Spain has always held a bit of a special place in my consciousness. It was the first country that I visited on my first trip to Europe. It was that trip, and in part my experiences in Spain, that helped push me towards Archaeology at time when I was still pursuing a degree in another field, though with increasing disillusionment in the program I was in. I returned again the next year, but, those first two trips through Spain only gave me a taste of the remains of the Roman world in Spain. I was traveling with a friend, and the schedule was pretty hectic, so, in most places I couldn’t really delve into much of the Roman remains in places, though I did see enough to whet my appetite.
I’d always craved going back to Spain and delving more into the Roman heritage there, but had never gotten back in the intervening years. A couple years ago I had finally come up with a plan to hit most of the major sites, and some not so major sites, in Spain through a series of three itineraries. In the summer of 2016 I was able to put the first of those in action. Through my previous trips through Spain, I knew in particular that I wanted to spend more time in Tarragona, where I had stopped briefly before, and to see Empuries, which I had attempted, but failed, to see in 2008. I had also wanted to visit Mérida, but really came nowhere near there in my previous visits. Because I couldn’t wait to see those three sites, in particular, I decided that my first run through Spain would go through the central area and eastern coast. The two future trips, tentatively focus on a swing through the north of Spain and down along the western coast of the peninsula through Portugal, and then another trip through the south of Spain and Portugal.
The natural place to start seemed like Madrid. Being a larger city, it would be a good place to adjust into the pace of Spain, plus I was able to get a direct flight into Madrid from the United States, which saved a little bit of transit time that ended up coming in quite handy. Barcelona would probably be just as logical a place to start for this particular itinerary, just done in reverse.
Madrid: I spent a total of about 2 and a half days in Madrid. My flight arrived late morning on May 31st, so, by the time I got to my accommodations, got situated, and got my bearings, I had about a half a day. I then spent another two full days on June 1st and 2nd. Since Madrid was not the location of an ancient Roman settlement, there is not much in the way of remains to see there, but there are a few good sites within an easy day trip’s reach from the city. That first half day I used to head out to Segovia by bus, which, honestly the half a day was more than enough time to visit. The remaining two days were used to visit Alcala de Henares (Complutum) and Toledo (Toletum) respectively, as well as the few relevant sites within Madrid (Museo Arqueológico Nacional and the Temple of Debood).
May 31 – Madrid – Segovia day trip.
Mérida: From Madrid, I took the train to Mérida to see the remains of Augusta Emerita. It’s really quite a bit out of the way, there’s not a whole lot else in that part of Spain, but, the trip is well worth it, as these are among some of the most plentiful and best Roman remains in the country, and probably, as far as a single destination, is one of the best in all of Europe. I arrived in the afternoon, so I had a few hours on June 3rd to see some things, and then had two full days on June 4th and 5th to explore the remains. Because of how much there is here, the two and a half days almost wasn’t enough. There were apparently some halfway decent day trips nearby (Medellín, for instance) that would have been nice with another day or two, but my time was jam packed as it was. Even with a few things that weren’t open while I was there, and could potentially be open in the future, I’d recommend no less than two days for someone with even a passing interest in archaeology. Since there is so much to see here, a day by day breakdown doesn’t really work, as most major sites carry pretty similar hours. There are a few that don’t, which are covered in the individual posts, but, really, most things can be seen in any order.
June 3rd-5th – Augusta Emerita – Part I.
June 3rd-5th – Augusta Emerita – Part II.
June 3rd-5th – Augusta Emerita – Part III.
June 3rd-5th – Augusta Emerita – Part IV.
June 3rd-5th – Augusta Emerita – Part V.
June 3rd-5th – Augusta Emerita – Part VI.
June 3rd-5th – Augusta Emerita – Part VII.
June 3rd-5th – Augusta Emerita – Part VIII.
Valencia: From Mérida, it was another long train ride to Valencia (Valentia). Valencia itself, while a mildly important Roman settlement, doesn’t have much in the way of Roman remains, but, it serves as a good base of operations for seeing a few other interesting sites in the area. With that in mind, I spent three full days there, and very small parts of two others upon arriving and leaving, with the expectation that I had three separate day trips planned, and would potentially have some excess time on the day I arrived and at other times outside the day trips to see what’s in Valencia. Though things were sometimes a little rushed, this plan worked out for the most part.
The three sites that were within a reasonable distance of Valencia were Alicante (Lucentum), Sagunto (Saguntum), and Llíria (Edeta). Alicante and Sagunto really took up the majority of the day, but Llíria only took the morning, which left me the afternoon to see a few things in Valencia. The afternoon I arrived also left me enough time to see the La Almonia site in the old town of Valencia.
June 6th – Valencia – El Museo Arqueológico de l’Almoina.
June 7th – Valencia – Lucentum (Alicante) day trip.
June 9th – Valencia – Saguntum (Sagunto) day trip.
Tarragona: It was a short trip from Valencia (a little over 2 hours) up the coast to Tarragona (Tarraco). Though the trip was short, the reality of the check in time for my accommodations in Tarragona prevented me from getting an early start out, so unfortunately a lot of the day gets burned when that is the case. With Tarragona, that proved to be a particular hindrance, as there were a few things I didn’t get a chance to see in the area, and the majority of an extra day, rather than just an afternoon, possibly would have given me the opportunity to see at least one extra nearby location.
While there are plenty of remains of ancient Tarraco to see in town, there is also quite a bit in the immediate surrounds as well, so, a few trips outside the city were necessary (including two that could have been combined had I been a more aware of one location in advance). I spent two full days in Tarragona, and then the afternoon of the day I arrived. The strange opening hours of some things lead to a lot of juggling and necessitated a pretty good advance plan if I wanted to try and see it all. While another full day might have been too a little too much extra time, again, that extra half day would have been exceptionally helpful. Three full days would probably have allowed me to see everything at a good pace. Though, a full extra day, for a total of three and a half, might have allowed me time to actually get to the El Mèdol quarry during its sparse opening hours. Basically, a good plan is needed to see the town and its surroundings in a reasonable amount of time, and hopefully my information can help with that. The daily itinerary doesn’t necessarily correlate to the post breakdown, though Tarragona is also in three parts. So, for this, I have just linked them in order.
Barcelona: My final stay of the itinerary was Barcelona (Barcino). I was fortunate enough to visit Barcelona a few times before this most recent stay, and I had seen some of the Roman remains there, though mostly in passing, in those previous visits. The biggest advantage was that I had a good idea of what was there and where it was ahead of time, which made the difficulty of seeing everything in one afternoon a little less of a daunting prospect. I gave myself one full day in Barcelona, which I intended to use to make a day trip to Empuries, plus most of an afternoon on the day I got there, which I intended to use to see things in Barcelona. Again, because of accommodation times, even though the trip from Tarragona was short, I had to burn most of the morning and early afternoon in transit and getting settled.
This lead to me not being able to see a few things in Barcelona fully, and doing a bit of rushing, but I was mostly satisfied. There were a few things in Bareclona that I wasn’t able to see at all, simply because the opening times were limited to a few days a week, none of which my time in the city contained. For that reason, I’m sure a trip back to Barcelona is in the future, perhaps as a stop during one of my future itineraries, should the relevant dates line up.
June 13th – Barcelona.
June 14th – Barcelona – Empuries day trip.