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Location: BC, Canada

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Baeolo Claudia - 1st Century AD - Part 1

27 December 2007

Baelo Claudia is 21 km north of Tarifa and about 30 km south of Conil de la Frontera. Not the largest Roman ruins in Spain, nor holding the most people in its heyday and with no spectacular buildings or statuary, it is nonetheless a very important archeological site. “The good general conservation of the ruins, their easy interpretation, the high environmental quality of its surroundings, and especially because in Baelo Claudia we can observe the majority of the fundamental aspects of classic Roman cities” are cited as the major reasons for its importance. (Baelo Claudia, Official Guide to the Archeological Site: Undated, available at site. 12) The other reasons we would give include its role as a port engaged in trade with ports such as Gades (Cádiz) to the north, Tingis (Tangiers) to the south in North Africa and Malaca (Málaga) to the east 50 miles inside the Mediterranean, its “industry”, and the stunning beauty of the location.

The town is mentioned in various documents of the Roman era but it is only in 1663 that the first modern reference is made when it is incorrectly described as being located in nearby Barbate (actually the site of the Roman town Mellaria). The site remains poorly identified in various supposed locations until the 1850’s when there is general agreement on the cove of Bolonia. The first archeological survey of note is conducted by a Belgian curate Jules Furgus in 1907 who publishes two articles in 1907 and 1908 in which he makes a couple of key errors. The first major excavations are conducted from 1917-1921 under the leadership of Pierre Paris. A scientific report was issued, due largely to the work of his assistants, between 1923-1926. (Baelo Claudia, 17-18)

As a result of these excavations, Spain in 1925 declared Baelo Claudia an Artistic Monument. But it fell into “official obscurity” and “between 1921 and 1964, the city did not figure as an object of any research project or conversation plan, with the exception of a few collectors and curiosity seekers who occasionally plundered the site”. (19)

With the advent of tourism in the area and the construction of a few small hotels in Bolonia, a relatively isolated coastal town with a narrow, then unpaved, 8 km road from the National Highway 340 that runs from Cádiz to Algeçiras, it became necessary to better protect the site. In 1966 systematic archeological excavations began once again, this time under the leadership of the French Institution of Spanish Studies – Casa de Velázquez. This work included the acquisition of private properties in Bolonia that had been built over the lower part of Baelo Claudia. Unfortunately some private holdings still intrude over the site (seen here at the upper left of the picture).

In recent years attention has been turned from large excavation work to “graphic documentation, the study of emerging architecture, and the publication of its results” (22) as well as excavations to support the conservation of the site. This unearthed “the intact pavement of the ‘Decumano Maximo”, the city’s principal street”. (23) Imagine hurrying down this street on the way to the market or to the basilica for your day in court (pillars on the left) 2000 years ago. Compare it to a leisurely exploratory stroll over these very same pavements today.

No evidence has been found of settlement of this site prior to the Roman period. Excavations here show the beginnings of settlement with a fish salting industry from about 200 BC to 30 BC. The site goes through a period of expansion from then until 41 AD. The first salting sites having been destroyed around 50-30 BC, they are rebuilt in an expanded form and an urban nucleus begins uphill. The apogee of the city’s development lies between 41-68 AD likely the period when Baleo became “a municipality of citizens with Roman rights, a circumstance for the appreciative inhabitants rechristen the city with the denomination “Claudia’” in recognition of Emperor Claudius. (33)

The city minted its own money from at least 101- 31 BC.

Statuary was added at the city gates and included in the theater in prominent places such as those where these representations of minor gods of intoxication in Greek mythology. Both have a wineskin from which water flowed into two basins in the wall of the theatre.

At this period important hydraulic infrastructure was provided with three aqueducts that provided water for the population and the fish salting industry.

Within the town water was distributed by systems of lead or ceramic pipes and sewage was carried off by a second system of piping.

The economic base of the city depended on fishing and the salting of fish (and some meats), the production of garum, made from fish heads and intestines (in great demand as a culinary sauce and in pharmacology) and the trade of these products with the cities noted above. For examples these products could be exchanged with Tingis (Tangiers) for the bricks used in
the thermae of the public baths in the city. But the salting works seem to have been central to economic prosperity.

The site can be viewed on the web and apparently boasts a virtual tour which we have not yet been able to make run over WiFi here. But give it a try.