We are going to take a tour of Roman Cordoba. Sometimes the magic and splendour of the Caliphate eclipse the glorious Roman past. But Cordoba was not just any city, in antiquity it became the capital of the province Hispania Ulterior Baetica. Will you join us?
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What you will find here
CORDUBA. HISTORY OF ROMAN CORDOBA
Welcome to a journey through Roman Cordoba. We are going to show you all the Roman monuments that can be visited, not to be visited, routes and some other things. We will try to be brief, as there are many places to mention. But we will be adding links to reference publications for those of you who want more information.
NOTE: some of the timetables listed in the article may be affected by the COVID-19 measures.
CÓRDOBA BEFORE THE ROMANS
Let us go back to the 3rd millennium BC. Around 2500 (Chalcolithic), on the right bank of the Guadalquivir there was already a human settlement. The population evolved with the exploitation of metals and the subsequent contact with the colonising peoples (Phoenicians and Greeks). Before Roman domination, this territory was known as Turdetania (southern Portugal and western Andalusia) and the enclave was already known as Corduba, which came to mean “city of the River”. There is no consensus on this among historians and this subject could be the subject of another very long post.
FOUNDATION OF CORDUBA AND THE REPUBLICAN ERA
The history of Roman Cordoba begins at the end of the 3rd century BC. After the battle of Ilipa, the settlement was conquered. It was not until 169 BC that it was founded as a city by the general Marcus Claudius Marcellus. During an initial period of time, two population centres coexisted: an original Iberian one and a newly founded Roman one. Finally, the new city ended up concentrating all the population and commercial activity.
During the Republic, Cordoba grew. There is evidence of the construction of a first forum, a perimeter wall and the minting of coins in Corduba itself. But it also had to face the attacks of Viriato, the Lusitanian hero who made it difficult for the Romans to conquer Hispania. The city was also the scene of significant historical events such as the “Siege of Cordoba“, under the command of Julius Caesar himself in 45 BC. It was the Roman dictator who partially destroyed the city and executed thousands of citizens and one of Pompey’s sons. This epic event was part of the Civil War between Pompeians and Caesarians that led to the change of political system from Republic to Empire.
The first Roman emperor, Octavian Augustus, granted Cordoba the title of Colonia Patricia in 25 BC. From that time onwards, and especially in the middle of the 1st century, a great building programme was set in motion in the city. The city was repopulated with Roman citizens and Cordoba tried to imitate the metropolis, Rome. Its streets were embellished, new temples, a forum, an amphitheatre and new water supplies were built.
Christianity began to gain prominence in Roman Cordoba between the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 4th century. It was particularly evident with the construction of the imperial palace of Maximianus Herculeus on the outskirts of the city.
VISITABLE MUNUMENTS OF ROMAN CORDOBA
Roman remains in Cordoba are abundant and appear whenever archaeologists delve into the city’s subsoil. A visit to the Archaeological Museum of Cordoba is enough to delight in the great marble sculptures and objects of all kinds. But in this section we are going to show you all the Roman monuments in Cordoba that can be visited (and also some that cannot be visited, but we have to add them because of their importance). Some are more spectacular and others less so, but they are an important piece of the city’s past.
Roman Temple of Cordoba
It is hard to believe now because of the state of the materials, but it was built almost entirely of white marble. However, despite the spectacular appearance it would have had with the white marble, the main parts of the temple were painted. This is common in antiquity, but is still surprising as we are used to seeing remains devoid of colour. The temple was located in an arcaded square on three sides where today we only see buildings. It was built in the 1st century AD and is thought to have been dedicated to imperial worship. Today it is partially reconstructed and can be seen very well from Claudius Marcellus Street itself.
In the Plaza de las Doblas there are two fragments of shaft with their bases that could belong to the peristyle of the square where the temple was located. The location is shown on the final map.
Republican Wall and portico
From Calle María Cristina you can see the remains of the porticus triplex that delimited the square/forum in which the former Roman temple was located. Underneath these ruins is part of the Republican-era wall that was amortised with the imperial construction. The archaeological remains are visible from the outside.
At the time of construction, in the middle of the 1st century, it was the largest amphitheatre in the whole Empire. Later it was only surpassed by those of Rome and Carthage. It was here that the well-known gladiator and wild animal fights, executions and even naval battles were held. It was built outside the city walls, next to the Corduba-HispaliCorduba-Hispali, one of the most important roads in the city. The building was well known from written sources, however it was not until 2002 that the archaeological ruins were discovered. Its remains lie beneath the Rectorado de Córdoba building, a neo-Mudéjar building that was the former headquarters of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. The largest concentration of gladiatorial tombs in the West was found nearby. This fact suggests that there may have been a gladiatorial school in Cordoba. To visit it it is necessary to make an appointment at the Rectorate of Córdoba.
Roman Theatre of Cordoba (Archaeological Museum)
From the title we have given it could be understood that part of the Roman theatre of Cordoba was taken to the Museum, but nothing could be further from the truth. Underneath the museum itself is the theatre itself, so a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Cordoba is almost a must if you are passionate about Roman culture. It seems to have been one of the largest Roman theatres in the Roman Empire and it is estimated that construction began in 5 B.C. It was in use for 300 years, until it was abandoned in the 3rd century after being damaged by an earthquake. To visit it, all you have to do is go to the Archaeological Museum of Cordoba.
Roman Domus. Hotel Hospes Palacio del Bailío
If you want to see what a dwelling of the wealthy people of Cordoba was like, you must visit the Hotel Hospes Palacio del Bailio. This establishment has integrated the remains of the peristyle (courtyard surrounded by columns), the painted parietal decoration, mosaics and Tuscan columns. The mosaics form a very simple network of hexagons, which is decorated at the ends with a border of more elaborate geometric motifs.
Roman Bridge of Cordoba
The original bridge is believed to have been built at the end of the 1st century BC, coinciding with the reign of Emperor Augustus. From that time until the middle of the 20th century, Córdoba city has only had one bridge. Little remains of the original Roman bridge, as the floods of the river Guadalquivir eroded the masonry of its pillars. It has been reformed on numerous occasions. First by Muslims and then by Christians. Defensive elements were added, such as the Calahorra tower (medieval) and other commemorative elements such as the Gateway of the Bridge (modern). In the following post we talk a little more about the Roman Bridge of Cordoba.
Commercial square and wall next to the Roman bridge
On crossing the bridge the passer-by would come across a large gate (the current Puerta del Puente is from the 16th century). Crossing it would lead to a large commercial square partially enclosed by the wall. In the Visitor Reception Centre of Córdoba you can visit the archaeological remains of the wall and some remains of commercial buildings. Some large basins that were used for the storage of oil have been preserved. The commercial square was closely linked to the river port of the Guadalquivir. This space was conceived in the time of the Emperor Claudius, around the middle of the 1st century. You will find models, panels and lots of information. We recommend a visit as it is a good way to get an overview of Roman Cordoba.
Mausoleum and Roman road (Córdoba)
The Corduba-Hispalis road (Cordoba-Seville) started from the Gallegos gate, crossed a bridge and went through a funerary area before passing next to the amphitheatre. Just after crossing the bridge, theway was guarded by two circular mausoleums, one of which has been reconstructed. They were used by Cordoba’s high society and are unique examples in Roman Hispania. Like most of the great Roman buildings in Cordoba, they were built in the 1st century. Today you can go down to the level of these mausoleums and even appreciate the large stone slabs of the street. Furthermore, by appointment, it is possible to visit the interior where the Centre for the Interpretation of the Funerary World has been installed.
Roman tomb of Puerta de Sevilla
Now we see it devoid of decorative elements and to many it may appear to be a simple accumulation of ashlars (opus quadratum). However, it is a monumental tomb that must have been adorned with some sculpture or architectural elements. A semicircular arch leads to a vaulted space. But the most important thing about this burial site is that, despite having been looted, part of the Roman grave goods were found, which is key for archaeological research. This monumental burial site was found at the beginning of the 20th century in another part of Córdoba, but the vicissitudes of history led it to the Seville Gate.
Hypogeum in the Diputación de Córdoba
During the works at the Convent of La Merced, a large number of burials and even several inscriptions were found. A hypogeum was preserved in the cellars of the present-day Cordoba Provincial Council. This collective tomb, in addition to having a decorated interior, was covered with a stepped pyramid. It can be visited when the Diputación organises specialised guided tours, or by making a request through the website.
Hypogeum of Bodega Street
Again another hypogeum, a underground chamber that served as a tomb for a group of people. It usually belonged to wealthy families, whose dead were cremated and placed in urns inside the hypogeum. This one is more difficult to visit, as it is located in the underground car park of a private block of flats. However, public institutions in Córdoba organise visits from time to time.
Tabernae, commercial facilities
A series of archaeological remains from Roman Cordoba have been integrated into the La Ribera underground car park. This area outside the walls and next to the river was a vicus (neighbourhood) of the Colonia Patricia Corduba with important commercial and artisan activity. In fact, the remains found allow us to locate an oil mill in this place. The presence of amphorae suggests that the oil was bottled here and exported by boat along the Guadalquivir. The powerful stone walls and mosaics can be visited and access is free of charge.
Foro Adiectum. Cordoba Bar Association
In the basement of the Cordoba Bar Association are the remains of the so-called New Forum or Adiectum. As we have already mentioned several times, it was in the 1st century when Roman Cordoba was monumentalised. This new forum, the centre of the political, religious and commercial life of the Colonia Patricia, was built. Although it was very close to the previous forum (the Colonial forum), it did not replace it; both forums would coexist over time. The Adiectum forum of Imperial Cordoba housed a large temple inside it. This is suggested by the archaeological remains and imposing fragments of shafts and sculptures found in the vicinity. The archaeological remains can be visited during the College’s opening hours.
We continue our tour of Roman Cordoba now with the public baths. These spaces fulfilled several functions: hygiene, places for socialising and gymnastic and leisure activities. Those in Córdoba have been partially preserved. You can see remains of the natatio, or outdoor swimming pool. You will also find the remains of a grandstand outside the pool and the classic opus quadratum walls that can be found all over Cordoba. However, this is only a small part of what was once the Roman baths of Cordoba, as this type of establishment had many other spaces. To visit this place you need to contact the owners of the shop under which the archaeological remains are located.
Wall in Parking La Mezquita
In this car park you can see the remains of the imperial wall of Roman Cordoba, as well as the alterations from the Andalusian period. The site is open to the public and can be visited in the mornings and afternoons.
Sewers and roadway of Calle Antonio Maura
Outside the city walls there is a large porticoed roadway under which a series of Roman sewers were found. The hydraulic system made it possible to evacuate the water from the nearby buildings and from the amphitheatre. The registers collected the water and led it to galleries of different sections and sizes. As it is located in the underground car park of private homes, it can only be visited when an institution organises a series of guided tours.
Roman Villa of Santa Rosa
This fantastic villaesuburbanawas no anomaly. From the 1st century onwards, but especially from the 3rd century onwards, the surroundings of Roman cities were filled with this type of construction. The uniqueness of this one lies in the good preservation of its opus tessellatum (mosaics) and the discovery of an octagonal peristyle with a fountain or pool inside. The villa combined marble floors (such as those in the triclinium or dining room) with rich geometric and figurative mosaics. The figurative mosaics include a room whose figures may allude to the passage of time. The central figure has been linked to Annus Aion, the god of Eternity, and is accompanied by four other figures representing the four seasons.
The villa is truly enormous. The area of the octagonal peristyle can be seen from the outside as long as there is light. But there is another large part that has been preserved in the basement of a private residential building across the street. This second part can only be visited when specific visits are organised.
Archaeological Key of Cercadilla
It is called an archaeological enclave, although it is popularly known as the palace of Maximianus Herculeus. There is a huge number of constructions: baths, imperial residences, audience and banqueting halls, military area. All these elements were organised around a large semi-circular cryptoportico preceded by two enormous squares: a quadrangular one with a military character and a semi-circular one with a representative character.
Not all historians agree, but the most widespread version of its origin is the attribution to Maximianus Herculeus, the tetrarch in charge of ruling the West. Construction began at the end of the 3rd century and it remained in use throughout much of the Late Antique period. In fact, some of its buildings were converted for Christian worship in the 6th century. Part of the palace was amortised by the growth of the medieval medina when a suburb of the Andalusian Qurtuba was built. Although it is currently accessible, some of its remains can be seen from the outside of the Via Augusta and Avenida de América.
Full information about the Palace of Maximianus Herculeus
Aqua Vetus or Aqua Augusta (aqueduct)
A few kilometres from Cordoba are the first foothills of the Sierra Morena. From these mountains the Roman population was supplied with water from 19 to 14 BC. This is the date from which the aqueduct known as Aqua Augusta and, later, Vetus, has been dated. Today it is known as the “Valdepuentes” aqueduct and was the first of the three aqueducts built in Roman Cordoba. This water channel fell into disuse in the mid-3rd century, probably as a result of an earthquake. On the outskirts of the city there are several visible remains, as its route is 18 km long. We indicate a point on the map where a small fragment covered with a half-barrel vault is preserved. We also point out a beautiful ashlar bridge above Madinat al-Zahara, but to visit it you will have to make a good excursion.
Aqua Nova Domitiana Augusta (aqueduct)
The second aqueduct was built at the end of the 1st century. The city was expanding at that time and more water was needed. The Aqua Nova took water from various sources and may have had a daily flow of 20,000 cubic metres. To get to know it you have to leave the city, although not the municipality of Cordoba. The map shows two of the different locations where you can find remains of the Roman aqueduct and a section of its route.
Aqua Fontis Aureae (aqueduct)
The third and last aqueduct built by the Romans supplied water to the “golden fountains”. We know this at least from written sources from the Caliphate period, when the water channel was still in use. Although its complete layout is unknown, it seems that it began to be supplied with water between the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The curious thing about this place is that two water channels come together: the Roman one and a qanat from the period of al-Hakam II. To visit it you only need to go to the Cordoba Bus Station. During its construction, the remains that are visible in the underground car park were found. The remains of a Mozarabic house and a mosque built with Roman ashlars were also preserved. The latter are also visible from above.
Roman bridge over the Arroyo Pedroches
Following the path of the ancient Via ad Emeritam, i.e. the road that led to Merida, we can cross a Roman bridge with three spans. The construction with semicircular ashlar arches crosses the Pedroches stream to continue eastwards. Right next to it you can see some remains of the Aqua Nova that we mentioned a little earlier. Some historians date them to the Imperial period, but there are also those who doubt their Roman origin.
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. Mosaics
Before the imposing Christian building, this site was occupied by the Andalusian Alcazar, but long before that it was the site of the customs house of the river port. This is how the Roman structures found in the archaeological excavations of the patio de las Mujeres have been interpreted. Here, next to the Guadalquivir river, remains of Roman walls have also been found. To complete the Roman visit to this site, in the halls of the Alcázar there is a room called “de los Mosaicos”. The room houses several tesserae pavements with figurative representations from the excavations in the plaza de la Corredera.
HIDDEN ROMAN REMAINS IN CÓRDOBA
The circuses staged great performances and held spectacular horse races. Along with the theatre and the amphitheatre, they were the main venues for entertainment in the imperial cities. Some historians believe that two were built in Cordoba, the first of which is not well documented. It is speculated that it was built in the western part of the city. The second was built in the 1st century in the eastern part, the great constructive moment of the city of Colonia Patricia Corduba. However, they should not have coexisted in time, as one replaced the other. The Eastern Circus formed part of an enormous architectural complex made up of the circus itself, a large raised porticoed square and the Roman temple with which we began this section. It is not visible today, but it would coincide with the area of the gardens of the Huerto de Orive.
Funerary monument in Plaza Magdalena
It would be located on the outskirts of the city, in a cemetery close to the city walls. More info
Porta OrientalisAs its name suggests, the Gateway of the East or “Gateway of Rome”. It is known from archaeological excavations and would have started to the east next to the circus.
A large gate stood at the end of the Roman bridge. Its remains are not visible, however, we have already seen that very close by commercial structures are preserved in the modern Visitor Centre.
Domus. Palace of the Marquises of Carpio
This spectacular palace houses inside a very well preserved Domus. In addition to geometric mosaics, it also has figurative mosaics. We do not know if it is possible to visit it.
Domus and Republican and Imperial street
An important archaeological excavation was carried out next to the church of Santa Victoria, where several domus and a fragment of a street were documented. More info.
Roman necropolis and lead sarcophagus
A cemetery where a lead sarcophagus appeared was documented during the construction of the new library. It is no rarity, in fact it is speculated that in Cordoba there was an outstanding local production between the 2nd and 4th centuries. More info
ROMAN CORDOBA IN 3D (VIDEO)
As you can see, there is a lot to learn about Roman Cordoba. The enormous amount of archaeological information has made it possible to carry out very impressive 3D virtual reconstructions. Among them we show you the one we liked the most, a short film called Seneca’s Cordoba. It is 6 minutes very well used.
ROMAN REMNANTS NEAR CÓRDOBA
Near the city of Cordoba there are several sites linked to Roman culture that are truly impressive. This is the case of the Archaeological Enclave of Ategua, on the top of a hill and dominating the territory; or the Roman quarry of Peñatejada, excavated in the form of a cave. But we will leave this for a future article, otherwise this one would have no end.
ROUTE THROUGH ROMAN CORDOBA
GUIDED TOURS IN CÓRDOBA
We propose you to discover the glorious past of Cordoba in a guided tour themed around the Roman world. Click on the banner to know all the details or know all our experiences in Cordoba.
ROMAN TOUR YOUR OWN WAY
If you are one of those who like to move on your own, here are two tours around the monuments of Roman Cordoba. The places to visit are quite dispersed, so the routes have been planned in a linear way. Both routes can be found on the Google Maps map at the end of the post and are less than 3 kilometres long.
Remember that in Cordoba there are no steep slopes, so the routes can be done with some ease. As all the monuments are indicated on the map, you can also organise your own route according to your interests.
MORE INFORMATION ABOUT ROMAN CORDOBA
This article on Roman Cordoba may not go far enough. It is an informative text to inspire your next trip to Cordoba. When you talk about history you have to do it with rigour, so throughout the article we have referenced several sources for those of you who want more information. However, we leave you here an article by Carlos Márquez Moreno that compiles numerous previous works on research on Roman Cordoba. Now it’s time to travel to know it!
MAP OF ROMAN CORDOBA
And here is the promised map of Roman Cordoba. Browse through it to locate your next destination. We hope you enjoy it!.
We have to thank the predisposition and goodwill of María Dolores Salamanca and Joaquín Zurita, worker and responsible respectively of the Visitor Reception Centre of Córdoba, meeting people like this makes us happy. Also, Paco Muñoz, author of the unbeatable blog “Notas Cordobesas”, and many others like @AuroGnzlz who have respondedto our messages and have been helpful and kind to us.