Roman roots run deep throughout the Iberian Peninsula, but are most prominent in Andalucía, strategic position at the gateway to the Mediterranean and the perfect wine-making conditions of which especially appealed to the conquerors. Baetica, the Roman name for Andalucía, became one of the most dynamic and economically developed regions in the expanding Roman Empire around 3 AD, rich in resources and modern in outlook, welcoming even liberated slaves. At the time, Manilva and Casares boasted road links as good as EU-funded German highways. Little remains to the present day, but it’s still worth looking out for Roman traces.
Puente Romano (Marbella)
Probably the most famous trace of Roman heritage is found at the hotel named after it – Puente Romano, literally meaning “Roman bridge”. The gardens of Puente Romano feature a small arched cobblestone bridge, although it has been renovated over the centuries, the basic frame remains. It spans the long-gone Arroyo de Nagüeles and was once part of the Roman road network. The bridge leads to the hotel’s main plaza with a lavish selection of restaurants and is quite easy to miss – be on the lookout the next time you’re out for dinner!
Roman villa at Rio Verde (Marbella)
Once part of the great Roman city of Cilniana, the Roman site at Rio Verde consists of remains of a great villa – much like the modern villas of Marbella. Sadly, all that is left is the floor and a small portion of the walls. Nevertheless, they are covered in spectacular mosaic that has a very unusual design: it is essentially a collection of objects like shoes, kitchen utensils and tables filled with food, all depicted in black and white.
The remains are preserved by a surrounding fence and are open to visitors between 10.30 and 13.30 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. However, they can also be seen through an iron fence at any time and there are signs with information about the site.
The ancient city of Acinipo used to be the centre of wine production when the Roman Empire was on the rise. Located just 14 km outside Ronda, it doesn’t produce wine anymore, but is a great stopover on a road trip – albeit with zero infrastructure, so bring a picnic! Being home to one of the best-preserved Roman theatres in Spain, Acinipo is blissfully free of tourists – and free to enter. To stand and look over the ancient seats imagining the hustle and drama of a once wealthy town is a priceless kind of time travel.
Cartama aqueduct (Málaga)
Carthima, the Roman town in place of modern-day Cartama, flourished as a centre for processing marble. Much like modern Marbella, it was wealthy and fashionable, famous for its fine baths and villas, as well as magnificent statues of the town’s preferred deities, Mars and Venus. Having shed its former glory, it still showcases ruins of a Roman aqueduct – an educational sight for kids and an Instagrammable opportunity for adults.
Baelo Claudia (Tarifa)
Baelo Claudia is the name of an ancient Roman town, located 22 km outside of Tarifa, on the shores of the Strait of Gibraltar. Originally a fishing village and a trade link, it is now one of Andalucía’s most well-preserved Roman archeological sites. Built according to classical Roman tradition, it is a perfectly planned and rational urban project which includes an impressive temple, a forum, a basilica, baths, an aqueduct, and a large fish-salting factory which is especially interesting as an insight into the town’s former glory.
For opening hours of the site, please check http://www.andalucia.org/en/cultural-tourism/visits/cadiz/museum/conjunto-arqueologico-de-baelo-claudia/
Andalucía is a true melting pot of cultures: Romans, Visigoths and Muslim conquerors all left their mark on the land and its inhabitants. Even if you aren’t an archeological aficionado keen on skipping over obscure ruins, Marbella offers Roman sights that are both easily accessible and beautiful, which will transport you back to the glory of an empire that once stretched all the way from north-western Europe to the Near East and encompassed all the lands of the Mediterranean.