Barcino, the Ancient Barcelona

31/07/2015 18:37

Between Emporiae and Tarraco, bridgeheads of Ancient Rome in the Iberian Peninsula after the Second Punic War, the Republic consolidated their domains establishing intermediate settlements or military camps, usually where there were already native settlements. So Baetulo and Barcino, Badalona and Barcelona emerged.

Pomponius Mela already referred to the existence of small towns that grew in the area of influence of Tarraco. It was in the time of Augustus, between 27 and 14 BC, when was given the name to Colonia Julia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino Pliny the Elder shortened as Colonia Faventia and Ptolemy included in his World map with the name of Barcino. However Barcino should not be a remarkable town in the area of the Empire, its decumanus was about 2700 feet long and 1800 the cardo. The first walls surrounded an area of about twenty four acres, did not even have an amphitheatre or circus that will entertain the population.

Roman historians also mentioned the Baetulo’s oppidum, founded nearly one century earlier. Walled and with similar dimensions than Barcino, Baetulo relied primarily on the trade of the wine that was produced in the villages around. In Assemblea de Catalunya square, the Municipal Museum displays the remains in the subsoil of the baths and other buildings, some of tabernae and insulae that were near the main roads. Here is shown the Venus of Badalona, a small marble female figure finely carved. It was found without head neither limbs during the 1934 excavations in an ancient Roman sewer. On Eras street of are visible the remains of what must have been the theatre.

Back to Barcino, watching a current map of the city of Barcelona, ​​you can easily imagine the perimeter defended by the Roman walls. Time lapse has not changed dramatically the layout of the streets where were the defences. Some of them still may be found with the modifications suffered in its history. The original wall, from the first century, would be reinforced about two hundred years later after the first barbarian incursions. So the wall was rebuilt growing to up to twenty seven feet high and almost eighty defensive towers, some of which reached fifty four feet, for a distance of about a mile, which means that the separation between towers ranged between twenty five and forty feet. So many towers earned the nickname of Crowned City for the appearance that offered from the outside.

The Roman wall lost its meaning in the thirteenth century when a new defensive perimeter was covering up the new districts that had grown up outside the walls. Then was allowed to build new townhouses beside the ancient walls. With the opening of the Via Laietana early twentieth century the buildings that had been added to the old Roman wall were cleared leaving in sight where even existed. The most relevant sections are found descending from Avenida de la Catedral throughout Tapineria Street, where the tapins, a medieval footwear, were made. Here was the northern corner of the city.

Following up to Ramon Berenguer the Great Square, the wall also maintains the medieval buildings of the Royal Chapel of St. Agatha and the Royal Palace, both dating from the fourteenth century. The wall continues with some towers near the junction of the Baixada del Caçador with Sots-Tinent Navarro Street, where added also a fourteenth century building, in this case the Requesens Palace. This street was previously called the Roman Walls Street and even before Basea street, for the fights that were made with bassetges or slings.

A circular defence tower stands on Traginers square where, little further away, in the Correu Vell street there are more wall fragments, some half-hidden, like those seen in Pati Llimona Civic Centre. Another piece may be seen in a school’s courtyard at Palla Street, near the place where there was one of the four main city gates.

In the plaça Nova, next to the Cathedral Avenue and completing the circle was Decumana Gate and the remaining lateral semi-circular towers that lead to Bisbe Street, next to the Episcopal Palace and the Archdeacon's House, home of the Archives of the City of Barcelona since 1921. Latter, the building suffered an unfortunate restyling that broke the monumentality of medieval facade. Next to the old gateway there is part of the two branches of the aqueduct that supplied water to Barcino. One came from Collserola, the close low chain and the other from Besos river, northwards. From this last one four arches can be seen built into the wall of a neighbouring Duran i Bas street. Plaza Nueva, New Square, joined Cathedral Avenue, formerly of Christ the King, when the buildings that separated the space were demolished in 1939. Decumana Gate, as it surely were the other three, had three openings, the central one for the charriots and two side for pedestrians. One of these is located in the basement of the house of the Archdeacon.

In this gateway starts the Decumanus Maximus, the main road through that run longitudinally the town and was going to the forum. Today is Bisbe Street which continues down in the Ciutat and Regomir streets once traversed thistle forming the Baixada of Llibreteria and Call, Jewry, Street. The layout has not changed too much. The space is now occupied by the Palace of the Generalitat in Sant Jaume square which roughly corresponds to that occupied once the Roman forum. In neighbouring 10 Paradis street, at the headquarters of the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya, four Corinthian columns remain in the original location of the ancient temple of Augustus, one of them stood before in King’s square until in 1956 it was attached to the others. This was Mount Taber highest point.

The other gates were in the current Angel Square and the old Jewish quarter, in the Middle Ages they were known respectively as Castell Vell and Castell Nou, old and new castles The fourth was the maritime portal or Castell del Regomir and it is part of the structure found during excavations carried out during the remodelling of the Civic Centre Pati Llimona.

Behind the Town Hall, in the basement of Sant Miquel square remain buried the city baths, donated by the family Minicius Natal in the year 125 One of its members, Lucius Minicius Natal won the chariot competitions at the Olympic Games of the year 129. Other remains of the Roman city can be seen by accessing the Museum of City History. Four thousand square meters under the Plaça del Rei where excavated discovering a second century neighbourhood of homes and craft workshops where there was a fullonica and tinctoria, a laundry and a dye. Also a factory of the fish sauce so prized by the Romans, the garum and a wine installation from the mid-third century.

The burials took place always outside the walls. A necropolis was discovered in Villa de Madrid square, where the sarcophagi were deposited on either side of the burial pathway. Here were found graves of over eighty different kind and stelae and slabs with epigraphs in its original context.  

Inland, Ausa, Vic, was linked to Iluro, Mataró, by a causeway. In Vic there’s a nearly intact roman temple which for centuries was hidden by the Montcada Castle, its walls were part of the fortress courtyard.

The Llobregat River, Rubricatus in Latin, formed the boundary of Tarraco influence area, right at Ad Fines, Martorell. There the river was crossed by the Via Augusta, the Roman road that ran along the coast from Gaul to Gades, in the Atlantic. The bridge was built in 10 BC and was suitable for the passage of bullock carts. Transformed and rebuilt several times retain from its Roman origin some inscriptions of the legions who built it and the triumphal arch of the left bank.

© J.L.Nicolas


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