Italica is, according to history, the first city created by the Roman Empire in Hispania, and outside the Italian Peninsula, from which it acquires its name; located between the turdetan cities Hispalis – now Seville – and Ilipa – currently Alcalá del Río -. It is considered, by some authors, as the most important work carried out by the Romans in Andalusia.
It was founded in 206 BC by General Publius Cornelius Scipio, “The African”, in the context of the Second Punic War, after the battle of Ilipa Magna, from which he was victorious against the Carthaginians; with the objective of establishing a place of rest for its wounded soldiers, as well as a new residence for the war veterans -vicus ci
vium romanorum-, in the lands of the west margin of the Baetis River -our now river Guadalquivir-.
This is how vetus urbs -the old city- (the whole nucleus founded by Scipio) was born, which lies on the site that now occupies the municipality of Santiponce since the sixteenth century, so that most of the original constructions have been lost.
From the first century, and especially in the second century, the cities of the region begin to grow, providing military security and commercial routes to the Betic zone; necessary for important figures to emerge for the empire, in addition to a great splendor in the Roman world.
Acquires its status as a municipality during the time of Augustus (Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, 63rd, C.-14d.C.), First emperor of the Roman Empire; moment in which the city begins to coin money and to experience the beginning of a great boom.
In the year 53, the Emperor Trajan (Marco Ulpio Trajano, 53-117) was born in the city of Itálica, who reigned from year 98 until his death in 117 – being the first emperor not born in the Italic Peninsula.
Later, in the year 117, Emperor Adriano (Publio Elio Adriano 117-137) was born, also in Itálica, who led an important progress for the city, in all aspects; expanding it and building a large number of buildings for public, cultural and social services. This is how he created the nova urbs -the new city-, then called Colonia Aelia Augusta Italica, in honor of the emperor. With this extension the city acquired the status of colony, with what begins to be equated, administratively, with the metropolis of Rome; copying their institutions.
This new city, whose ruins are partly visible today, was especially loved by Adriano, for what made it an honorific city, characterized by having wide streets and arcaded sidewalks, as well as large buildings and houses. Implanted public services such as sewerage and water canalization; of which some remains are conserved.
The archaeological excavations in Itálica, which have not yet stopped, begin with those carried out by Francisco de Bruna in 1781, giving rise to the current Itálica Archaeological Complex, part of the nova urbs, which we can visit, in which numerous structures are preserved from the city; as well as numerous mosaics and monuments of incalculable value.
The Itálica Archaeological Complex
The city, walled, had an extension of 3,150 meters, and composed five main streets, parallel and sewer.
Among the ruins of what was once the nova urbs, we can find six public buildings and approximately fifty houses -generally two in each block-, most of them not yet excavated. We can highlight several great constructions that can be visited, such as the amphitheater, the theater, the temple dedicated to Trajan (the Traianeum), the thermal baths and several houses; some of them have mosaics of great color and creativity.
Of the important monuments that there were in the city there are many remains of great interest and archaeological and sculptural value; Many pieces are preserved in the Archaeological Museum of Seville.
An important part of the Roman remains was lost during the wars of the Visigoth kings Leovigildo and Hermenegildo, when using them as constructive elements to divert the course of the Guadalquivir river.
Meet the Archaeological Ensemble of Itálica at the hands of Centerbici.
The great constructions of the city of Italica (in Seville)
One of the largest in the entire Roman Empire, the amphitheater of Itálica was a large building 160 meters long by 137 wide, which had capacity for twenty-five thousand spectators (somewhat exaggerated considering that the maximum population of the city was eight thousand people); divided into three tiers at different heights (ima cavea, for the upper class, half cavea, for the common and humble people, and summa cavea, for children and women), and separated by corridors (praecinctiones). Only the lower two are partially conserved in these tiers.
In its center, there is a pit, which was covered with a wooden structure, and was used as a service area, in the different shows with gladiators (munus gladiatorum) and fights against wild beasts (venationes).
He also had several rooms, called Sacellum, dedicated to the cult of Nemesis-Envy and Dea Caelestis.
We can see, in this infographic recreation, the greatness with which the amphitheater would have counted:
The theater of Itálica began to be built in the time of the Emperor Augustus, in the 1st century BC, ending in the 1st century AD. by Adriano, having use until Century V, of already sporadic form. After their abandonment, they gave these facilities the most varied utilities (warehouse, corral, landfill and even cemetery); until finally being blinded by the floods of the Guadalquivir.
Although its approximate location was known from the 18th century, and even the origin of some of its sculptures, it was not found until 1937, in the construction of a house; beginning the excavations in 1970.
It is the oldest known civil work in the city of Itálica. It is located in the Hill of San Antonio, in the vetus urbs, to the west of the present municipality of Santiponce; thus took advantage of the natural slope that then hovered over the Baetis River to locate its bleachers, with capacity for three thousand people.
Nowadays, after its restoration, it is the venue for various festivals and cultural activities.
In the following video we can see a recreation of what the theater was:
The first news that is had of the walls that protected Itálica are of half-full of I century a.C., being constructed by Augusto, extended by Adriano and recovered by Leovigildo in the year 583; covering a maximum perimeter of 50 hectares and with an average thickness of 1.5m., and serving as military and religious protection.
Today there are several visible remains of these walls, mainly in two points of the Itálica Archaeological Complex, in addition to some stretches; a tower from the time of Augustus next to the theater, and a canvas from Hadrian’s time next to the amphitheater.
They were built by sections at different times, as the city grew. Of the walls, the remains of the entrance to the city, flanked by two rectangular towers, are also preserved.
The thermal baths
In Itálica there were at least two thermal pools, called major hot springs and smaller hot springs; located in the nova urbs and the vetus urbs, respectively.
Both, of public character, counted on pools of hot water (caldarium), temperate (tepidarium), cold (frigidarium) and sudatorio (laconicum).
The major spas – also called “de la Reina Mora” – occupied a large block in the new city. They are not completely excavated at present, but the structure and distribution of the pools and ovens is conserved. The building was large, approximately 32,000 square meters. It also housed a library, a massage room, sauna and changing rooms.
Recreation of the major thermal baths:
The smaller thermal baths -also called “de Trajano”, located in the old city, are visible inside the town of Santiponce, in Calle Trajano (Nor is it completely excavated, since it is under several current houses in use). The building had an area of 1,500 square meters, in an area of public facilities.
Temple of Trajan, Traianeum
Without evidence to provide security on the information collected, this construction is considered a great temple built by Hadrian, in honor and dedication to the Emperor Trajan; located in the highest area of the nova urbs, and surrounded by a porticoed square with exedras; occupying an area of one hectare.
It counted with infinity of sculptures and elements of great artistic and architectonic value.
Recreation of the Traianeum:
In the great splendor enjoyed by Itálica in the time of Hadrian, great houses were built in the new city-called domus-that belonged to the most important and wealthy families of the area.
These houses respected the traditional structure of the Roman houses, with their interior patios – which over time would derive in the typical courtyards of the Andalusian houses.
Some remains of several of these houses are conserved. Among them, we can highlight:
- House of the Exedra: It has been classified as housing because it has, in part, the characteristics of these; although its distribution, and its size -4,000 square meters- does not make clear its concrete function. It is possible that it was a semi-public building; possibly a private school in which the owners lived.
- Casa de Neptuno: Building considered semi-public, although it has not yet been excavated in its entirety; It seems to be a unique construction, which occupied an entire block of 6,000 square meters. It had its own baths, as well as several important mosaics, mainly that of Neptune, surrounded by marine creatures.
- Casa de los Pájaros: With the typical structure of Roman houses, it seems to have belonged to a family of the aristocracy, with a large number of mosaics; the most important of them gives name to the building. It is the first house completely excavated from the Itálica Archaeological Complex. Recently, it has been restored incorporating some 60cm walls. of height, clearly delimiting the different rooms that compose it.
- House of the Planetarium: So named for one of the mosaics that are in it, in which the planetary divinities are seen that in the Roman calendar name each of the days of the week, it was a house that had to undergo several transformations, belonging to a remarkable family and in a privileged location
- Casa del Patio Rodio: Even without completely digging, it is another luxurious home, full of mosaics (in this case quite damaged by time and elements), with many unknowns regarding its distribution.
- House of Hilas: Like the House of the Patio Rodio, it is a luxurious house not yet fully excavated. Its name is due to one of its mosaics, which is represented the kidnapping of Hilas by hand of the Nymphs -translated to the Archaeological Museum of Seville-.