Baelo Claudia And Carteia: Roman Towns In Andalucia

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It was surprisingly easy to walk across the border from Gibraltar to Spain and pick up a hire car. We were now in Andalucia, an area variously colonised by the Phoenecians, the Romans and the Moors. And our destination was two ancient Roman towns: Baelo Claudia and Carteia.

The Roman Town Of Baelo Claudia

Baelo Claudia is one of the best preserved Roman cities in Spain. The Romans founded it in the 2nd century BCE, but the most important buildings here date from the time of the Emperor Claudius two hundred years later. The town was important for fish processing and as a trading centre with the nearby North African ports. Baelo Claudia was partly destroyed by an earthquake in the 2nd century CE, and completely abandoned by the 6th century.

Remains of Roman aqueduct at Baelo Claudia.
An aqueduct brought water down from the hills

One the southernmost coast of Spain, and close to the town of Tarifa, Baelo Claudia has a spectacular setting, with hills on one side and the sea on the other. It is well excavated and easy to explore, and there is a purpose built museum and visitor centre. An added bonus is that entrance is free for EU citizens and a nominal €1.50 for everyone else.

Roman road leading towards the mountains.
One of the original Roman roads that ran through the town

Baelo Claudia was built in the classic Roman urban style, surrounded by a wall and crossed by straight, perpendicular streets. There were three main zones, with the port and fish processing beside the water; a central civic, commercial and social area; and a residential area further up the hill. Today you can see remains of the roads, the fish factory and the aqueduct that supplied the town with water. You can walk through the forum, dominated by a statue of the Emperor Trajan, and past temples and shops. At the top of the central area is the amphitheatre, now used once again for the occasional live performance.

Looking over the remains of a Roman town. There are big trees to the right, and behind the town is the sea, surrounded by beach and cliffs.
Looking down over Baelo Claudia

Carteia, The First Roman Colonia

Although Carteia might have been similar to Baelo Claudia in Roman times (a port with fish processing), visiting it today is a very different experience. For one thing it is beside a large oil refinery, and some of the unexcavated part is within the refinery itself. And it hasn’t received as much attention as Baelo Claudia, so the excavations are much less complete. But don’t let any of this put you off: it is an extensive and interesting site. Entrance is by guided tour only (it is free, and our offer to make a donation was refused). Our guide spoke excellent English and had a wealth of information about the site and its history.

Roman remains at Carteia.
Remains of the fish processing plant at Carteia

Unlike Baelo Claudia, Carteia was occupied during several different periods of history. First developed by the Phoenicians as a port, it later became a Roman town. The Romans moved the site of the port, so that it was near to the houses and the fish processing plant. Carteia is historically significant because it was the first Roman colonia. Here, for the first time, non Romans were permitted to become Roman citizens.

Remains of Roman houses.
Roman houses at Carteia

The area was destroyed by the Visigoths around 409 CE, but later Christian and Byzantine remains have been found. There was also a 16th century lookout tower, and a farmhouse and private residence stood here in the 18th and 19th centuries. A bunker on the site was used during the Second World War.

Other Roman Sites In Andalucia

In fact, this part of Spain is full of Roman sites. There are baths, a theatre and an aqueduct near Malaga, and a necropolis at Cadiz. Then there is the Roman town of Italica near Seville, with its magnificent mosaic flooring. I could have spent many more days exploring: hopefully it won’t be too long before the return visit.


6 thoughts on “Baelo Claudia And Carteia: Roman Towns In Andalucia”

  1. travelgalcindy

    I love finding all these bits of ancient Rome all over Europe, and these look like lovely examples! Thanks for sharing them with us.

  2. Haven’t been to this area of Andalucia but really loved this region of Spain. We were on a cruise went to some of the white towns. I’m hoping to return!

  3. I was thinking this totally reminded me of Santiponce (Italica) which we visited several times when we lived in Seville. I find them so fascinating. I need to get to Baelo Claudia and Carteia at some point. They look lovely.

  4. Marilyn Jones

    I am always fascinated at how far-reaching the Roman Empire was. I love Roman ruins and enjoyed reading about the ones in Spain.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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