… ever do for Catalonia?
Earlier in my posts about Barcelona I mentioned that the development of the city really began with the arrival of the Romans who developed a great port here and laid the foundations for the prosperous metropolis that was to spread inland. So is this a city with Roman sites to rival those of Italy? Well no. It doesn’t come close as far as I could see on my visit.
In most conurbations the medieval city might be a good place to find evidence of Roman structures that had been developed and built upon, or perhaps incorporated into the city walls, yet in Barcelona this didn’t seem to be the case. Now I’m no Mary Beard, so might well have overlooked some vital evidence, but in the Gothic Quarter there is medieval design aplenty but very little that pre-dates this. I suspect Medieval Catalonians may well have been recycling enthusiasts.
In Plaça Nova, not far from the Cathedral lay a stretch of Roman masonry which was my first discovery. Perhaps “stretch” is stretching a point. There’s a single arch, though view it from the other side and you can see two. Any Monty Python aficionado should recognise its purpose; the famous exchange from Life of Brian that answers the question “What have Romans given us?” results in a long list of achievements. A list that begins with “an aqueduct”. For those of us who take clean drinking water and sanitation for granted this might not seem much, but it’s transformative power made being part of the empire a more attractive option than simple subjugation.
Behind the cathedral I found my second structure. Along the narrow alleyway of Calle Paradis and down a few well-worn steps I found the Temple of Augustus; the very heart of the Roman City. This structure wasn’t only dedicated to Rome’s first true emperor who had been elevated to the status of god, it was also the site of the Forum in the city so would have been impressive and imposing, and in a limited sort of way it still is. Only a podium and four tall columns in the Corinthian style remain, but finding them “indoors” was quite a surprise. The rest of the temple has gone and its surrounding gardens incorporated into the cathedral complex.
Reg: All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?
Xerxes: Brought peace!
The Romans may have done a lot, but over the centuries it seems that their beneficiaries were less than grateful.