under: Andalusia Tourism, […]

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