Seville: Iterations of Italica


An index to blog posts from our Spain trip can be found on the first entry.

December 29, 2018

Natasha prepared a special surprise for our last full day in Seville. She had reserved a taxi to take us to Italica! Founded in 205 B.C. during the Second Punic War, Italica was the first permanent Roman settlement in Hispania. I visited Pompeii in 1994, and Natasha visited Ephesus in 1998. Today, we would get the chance to see Italica together!

A tiny history

The Battle of Ilipa, fought near what would become Seville in 206 B.C., was decisive in driving Carthaginian armies from the Iberian Peninsula. Scipio the Younger faced a larger army, but his crafty repositioning of his legions to the wings rather than the center won the day. Scipio resolved to treat many of his wounded by setting up a small town for that purpose, and Italica was born the following year. At the time, a tributary of the Guadalquivir passed close to the town site, originally settled by the Iberian Turdetani people. When Rome reorganized in 14 B.C. under Augustus, its first Emperor, Hispania was separated into three Imperial Provinces, with Italica located inside Baetica.

The Golden Age for Italica came during 98-138 A.D. The emperors Trajan and Hadrian, who ruled one after the other, were both born in the city. Both of their families had been early emigrants to Italica from Italy. Hadrian, in particular, lavished attention and money on the city (he spent more than half his reign on travels throughout the empire). Hadrian also upgraded Italica from municipium to “Colonia Aelia Augusta Italica.” The part of the city that Natasha and I visited, the nova urbs, was initiated by Hadrian.

Our visit

We came to the main gate at 9AM, just as the site opened. A cold mist was in the air. Although the ampitheatre beckoned, we turned to the left toward the residential area. Almost immediately we were presented with a conundrum; were the structures we saw limited to ruins, or were we seeing attempted reconstruction?

We waited for the sun to climb a bit before we nabbed a photo.

I felt very excited to walk on a genuine Roman road, paved in large, flat, but irregularly shaped stones. How often do we get to travel down two thousand year old streets? Italica would have been nearly as old as the United States is today in the days of Jesus. Its founding dates from Republican Rome rather than the later Empire.

The two closest gods are Mercury and Jupiter.
Why do they call it the House of the Birds?

If you enjoy mosaics, Italica will be a special place for you. We first saw examples from the city at the National Museum of Archaeology in Madrid. Happily several beautiful examples remain in place at the site itself. I believe my favorites was the seven gods representing the days of the week at the House of the Planetarium. It was in immaculate condition, and the colors and personality of the work were both vivid. I would certainly not gainsay those who prefer the House of the Birds, though! Natasha happily investigated drains and hypocausts.

I feel pretty comfortable saying this one is a reconstruction!

When we reached the Cañada Honda, we had an eye-opening moment. The Cañada Honda originally connected the new city with the old, which was much larger. Today the route runs directly toward the modern suburb of Santiponce (founded in 1601), which was largely built atop the ruins of the older Roman city. This earliest Roman settlement in Spain probably reached 10,000 citizens at its crest.

Santiponce is a short walk away.

With that thought in mind, Natasha and I navigated two last sites. The first was a massive bath complex spanning 30,000 square meters. Happily, the site has a scaffolding in place so that visitors can take in the layout from above. I took the opportunity to produce a panoramic image.

We are looking straight ahead into the frigidarium.

At last we could come back to the ampitheatre close to the site entrance. We had been stunned by the site when we first saw it in Season 7 of Game of Thrones The ampitheatre was once able to seat 25,000 people from across this region. It is in remarkably good condition. Natasha and I giggled to ourselves as we walked through the intact tunnels beneath the first ranks of seating.

The intrepid archaeologist in her native habitat.
This is where the Romans stowed their wild beasts.

We hadn’t left ourselves much time, but we visited the small on-site interpretation centre. The text mostly spoke to the pilfering of building supplies from this site as Seville and Santiponce grew in population. If the noble amateur “archaeologists” saw fit to remove priceless statues for display on their estates, why shouldn’t a person trying to assemble a home for his or her family take away a few bricks? It is remarkable that these ruins, particularly the mosaics, have remained in place for so long!

It is matter for sober reflection, as the traveller stands above these ruins, to consider that they were once filled with the healthy and the gay, and that as they have passed off, so all shall fulfil the common lot, and recede from life’s busy scene; whilst the sun rises as he is wont, and the face of nature, and the spring with returning vegetation, smile on a future generation, and will smile for ever on those to come, but cannot bring back what once has been.

from The Shores of the Mediterranean, Chapter III, by Frank Hall Standish (1837)

5 thoughts on “Seville: Iterations of Italica

  1. Pingback: Why did we honeymoon in al-Andalus? | Picking Up The Tabb

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