Our guest writer in Southern Spain, Tarifa, Robin Graham, never tires of exploring. He brings The Spain Scoop the odd, the wacky and the off beat. Baelo Claudia is definitely off beat and on beat for a visit.
Spain isn’t exactly starving of Roman remains; there are sites all over the country and many modern cities either have Roman origins or have been Roman at some point in their evolution. The aqueduct at Segovia, the temple in Córdoba, the now-indoor temple to Augustus in Barcelona, the Tower of Hercules near A Coruña – all stand testament to Roman Iberia.
Nowhere in Spain though, is an entire Roman city as well preserved as the one at Baelo Claudia, right on the southern coast, within sight of the African continent and around 20km from Europe’s southernmost point – Tarifa.
The town was a major port and a centre for the production of garum, a fish sauce that the Romans were crazy for and that we are probably better off without. Today’s ruins incorporate a well preserved and arcaded main street, a forum and temples to Isis, Juno, Jupiter and Minerva as well as baths and a market and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the whole thing is located on a spectacular stretch of coastline with views across the Straits to Africa.
Following the newly restored paths, the visitor might be forgiven for imagining, or wanting to believe, that the town was founded on something a little loftier than fish processing, but then, tuna is still more or less revered around here. The Romans would have caught it in much the same way as the Moors later did, with a maze of nets that corral the huge fish into an enclosure where they can be picked off. They called the technique almadraba and the name stuck. Although not as widespread as it once was, the almadraba is still in use today, stocking the area’s restaurants regularly and causing significantly less environmental damage than modern fishing techniques.
It might seem like a rather mundane connection between us and the ancients who built this place but after a vist to Tarifa, or to nearby Zahara de los Atunes for a taste of locally caught tuna it will make perfect sense.
Robin Graham writes about Andalusia, Spain and some other stuff. His stories can be found,with accompanying photography, at http://alotofwind.com/ He’s a private person but, strangely, doesn’t mind being followed : @robinjgraham or liked (on Facebook) : alotofwind.com. Photography at http://robingraham.wix.com/de-la-luz#!