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Castell de Bufalaranya, Roses.

Rhodes in Spain? The Tempestuous History of the Strategic Coastal City of Roses

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The city of Roses (Greek: Rhode) in Catalonia, Spain, founded most probably in 776 BC, became the basis for some remarkable stories that last from ancient times until now. In accordance with its Greek sister, the city of Rhodes, Roses saw many battles and historical events. After centuries of being forgotten, the history of this fascinating place has become known once again.

If you believed that Greeks were usually focused on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, you would be mistaken. Ancient Greeks were famous for their willingness to explore the world. The nature of the ancient Greeks is close to that of Odysseus, whose curiosity about the unknown was as strong as his love for his homeland. Therefore, Greeks, wherever they went, tried to apply the remarkable culture of their region. Moreover, while exploring the world, they were fearless, and in fact, it is unknown just how far they went. Some researchers believe that legendary Jason and the Argonauts traveled to South America and explored Amazonia. However, the story about the city known as Roses is not based on mythology, but on evidence brought from excavations.

The modern-day town of Roses, Catalonia, Spain.

The modern-day town of Roses, Catalonia, Spain. (CC BY 3.0)

The Greek Wanderlust

The tale about ancient Greek colonies in current Spain, started many centuries before this land was conquered by the Romans.

Researchers don't concur about the origins of the city of Roses. According to the most common theory, a group of colonists from Rhodes arrived there around the 8th century BC. They brought the knowledge and traditions of Greece to Spain, including the technology used to create the city. Moreover, it seems that after three centuries the descendants of the colonists from Spanish Roses created another city – Massalia, known as Marseilles. It is possible that they joined forces with the citizens of nearby Empuries to create a new settlement.

According to the description published by the MET Museum:

''Greece is a country surrounded by water and the sea has always played an important role in its history. The ancient Greeks were active seafarers seeking opportunities for trade and founding new independent cities at coastal sites across the Mediterranean Sea. By the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., Greek colonies and settlements stretched all the way from western Asia Minor to southern Italy, Sicily, North Africa, and even to the coasts of southern France and Spain. Regional schools of artists exhibited a rich variety of styles and preferences at this time. The major Ionian cities along the coast of Asia Minor prospered. They cultivated relationships with other affluent centers like Sardis in Lydia which was ruled by the legendary King Croesus in the sixth century B.C. Indeed, by this time, the eastern Greeks controlled much of the Aegean Sea and had established independent cities to the north along the Black Sea. ''

Greek (Blue) and Phoenician (Red) Colonies around 6th century BC.

Greek (Blue) and Phoenician (Red) Colonies around 6th century BC. (Public Domain)

In the Footsteps of the Greeks

After being conquered by the Roman Empire, the city was still a very significant part of the trade route. The most important works related to urbanization of the city by the Romans come from the 2nd century BC. With the arrival of Christianity to this land, the ancient temples were abandoned. Researchers unearthed an early Christian necropolis and the ruins of a paleochristian church.

Paleochristian Basilica, ruins at Empuries.

Paleochristian Basilica, ruins at Empuries. (CC BY 2.0)

However, with the end of the domination of the Romans, many people decided to leave the city and find safe harbor elsewhere. It was abandoned during the times of Visigoth domination, but a fortified settlement was located near the ruins, a hillfort.

Medieval Revival of Roses

The new chapter in the history of the city came during medieval times with the appearance of the remarkable monastery of Santa Maria de Roses. It was mentioned in sources dating back to 944 AD. During this time, the site faced many battles and other military activities, and with time it started to be populated once again.

Chapel at the Monastery of Santa Maria de Roses.

Chapel at the Monastery of Santa Maria de Roses. (CC BY 2.0)

The history of Roses is not well documented until 1402, when the county of Empuries, which included Roses, became a part of the Crown of Aragon. During the 16th century, the site of Roses faced attacks by privateers who arrived from North Africa. Some of them were also related to the Ottoman Empire. The admiral and former pirate, Barbarossa Pasha, plundered the city around 1543.

Due to the constant attacks, King Charles V decided to found fortifications. However, it didn't stop the pirates and Turks. The system of fortifications was finished during the reign of Charles’ son King Philip II. Nobody saw the ancient ruins as anything other than interesting artifacts and a source of stones.

During this period, it became part of a defense system connected with the Castell de la Trinitat. In the middle of the 17th century, French troops captured Roses, but in 1659 it became a part of Spain once again. Until the end of the French Revolution, Roses was an important place of battles between the French and Spanish. During the 19th century, the French didn't stop to ask for the rights to Roses, but finally, it fell within the Spanish borders. However, the impact of the French part of the history of Roses is still visible. After World War II, the city became a tourist center.

Castell de la Trinitat.

Castell de la Trinitat. (CC BY 3.0)

The City of Rhodes in Spain

Now the city of Roses and the nearby area is a center of historical attractions. There are two castles and many ancient sites of different sizes. However, researchers believe that the site still covers many secrets. As time passes, the technology used in the exploration of archaeological sites improves. Due to this fact, it is very likely that the upcoming years will bring new discoveries in Roses. The biggest problem in the exploration of the remains of this Greek colony is related to the protection of the heritage that has been uncovered before.

Top Image: Castell de Bufalaranya, Roses. Source: CC BY-SA 3.0

By Natalia Klimczak


Lluís Buscató i Somoza, La colònia grega de Rhode, 1999.

Rough Guides, Chris Lloyd, The Rough Guide to Costa Brava, 2002.

Greeks in Spain, available at:

Roses atura el projecte del castell de la Trinitat per troballes de valor, available at:

Cultural experience in Roses (IV): The Visigoth settlement of Puig Rom, available at:

Ancient Greek Colonization and Trade and their Influence on Greek Art, available at:



Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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