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Italica, Spain: Rome’s First Settlement In Hispania Became Incredible!

Italica, Spain: Rome’s First Settlement In Hispania Became Incredible!

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Italica is an archaeological site located in the southern part of Spain, not far from Seville. The site dates to the Roman period and was founded by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Italica is reputed to be the first Roman settlement in Spain, and one of the republic’s first settlements outside Italy. 

Italica thrived in the centuries following its founding but began to decline by the Late Antique period. Eventually, Italica was abandoned, and no new buildings were built over the site. This meant that the Roman ruins were well-preserved. Archaeological excavations at Italica began in the 19 th century and it is today a popular tourist attraction.

The Roman ruins of Italica, Spain: Rome’s first settlement in Hispania and probably the finest Roman ruins, in many ways, in all of Spain. (rusty elliott / Adobe Stock)

The Roman ruins of Italica, Spain: Rome’s first settlement in Hispania and probably the finest Roman ruins, in many ways, in all of Spain. ( rusty elliott  / Adobe Stock)

The Beginning Of Roman Spain Or Hispania: Italia Settled

Italica is situated to the north of the modern town of Santiponce, and 9 km (5.6 mi.) to the northwest of  Seville, in the southern Spanish autonomous community of  Andalusia. The settlement of Italica was established in 206 BC by the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, who was a key figure in the  Second Punic War . Scipio is perhaps best remembered for his victory over the Carthaginian general  Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC.

In 206 BC, however, Scipio was campaigning against the Carthaginians in  Hispania. After his victory over the Carthaginians at the Battle of Ilipa, Scipio built Italica for the veterans of his campaign. The name of this new settlement was chosen to reflect the place of origin of the settlers. Incidentally, Italica was founded on a site that had previously been occupied by a local tribe called the Turdetani. In any event, Italica became Rome’s first settlement in Spain, and one of its first settlements outside Italy.

In the centuries that followed, Italica grew, and prospered, as new settlers came from Italy to join Scipio’s veterans and their descendants. Italica flourished especially during the 1 st and 2 nd centuries AD.  Emperor Trajan  was born in Italica, as was his successor,  Hadrian. During the latter’s reign, Italica acquired the status of a colony, and was given the name Colonia Aelia Augusta Italica by the emperor.

At this time, Italica is estimated to have had a population of 8000 people. Hadrian’s reign also saw the urban expansion of Italica, and the area covered by the colony increased fourfold.

The Romans left behind many incredible things in Hispania, like this amazing view of the Roman aqueduct in nearby modern-day Seville. (Manuel González Olaechea y Franco / CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Romans left behind many incredible things in Hispania, like this amazing view of the Roman aqueduct in nearby modern-day Segovia. (Manuel González Olaechea y Franco /  CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Sudden End Of Italica: The Roman Third Century Crisis

The prosperity of Italica, however, came to an abrupt end in the following century, due largely to the  Crisis of the Third Century , which had a negative impact on much of the Roman Empire. The urban expansion during Hadrian’s reign was abandoned, and the remaining population retreated to the south of the city. 

Italica’s decline continued in the following centuries. During the Islamic period, Italica was known as Taliqa, and was a small settlement of little importance. Eventually, the site was abandoned, and there were no plans to build a new city over the Roman remains. Consequently, the ruins of Italica are in an exceptional state of preservation. Still, it may be mentioned that the ruins were used as a convenient source of  building materials  throughout the Middle Ages, and even during the early modern period. 

During the 19 th century, the first archaeological excavations were carried out in Italica. These started out as unsystematic diggings, though they gradually became regularized. In spite of that, a large part of the Roman settlement has yet to be excavated. Many of the artifacts that were unearthed during the excavations made it to the Archaeological Museum of Seville, where they may be appreciated by visitors. 

The excavations have also revealed numerous structures at Italica itself. The most impressive Roman ruins are no doubt the  amphitheater, which is believed to have been built during Hadrian’s reign. It is estimated that Italica’s amphitheater was able to accommodate up to 25000 spectators, making it one of the largest amphitheaters in the Roman Empire. In more recent times, the amphitheater was a filming location in Season 7 of the series  Game of Thrones .

Apart from the amphitheater, other Roman structures in Italica worth visiting are the Traianeum, a large temple built in honor of Trajan, a number of villas, which are decorated with  beautiful mosaics , and the baths. Since Italica is quite large, and contains many well-preserved ruins, it may be worth spending a day exploring the archaeological site.

Italica is a popular tourist destination because incredible details like this mosaic are all over the place and the ruins are in “excellent” condition. (Diego Delso / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Italica is a popular tourist destination because incredible details like this mosaic are all over the place and the ruins are in “excellent” condition. (Diego Delso /  CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Italica May Soon Be A UNESCO World Heritage Site!

In 1912, Italica was recognized by the Spanish government as a National Monument. In more recent times, Spain is working towards the inscription of Italica as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A nomination file entitled “The Hadriatic City of Italica” was submitted in 2019, and the site is now on Spain’s Tentative List.

As a tourist site, Italica is open all year round, with the exception of Mondays (excluding bank holidays), and a few bank holidays. The opening hours of the site, however, differ, depending on the time of the year. Citizens of the European Union are allowed to enter the site for free, whereas all other nationalities are charged an entrance fee of Euro 1.50 (1.8 dollars).

Top image: The magnificent ruins of the Italica amphitheater. Image source:  Naj / Adobe Stock

(Editors Note: Updated 18/3/2021 Corrected aquaduct location to Segovia)

By Wu Mingren                                                                                                      

References

sevillecityguide.com, 2021.  Italica Seville (Spain).  [Online] 
Available at:  https://sevillecityguide.com/italica.html

Spain This Way, 2021.  Visit Italica; a travel guide to the Roman ruins of Italica, Spain.  [Online] 
Available at:  https://www.spainthisway.com/places/italica.php

Twotogsontour, 2021.  Amphitheatre of Italica.  [Online] 
Available at:  https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/amphitheatre-of-italica

UNESCO, 2021.  The Hadrianic city of Italica.  [Online] 
Available at:  https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/6376/

www.andalucia.com, 2021.  Italica - Roman Archaeological Site.  [Online] 
Available at:  https://www.andalucia.com/cities/seville/italica.html

Comments

Gary Manners's picture

Thank you, I’ve now corrected the location. 

Gary

Aqueduct's photo is from Segovia, not Sevilla

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