This is another emblematic Roman site, found at 104 km from the city of Cádiz, in the Sevillian town of Santiponce.
Located in the Lower Guadalquivir between the Roman cities of Hispalis (Seville) and Ilipa (Alcalá del Río), very close to the routes that connected to the mining area of the northern mountains of Seville and Huelva.
This favorable location made it renowned during the High Roman Empire in all spheres of the empire, a fact that was reflected in the 52 hectares of land it came to occupy.
In the year 206 BC, the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio “The African,” after proclaiming victory in the Battle of Ilipa (which occurred during the Second Punic War), was in need of a place for his recovery and of his men.
To achieve this, he established a detachment of legionaries on the Saint Anthony hill. This area was inhabited by a pre-existing Turdetanian population since the 6th century BC.
Over the years, as usual, the population eventually Romanized. In this way, Italica turn into a residential city for his veterans.
It is said that since most of the men troops of “The African” were Italians, it was decided to name the settlement in honor of their homeland as Italica.
The first Roman Hispanic colony…
Soon, in the second half of the 1st century BC, it receives municipal status.
During the Augustan period, a significant development took place. From this period are the two large Roman gathering spaces: the theater (possibly dating back to the time of Caesar) for 3,000 spectators and the amphitheater, one of the earliest in the Empire with splendid seating capacity.
Cradle of great emperors and senators…
- Marcus Ulpius Trajan (53-117), emperor from 98 until his death. He was the second of the Antonine dynasty. A successful soldier, emperor of the greatest military expansion in Roman history up to the time of his death, and a significant philanthropist.
- Publius Aelius Hadrianus (76-138), emperor from 117 until his death. He was deified as “Divus Hadrianus.” A member of the Ulpio-Aelian dynasty, the second of the emperors born in Baetica. A great enthusiast of Stoic and Epicurean philosophy.
Under Hadrian, Itálica becomes a Colony, which administratively equated it with the metropolis. Additionally, he expanded the city, creating the “nova urbs,” one of the most modern and advanced cities of the time, complete with a sewage system and services. Under his rule, the monumental and residential district of the patricians and nobility, along with the baths, grew. In addiction, he also erected a temple dedicated to his uncle Trajan.
Between the 3rd and 4th centuries, a collapse occurred in a large part of the public buildings, infrastructure, and domus erected during the period of the greatest development.
This was brought about by the decline of the Antonine dynasty, followed by the decline of powerful families in the Lower Guadalquivir, exacerbated by the rise to power of Septimius Severus. Italica lost political importance compared to Hispalis or Corduba.
The truth is that, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the city remained in use until the Muslim period when it became a quarry for materials, then known as “Old Sevilla” or “Sevilla la vieja.”
- The walls encompassed an area of 50 hectares and were built in different phases.
- Currently, they are marked by a row of cypress trees.
- They were 1.5 meters thick, with a concrete core covered by ashlar stones. Every 20 meters, a square tower measuring 5 meters in height was erected.
- The main sewer, located beneath the entrance gate to the new district, ran beneath the main thoroughfare.
- An aqueduct was constructed from the sources of the Guadiamar River, later supplemented by springs near Huelva.
- Through lead pipes, water was channeled to baths and public fountains, with only a few domus being able to afford water supply.
- The sewers evacuated excess water and consumption waste outside the city walls.
Domus of Exedra:
- “Colegium” or Country Club, with baths, focused on worship or a guild.
- Stone bench attached to the wall with openings (latrines), beneath which a water channel runs to carry away waste.
- Beside them, they placed buckets with brushes, sponges, and wooden handles for personal hygiene use.
- The mosaic depicts scenes of Pygmies fighting against cranes.
- One of the most prized floorings in the Roman world.
- Made from finely crafted marble slabs with geometric designs and regular shapes.
- The choice of marbles, decoration, and chromatic elements could increase its value.
- In this case, the marbles are mostly imported, highlighting the social status of the owner.
- It is adorned with 15 geometric emblems with consistent colors and motifs in each row.
- Furthermore, the walls feature traces of reddish-colored stucco.
Neptune Building, thermal area:
- Possibly, one of the largest constructions in the city.
- Within the thermal area, a heating system of two rooms is preserved, along with a portion of the frigidarium corresponding to the mosaic that gave the building its name.
- Presided over by the god of the sea on a chariot pulled by sea horses, surrounded by mythological marine figures.
- Other elements include a conch shell, sea bream, crustaceans, and gilt-head bream.
- On the outer part, scenes of fishing and battles between pygmies and cranes are depicted. Additionally, there are elements of Egyptian influence such as the hippopotamus and crocodile.
Neptune Building, domestic área:
- Remains of the galleries of a large courtyard, peristyle, and rectangular central hall have been documented.
- On both sides, symmetrical rooms with two interconnected chambers.
- Some of the best-preserved mosaics are found here: Theseus and the Labyrinth (on the left), the Bacchus mosaic (on the right).
Hall with Trajan sculpture:
- “Divus Traianus,” sculpture of the deified emperor.
- The original is located in the museum of Seville.
- The “Traianeum,” the temple that Hadrian erected to his uncle, is now a cemetery.
- One of the highest points in Italica.
- From here, you can see the vetus urbs, or old primitive city, now under the houses of Santiponce.
- This road would have been one of the most traveled, with the “Traianeum” (Temple of Trajan, now a cemetery, on the right).
- The columns belonged to the Domus of Emparrado, these being from the central courtyard. On its facade, there were several “tabernae,” dedicated to the trade of feminine items such as needles and pins for adornments. Additionally, it had a “thermopolium” or a shop for hot food and drinks.
- Further on, to the right, the Domus of Hylas preserves an important collection of mosaics.
Domus of Hylas:
- Named after Hylas, who becomes ensnared by nymphs while fetching water from a spring, despite Hercules’ attempt to rescue him.
- This central motif is found in the museum of Seville.
- The theme is related to Greek mythology, specifically the expedition of the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece.
- The entrance door of the domus faces the aforementioned Cañada Honda.
- It features several rooms at different levels around various courtyards.
- Noteworthy are the peristyle and the main triclinium, with a triple entrance and over 100 square meters of area.
House of the Rhodian Courtyard:
- A domus with rooms at different levels surrounding a large peristyle.
- It contains tabernae open to the street and a small interior courtyard.
- The triclinium and private rooms are decorated with mosaics.
- The use of different marbles on floors and walls is remarkable.
- In the part closest to the adjoining house, there are preserved pools of unknown use, possibly dedicated to a small workshop.
The House of the Birds:
- Occupies 1700 square meters.
- It contains the public area with access for clients and friends, and the private area for the family.
- The public area was organized around a peristyle with a garden and a well supplied by a cistern that collected rainwater. Around it, there were rooms for daily activities.
- Facing the house, the triclinium presides over the ensemble.
- The more private areas are located at the back, around two small courtyards.
- Gives its name to the domus and is located in one of the main rooms around the peristyle and open to it.
- In the central part, we can discern remnants of a head with long hair and a Hellenistic-inspired headdress.
- 33 species of birds in various poses such as sparrow, owl, partridge, peacock, duck… Some in profile, others looking at the viewer.
- Located in one of the rooms that opened onto the peristyle of the House of the Birds, in the form of a small shrine, adorned with paintings or marble.
- A small space dedicated to the lares or penates, the protective gods or geniuses of the home, business, and family. Ancestor worship was also conducted here.
- In addition to bronze figurines of these deities, important family relics were placed in this location, and offerings were made to honor them.
- They were equipped with an “acerra” for incense, a “salinum” for salt, a “gutus” for milk or wine, a patera for offerings, a “turibulum” for burning incense, and a lamp for the sacred light.
Private rooms of the House of the Birds:
- Located on both sides of the triclinium, surrounding two smaller courtyards, the northern one featuring a fountain and a pond with mosaics, among which the ones depicting Medusa and Tellus stand out, symbols related to fertility and family protection.
- The rooms of the gallery in the courtyard and the side corridor have a more understated decoration, with geometric elements, as was common for decorating transitional spaces.
- Highly significant establishments in a Roman city.
- A place where flour was ground before making bread, the dough was kneaded, and the loaf was baked.
- They were decorated with molds or stamps for certain festivities or significant events in civic life or the imperial family.
Domus of the Planetarium:
- One of the largest excavated areas, occupying half of the block.
- Built in the 2nd century, extensively modified with new walls and compartments.
- A domus surrounded by commercial and service establishments.
- Rooms arranged around a central peristyle, with some being more private around smaller peristyles with an “impluvium.” These rooms are adorned with significant geometric and mythological mosaics.
- The unexcavated easternmost part may contain the triclinium along with two other rooms decorated with geometric design mosaics.
The Planetarium mosaic:
- It contains the days of the week, a tradition of Eastern origin, likely Jewish.
- The Romans gradually adopted the seven-day week.
- Previously, they divided the week into eight days, with Constantine in the 4th century imposing the seven-day week.
- The names are based on astrological observation, formulated in Egypt in the 1st century BC. Astronomers noted that the visible celestial bodies were constant in relation to each other throughout the year, except for seven: the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. These gave their names to the days, as they govern the first hours of each new day.
- Created in the 2nd century.
The Bacchus and Ariadne Mosaic:
- Located in one of the private rooms.
- Bacchus, the god of wine, associated with the origins of theater.
- The rituals of the god aimed to achieve ecstasy and rebirth, liberated from all social constraints.
- Bacchus is depicted with Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, abandoned on a beach by Theseus after saving him from the Minotaur. When Bacchus saw her, he fell in love with her beauty, married her, and took her to the Mount Olympus of the gods.
This impressive example of a Roman amphitheater, one of the largest in the entire empire, was constructed outside the city walls to take advantage of the natural space, during the expansion that took place in the reign of Hadrian (2nd century).
Amphitheatres were technically two connected theaters, hence their oval shape, which allowed for better acoustics.
It was the venue for games, with a capacity of 25,000 spectators. Since around 10,000 people lived in the “vetus urbs” of Italica, many of those who attended the games in the Italica amphitheater likely came from other places.
The games were held for free, organized and funded by the Emperor, the Senate, and the soldiers, in order to gain the support of the people.
The amphitheater hosted:
- “Munera gladiatores,” or blood games (which usually didn’t end in death).
- “Venatio,” or hunts.
- “Naumachiae,” or naval spectacles.
The seating area was composed of:
- “Ima cavea,” intended for the “equites,” politicians, and the most important and wealthy classes (close to the spectacle).
- “Media cavea,” for officials and free citizens (middle zone).
- “Summa cavea,” for women, children, slaves, and beggars (upper zone).
- The entrance gate: Triumphalis gate, for the victors.
- The exit gate: Libitinaria gate, just across, for the deceased and the defeated.
- Side gates: meant for the spectators, who would head to their respective areas through the vomitoria.
In the center, the arena:
- visible bestiary pit. In this area, there was the mechanism that allowed the release of beasts and gladiators into the arena.
Unfortunately, in the 18th century, the Regional Government of Andalusia dynamited the site to extract stone and to build a necessary retaining wall for the Guadalquivir River.
Detail of the engraving of the gladiators’ feet:
- Located just past the Triumphalis entrance.
- Before entering the arena, they had to place their feet on them to ensure that they left the arena as they entered, walking on their feet, and triumphant.
- Additionally, on the wall, there was a niche with the statue of the goddess Dea Caelestis (of North African origin, goddess of the sky, possessing the divine balance of justice) on the east side, and another with the goddess Nemesis (of Greek origin, goddess of justice, vengeance, balance, and fortune).
Don’t forget to pay attention to the “tabulae lusoriae” or the famous game known as Roman tic-tac-toe. It’s assumed that the Romans were quite fond of gaming, so they used the floor and wall slabs to carve these boards and play in the middle of the streets to pass the time. To play, you only needed small pieces of glass, marble, or ceramic that you could carry with you to play anywhere.
It’s said that in Italica, there are 7 “tabulae lusoriae” scattered throughout the Nova Urbs and the amphitheater.
BONUS: Did you know that…? Itálica is mentioned in the New Testament.
1. There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian cohort. 2. He was a devout and God-fearing man, as was all his household. He gave many alms to the people and prayed to God continually.
3. About the ninth hour of the day, he distinctly saw in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.”
4. And he, staring at him and becoming terrified, said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have gone up as a memorial before God.
5. Now send men to Joppa and call for a certain Simon, who is also called Peter. 6. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
7. As soon as the angel who spoke to him had left, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him. 8. After he explained everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
Acts 10:1-8. New Testament. The Bible. (The Vulgate)
Cornelius was a centurion of the Italian Cohort II Italica Civium Romanorum, the Italic Cohort, stationed in Caesarea Maritima, the capital of the Roman province of Judea. The event described in these verses led to the conversion of the centurion by the apostle Simon Peter.
I hope you enjoyed the tour, and don’t forget to also visit the fascinating museum at the site.
And if you need a guide… Contact us! (more ideas in the tours and services section)