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Spain’s Sagunto Castle: From Iberian Arse To Roman Sagunto and Beyond!

Spain’s Sagunto Castle: From Iberian Arse To Roman Sagunto and Beyond!


Sagunto Castle is located not far from the city of Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. The parts of Sagunto Castle that are most visible, i.e., its defensive walls, date largely to the Islamic period, with modifications from later times. Nevertheless, the site also contains remains from earlier eras, such as the Roman period. Thus at Sagunto Castle visitors are able to get a glimpse of the different civilizations that occupied the Iberian Peninsula over the course of its long history. The national importance of Sagunto Castle was recognized by the Spanish government, leading to it being declared a national monument in the 20 th century.

Sagunto Castle is situated about 25 km (15.5 mi) to the north of Valencia, the capital of the Valencian Community. The castle occupies a geographically strategic position on top of the hill overlooking the modern town of Sagunto. Thanks to its location on this hill, the castle commanded a view of the surrounding area, and could be easily defended. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the site was chosen for the construction of a castle.

A 1563 AD painting of Sagunto Castle by Anton van den Wyngaerde. (Anton van den Wyngaerde / Public domain)

Sagunto Castle History: From the Iron Age to Roman Fort

The history of Sagunto Castle stretches all the way back to the Iron Age, i.e., about the 1st millennium BC. During that time, the inhabitants of the site were the local Iberians, who named their settlement Arse.

Due to its location on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, which is also the western end of the Mediterranean Sea, Arse was connected to the rest of the Mediterranean world and prospered from its trade with the Greeks and Phoenicians.

During the 2nd half of the 1st millennium BC, the ancient Phoenician city state of Carthage began to expand, and eventually became the dominant power in the western Mediterranean. By the time the First Punic War broke out between Carthage and Rome in 264 BC, the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula was in the hands of the Carthaginians.

Although Rome emerged victorious when the war ended in 241 BC, the Carthaginians were not completely defeated. In the decades that followed, Carthage expanded further into the Iberian Peninsula.

It seems that Carthage’s expansion alarmed the Iberians at Arse, the Romans, or both, as a defensive alliance was formed between the two around 220 BC. This, however, was no deterrent to the Carthaginians, as Arse was besieged, captured, and sacked by Hannibal in 219 BC.

This sparked the Second Punic War, as Rome declared war on Carthage in the following year. By the time the war ended with the defeat of the Carthaginians in 201 BC, Arse had become part of the Roman Republic, and was renamed Saguntum.

The Romans built up their new settlement, and some traces of the Roman occupation of the site can still be seen today. Although not part of Sagunto Castle itself, one of the most interesting Roman remains at the site is the theatre.

The Roman Theatre of Sagunto is located below the castle. (Alba Sánchez Lizana / CC BY 2.0)

The Roman Theatre of Sagunto is located below the castle, under the northern flank of the hillside. In more recent times the ancient theatre has been heavily restored, which makes it ideal for staging performances and cultural events, though at the expense of its historical atmosphere.

Within the castle itself, the remains of the Roman forum, a Roman temple, and a water cistern can be seen. These are located in the Plaza de Armas, which is the core area of Sagunto Castle.

These fortified walls and others were added to the castle by the Muslims after the end of the Visigothic Kingdom (418–c. 721 AD). (Gudellaphoto / Adobe Stock)

Sagunto’s Islamic Period Transitions to the Kingdom of Valencia

Following the Roman period, Sagunto became part of the Visigothic Kingdom (418–c. 721 AD), before it was conquered by the Muslims. It was during the Islamic period that the castle’s formidable defensive walls were built.

Nevertheless, this was not enough to protect the settlement from its enemies, and in 1238 AD, control of Sagunto Castle was wrested from Muslim hands by King James I of Aragon, who incorporated it into the Kingdom of Valencia.

Curiously, although Sagunto was now in Christian hands, the majority of its inhabitants were still Muslims. Additionally, by the beginning of the following century, Sagunto also had a sizeable Jewish community, whose cemetery can still be seen at the foot of the castle walls. 

In the centuries that followed, Sagunto Castle changed hands many times, and modifications to strengthen the castle were made on several occasions.

Sagunto Castle continued to play a military role, and the last time it saw action was during the Peninsular War, which lasted from 1807 to 1814.

Since then, the history of Sagunto Castle has been mostly peaceful. In 1931, Sagunto Castle was declared a national monument by Spain, and in the following year, its Roman ruins were excavated.

Sagunto Castle Today: A Touristic Day-trip From Valencia

Today, Sagunto Castle is a tourist attraction. The castle can be reached via a 15-minute walk from Sagunto’s train station, which is connected to Valencia by a 30-minute train ride.

Apart from the castle itself, visitors to the site can enjoy scenic views of the surrounding area. The opening hours of Sagunto Castle differs according to the time of the year.

Top image: Aerial sunset panorama view of Sagunto Castle, near Valencia Spain. Source: tamas / Adobe Stock

By Wu Mingren                                                                                                      


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Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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