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Roman Roads in Spain

Roman Roads

The Romans in Spain. Traces of Roman culture can still be seen all over Spain today. It has strongly influenced many daily routines in Spanish culture.

Traces of Roman culture can still be seen all over Spain today. It has strongly influenced many social, cultural, artistic and political aspects as well as daily routines in Spanish culture.

The Romans arrived in the Iberian pensinsula after Rome defeated Carthage in 206 BC and established their colonies in Spain. A treaty was signed in virtue of dividing the conquered “Hispania” territory: Rome to the north of the Ebro River, Carthage to the south. A short time later, it became obvious that the agreement was invalid and in 219BC the Romans wanted the peninsula to themselves, resuming hostilities with the Carthaginians. Hannibal, the military commander of the Carthaginians was forced to yield and surrender to the oppression and perfect Roman warfare techniques. The conquest lasted 200 years until the Cantabrians and the Asturians also fell to the strong Roman opposition in 19 AC.

The so-called Romanization process in the peninsula happened quickly. Daily, religious, commercial and administrative aspects were guided by the standards set forth by Rome and the provinces accepted (voluntarily or by force), to live under Pax Romana – “peace under Roman terms”. The principal and most important weapon of Romanized adaptation was the Latin language. The first areas to adapt to the Roman lifestyle were those that had frequent commercial contact with Rome. The north and the center of the Peninsula were more resistant to change. Thus, the Basque or Euskera language was one of the few that survived. Today, aside from hearing this language, we can easily find Roman influences such as monuments (most of them hydraulic pieces of work) and contributions to society rights, such as the Civil codes that are in effect to this day. Many bridges, aqueducts, thermal bath complexes, ports, theaters, circuses and even dams were left scattered throughout the Iberian geography by the Romans. Cities such as Salamanca, Segovia, Lugo, Mérida, Zaragoza, Cartagena, Sevilla, Tarifa and Sagunto still preserve in perfect conditions these ancient monuments.

The Romans built new cities from scratch or from small village settlements. These new cities were set to become military cities or bases for commercial networking. The work carried out by the Romans merged new and old cities by connecting them through paved roads called vías that crossed the entire peninsula, which allowed the fast spread of Roman customs and products. Rome communicated with the rest of its provinces by means of these roads, therefore every time a new city was founded, the work started on its new road. Itálica (206 BC) was the first of the founded cities that had not been invaded by the Romans but began the road construction as soon as their new settlers established themselves. The roads were about a meter and a half wide and stone monoliths were set each thousand steps to mark the distances. These roads were the authentic freeways of the time and were used for many centuries.

Nowadays, remains of the original paving of the ancient Roman roads that crossed Hispania can be spotted along some sections throughout various regions of today’s Spain. The main routes were the Ruta de la Plata (the Silver Route), which crossed Spain from Asturias (in the north) to Andalucía (in the south), while crossing cities like Astorga (León), Zamora, Salamanca, Cáceres, Mérida and Seville. The Via Augusta (Augusta’s Road) went from Girona in the Pyrenees, down the Mediterranean coast until the Valencian community, crossing over to Alicante, then entering the plateau and ending in Cádiz – the southernmost tip of Spain. Many side roads split off each route, each in various directions of the peninsula as well.

It is worth following any of these Roman roads, either travelling on them or on any of the nearby highways that run parallel. It is a great way of getting to know Spain, its history and its idiosyncrasies.