Villa de Toralla: Who Lived in This Luxury High-Tech Roman Villa on the Galician Coast?
When Julius Caesar arrived in Spanish Galicia in 61 BC the history of this place changed forever. The impact of Roman architecture and many aspects of Roman culture are still visible. The remarkable walls of the city of Lugo and the ancient Roman lighthouse of A Coruna are two of the most important ancient sites of Galicia. However, another of the fine examples of Roman heritage is Villa Toralla on the coast in Vigo. This 20th century find revealed the house of a noble Roman family that was in use between the 4th and the 5th centuries AD. Surprisingly, it also revealed the ancient grave of an earlier inhabitant.
History of Villa Toralla
The villa was discovered in the 1920s and is situated on the mainland Spanish coast, close to the shoreline above Veo Beach in Vigo. At that time, the land where the villa was uncovered belonged to the Mirambell family. Due to this fact, the villa is also known as Finca Mirambell. Later, the site came under the ownership of the city of Vigo. The eventual excavation of the site took many decades. In 2007, the first museum was opened on the site, but it took a further six years to finish building the education center that provided a proper exhibition of the archaeological finds there.
The extensive Villa includes outhouses for the servants and baths. ( vigoarqueologico)
There is some evidence that the first settlements on this spot come from an earlier period, as the history of the Vigo area is strongly related to pre-Roman history. The pre-Roman settlements covered Toralla Island and the remains of an ancient cemetery were found there. However, it is Roman-era (4th and 5th century AD) archaeological finds that are most prevalent at the Toralla Villa site. They include mosaics, pottery and other household goods, along with the ruins of a salt factory.
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Remnants of household items found at the site. ( CC BY-NC SA 3.0 )
All the (Roman) Modern Conveniences
The layout of the main building of the villa has been uncovered and is typical of Roman noble houses. A portal with pillars flanked the building and many elements of those survive. The building was richly decorated with beautiful mosaics, many of which also survive until now. Small baths were included in the complex, where the people who lived there could rest and enjoy the sound of the waves of the ocean and the calls of the seagulls. There was also a complex of buildings for servants and a thermal system.
This impressive, technologically advanced accommodation even had its own private salt factory. Moreover, facilities for salt production existed in this area a long time before the villa was built and the site where the salt was produced covers dozens of square kilometers. All indicate that the first owner and builder of the house must have been of considerable means and social standing.
Clockwise: Grinding Stone; Underfloor Thermal System; Main building wall; salt production area. ( CC BY-NC SA 3.0 )
A Grave Anomaly
A few years ago, researchers unearthed a new and interesting part of the history of the villa's site. While preparing the area for the building of the museum, archaeologists discovered an unusual find, an ancient human grave. This grave is totally inconsistent with the villa and it is suspected that the grave is much older due to the style of burial characteristic of the pre-Roman period. The traditional burials of ancient Galicia near the ocean were located on the beach, so the discovery of a grave in an area such as this is always considered special.
The grave became such a precious aspect of the site that it was included in the structure of the museum and stayed intact as part of the foundation of the building. Sadly, due to the acidic ground that is common in Galicia, the human remnants didn't survive.
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The Curious Naming of ‘Toralla’
There is a certain controversy concerning the name of the area where the villa is situated. Although many excavations and much research have been accomplished there remains a curiosity. Why is the site called ‘Toralla’?