Uncovering Italica, Spain

Travelling never stops reminding of us of how little we know.  Last December we visited the Archaeologcal Museum of Seville, one of the pavillions created for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. As we explored the fascinating museum, we quickly noted that most of the impressive Roman exhibits were from Italica, which we soon learned was just northeast of Sevilla. Note to selves – we must visit!

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Venus of Italica at the Archaeological Museum of Seville

Fast forward to June 2018, Erik was spending time with us and we hit the road for Andalucia – specifically Italica and Cordoba. Located in (and under) the modern town of Santiponce just northwest of Sevilla, this was an easy 2.5 hour drive from Portimão.

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Centre of the ampitheatre

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View from site towards Santiponce and Sevilla

Italica was an elaborate Roman city founded in 206 BC by Roman General Publius Cornelius Scipio. Smaller than it’s neighbour Hispalis (Seville), it’s main purpose was to settle war veterans from the Second Punic Wars against Hannibal and the Carthaginians. The city was built on the shores of the Guadalquivir River with formal streets surrounding a central public buildings and a forum.

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Italica thrived for many years, particularly under the patronage of Hadrian, as it was his birthplace. He expanded the city northward and erected several new temples and buildings. However by as early as the third Century its prominence began to dwindle due both to the shifting of the riverbed and the continued prosperity of nearby Hispalis.

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Throughout the Middle Ages and well into modern times the city remained a romantic site but was subject to looting, indiscrimate excavation and a quarry for building materials. In fact in 1740 the City of Seville ordered demolition of the ampitheatre walls to support building of a dam on the Gualdalquivir River. It wasn’t until 1810 that Italica recieved any protection, as well as an annual budget for excavation. In 1912 it was declared a National Monument but the final protection laws were not put in place until 2001.

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An active archaeological site

As the modern city of Santiponce was not built over the entire site, much of the original city remains intact and visble. The ampitheatre was the 3rd largest in the Roman Empire at the time and seated 25,000 people which is about half of the Collosseum in Rome. We were actually overwhelmed by the feeling of walking into the centre of the ampitheatre and its surrounding vaults and walkways. There are many parts that remain intact and you definitely get a sense of the specatcles that took place here.

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In addition to the ampitheatre several streets in the elite area of urbs nova or new town have been extensively uncovered and some very impressive mosaics from the original homes are visible. Wandering along the formal streets amongst columns, cedar trees and remains of the original homes and mosaics provides a fascinating experience and a unique insight into Roman history.

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The “House of the Birds” mosaic

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Getting to Italica is easy, as the signage on the highways is excellent and coming from Portugal you can avoid the busier thoroughfares as you head north in the outskirts of Sevilla. There are few overnight choices in Santiponce itself but most visitors come from Seville on a day trip or using public transportation.

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We stayed at the Hotel Anfiteatro Romano which is reasonably priced and has a unique interior. The rooms were small but clean and perfectly adequate for a night. There are several restaurants within a short walk and we had an excellent meal at the attached Ventorrillo Canario.

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Entrance to the Site

The entrance to the site is directly across the street from the hotel and there is ample street parking in the area. Entrance fees are very reasonable and on the day we visited in late June there couldn’t have been more than 50 people in the whole site which is quite expansive. There are no facilities within the site other than washrooms and vending machines near the entrance. The grounds surrouding the ampitheatre contain some fascinating pieces and throughout the entire site you will find scattered remains of columns, poticos and statues. Also, keep in mind that the site is closed on Mondays.

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A morning or an afternoon of about 2-3 hours should be sufficient to see the entire site, although this depends on the level of interest you have in this type of attraction. For us it was a unique, enriching and very memorable visit.

About Tim & Anne Hall

We sold almost all of our belongings and left our home in Nova Scotia in April 2016 to experience as much of the world as we could. We spent over a year slow traveling in Latin America and Europe, and are now living happily in the Portuguese Algarve, Portimao to be specific. We are gradually chnging the focus of our site to feature images of Portugal. Stay tuned - its a work in progress.
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8 Responses to Uncovering Italica, Spain

  1. Joe says:

    Thank you for the historical and practical information, and excellent photos. The mosaic floors appear so artistic and well-preserved. After we visited the Roman city of Empúries on the Catalán coast last month, I was hoping to find more sites in Spain to explore. Italica looks like a phenomenal place that is uncrowded and easy to find.

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Hi Joe. Italica is a great spot to get a litttle more Roman history. You can do it on a day trip from the Algarve when you’re here or if it’s cool enough an overnight (or two) in Sevilla is well worth the effort. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jean Pulley says:

    Hi Tim & Anne!!!
    Well I must admit that the mosaic floors were beautiful !!! And in excellent condition for their age!
    Were you able to find out how long they have been researching that site?
    How fortunate for you both that you have had the time and finances to be able to do this!!!
    Love, Jean

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      Hi there Jean. There has been casual research, excavation (and looting) going on for a few hundred years, but it has only been in the last century that serious research and excavation has begun. Yes, we really enjoyed our visit there. Cheers, Tim & Anne

      Like

  3. Thanks for both the fascinating history lesson and your introduction to this place that is so close to us. It’s humbling to think of the ancient history that surrounds us and to walk in centuries-old cities dating back to the time of Hadrian. The mosaic, “House of the birds” is amazing! Anita

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      We were so surprised when we found out about this last ear when we were in Sevilla – and so glad that we made the trip this year. The depth of history that surrounds us in this corner of the world is amazing!

      Like

  4. kemkem says:

    Glad you guys finally made it to Santiponce. Lovely place isn’t it? I never got tired of visiting it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • timannehall says:

      We made our first gaff on the way out. Arrived Sunday afternoon plnning to visit on Monday but of course it is closed on Mondays, So it wa soff to Cordoba fo a couple nights and visited on the way home later in the week. We really enjoyed it and were totally surprised by how quiet and empty the place was. Dirt cheap too. Cheers!

      Like

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