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HOT Attractions - Italica - Roman Heritage

The national highway connecting the Andalusian cities of Cádiz, Sevilla and Córdoba is one of the busiest in Iberia. It also forms part of the ancient Roman Way, or Via Augusta, 2000 years ago stretching all the way from the Atlantic port of Cadiz... to Rome. You don't have to look far in Southern Spain to be reminded of the region's rich Roman legacy, and Italica is one of the best-preserved examples in the world….

The capital of Andalucía, Sevilla is one of the most captivating cities in Europe. Romantic, elegant, stylish and vibrant, and only a two-hour drive from Marbella, it's a place you'll want to return to again and again. And just nine kilometres to the north lies an ancient secret, waiting to be discovered.

Italica is the oldest Roman settlement in Spain. Founded by Scipio Africanus after the defeat of the Carthaginians at the Battle of Ilipa in 206 BC, today much of the original settlement lies beneath the new town of Santiponce (largely unremarkable save for its XIV century monastery), the original location on the banks of the Guadalquivir river, having been flooded in 1603. Despite the fact that much of the city and its treasures are hidden underground, the splendour of Italica has not been entirely lost. Indeed, evidence of this can be found at Italica's colossal amphitheatre, which remains extremely well conserved.

The site of Italica, which was supposedly founded near an indigenous Iberian settlement, was chosen as a retreat for wounded war victims after the Battle of Ilipa — the name Italica linking the colony to its Italian origins. However, Italica was not only a place of rest, Scipio was cunning in his strategic choice of location. With the rivers Guadalquivir and Guadina nearby, Italica became an excellent point of communication, while the site also provided direct access to the metal-rich areas of the Sierra Morena.

Italica was also the birthplace of the Roman Emperors Trajan and Hadrian, and although the Historic Augusta suggests that Hadrian was in fact born in Rome, the well-known Roman historian Appian of Alexandria wrote in lberica (VI.38): "Scipio Africanus (left a small force in Spain), and settled his sick and wounded soldiers in a town which he named Italica after Italy, and this is the native place of Trajan and Hadrian who afterwards became emperors of Rome."

Excavations of this awesome Roman discovery began back in 1781 and are reputed to have not stopped since then, although it was not declared a National Monument until 1911. Original cobbled street layouts, beautiful mosaics, and public and private buildings are on view at the site — as is the awe-inspiring amphitheatre considered to be one of the largest of the Roman Empire. If the Coliseum in Rome seated 50,000 spectators, then to have a capacity of 25,000 in a small city of approximately 8,000 people, is of remarkable significance.

Originally, the amphitheatre would have been divided into three tiers: the lower tier or ima cavea, which was reserved for magistrates and distinguished members of society; the middle tier or media cavea for the rest of the male population; and the top tier or summa cavea for women and children. Today, you can visit the amphitheatre, wander through the tunnels where gladiators once walked and see the dens where lions and other wild animals would have been kept — as well as taking in the spectacular view from summa cavea.

The city of Italica itself was divided into two zones — the vetus urbs (old city) and nova urbs (new city), which formed part of Hadrian's expansion. However, it is to the north of Santiponce in the nova urbs where most of the excavations have been made. Some of the impressive villas uncovered include the House of the Planetarium with its hexagonal mosaics, the House of Birds, the House of Spinning, and the House of Neptune with its thermal baths, together with the Temple dedicated to Trajan.

And for those who are interested in discovering more about the artefacts from Italica, architectural remains are on display at the Archaeological Museum in Sevilla, including a vast statue of the Emperor Trajan and an extensive collection of religious, honorary and funerary inscriptions on stone and bronze.

For all Italica's splendour, eventually the influence of Mother Nature led to its gradual decline. Sadly the Guadalquivir river changed course leaving the city so dry and isolated that by the III century it was almost entirely abandoned.

But today, there are few places more intriguing in old Batavia (Andalucía) than the ancient city of Italica — giving visitors the opportunity to travel back in time and experience the wonder of Spain's oldest Roman settlement.

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 57 - 2006

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