Baelo Claudia

Baelo Claudia is an ancient Roman city lying on the shores of the Strait of Gibraltar in southern Spain. It was settled at the end of the 2nd century BC, and its history and subsequent development are closely associated with the salting industries and its maritime communication with North Africa. The ruins of Baelo Claudia with its theatre, temples, forum and basilica, and especially its large fish-salting factory testify to the city’s glory as an important and successful trading centre.

Coordinates: 36° 5′ 23″ N, 5° 46′ 29″ W

The Roman army landed on the shores on the Iberian Peninsula towards the end of the 3rd century AD in an attempt to halt the advancing Carthaginians with whom they were engaged in a dispute for the control of Western Mediterranean. The Roman victory at the Battle of Ilipa in 206 BC signified the end of the Second Punic War (218-202). The whole area was annexed under Augustus and became the most romanised province in the Peninsula.

According to the oldest archaeological finds on this site, the prosperous city of Baelo Claudia was founded towards the end of the 2nd century BC. As shown in the legends of its Republican coins, the city was first known as Bailo. The abundance of fish in the Strait of Gibraltar facilitated the settlement of the coast and the exploitation of resources from the sea. During this period the fish salting industries were established, and the city’s strategic position facing the North African coast led to its expansion as a trading centre.

Around the dawn of the new era, the city experienced a period of urban expansion while the first salting industries were rebuilt and made larger. Its strongest development was under the rule of Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) who raised the city to the level of a Roman municipium with Roman rights. It was also at this time that Baelo received the name of Claudia. During this time the city acquired a large forum with monumental public buildings, three aqueducts guarantying water supply to the population and two factories for the production of garum (fish sauce). The city walls that had been built a few years before during the reign of Augustus were also completely rehabilitated. The economic peak was maintained well into the 2nd century AD.

Model of Baelo Claudia.

However, the economic activity started to decline at the beginning of the 3rd century AD, perhaps due to a major earthquake that took place at the time and that may have destroyed most of the city. Also, the general socio-economic crisis that occurred in the empire during the 3rd century may have affected trade and commerce. The city experienced a slight recovery later in the century, but by the 7th century, the town was abandoned.

The excavations at Baelo Claudia have revealed the most comprehensive remains of a Roman town in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula. The site contains all the representative elements that make up a Roman city; the forum, temples, basilica, administrative buildings such as the curia, the market place, theatre, baths, industrial zone, aqueducts. A modern Visitor Centre showcases many artefacts and offers a comprehensive introduction to the site.


The Decumanus Maximus maintains its original flagstone paving. Along its length were shops, the public market building and the south side of the Forum. There were porticoes on either side.
View of the Forum, the vital centre where administrative, political, the judicial and religious activities were taking place. The Forum occupied a rectangular area of 115 x 87 metres.
Although the original forum in Baelo dates back to the Augustan period, the nucleus of the forum area that we see today was remodelled between the years 50 and 70 AD (reigns of Claudius and Nero). The Forum is in very good condition and is the only completely excavated forum in Hispania.
The Forum had porticoes on the east and west sides, with shops in the east part and administrative buildings in the west. To the south was the basilica and to the north was a monumental fountain and a staircase leading to the Capitolium.
The Basilica was one of the most important buildings in Baelo Claudia. It was built between 50 to 70 AD and was located in the main area where the city’s public life took place.
The Basilica was built of ashlars and masonry walls which were painted and had stucco applied. A peristyle of twenty columns made up the inside space. It had two floors, the ground floor was of Ionic order and the top floor was of composite.
The city of Baelo Claudia erected a colossal statue of Emperor Trajan and placed it in the Basilica on a pedestal clad with marble. The original statue is on display in the Museum of Cádiz.
The South Square of the Forum. Behind the plaza are the Basilica, the Forum and the Capitolium.
View of the Curia and the Macellum (the market place).
The three temples of the Capitoline Triad dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The Capitolium was constructed in the 1st century AD over a broad terrace that dominated the Forum.
The Capitolium.
The Temple of Jupiter which was part of the Capitolium, the three tetrastyle temples dedicated to the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Minerva, Juno). The temples were separated by narrow corridors of similar dimensions. There was a share altar in front of the temples.
The podium of the Temple of Jupiter with 12 steps at the front and Corinthian columns.
The thermal baths dating to the end of 1st century or the beginning of 2nd century AD. There were in use until the end of the 4th century AD.
The baths were accessed from the Decumanus Maximus. They included a “caldarium” (hot room), a “tepidarium” (tepid room) and a”frigidarium” (cold room).
The industrial area dedicated to the salting of fish and the production of the famous fish sauce, “garum”.
The most valued and expensive product made in these factories was a fish sauce known as “garum”. A similar product, of a lower quality, was “liquamen”. These sauces could accompany all types of meals as a dressing or seasoning. It stimulated the appetite and doctors usually recommended it due to its nourishing and curing properties.
These are the large basins dug into the ground where the pieces of fish were piled up to be salted. The fish and salt were positioned in successive layers, taking approximately twenty days before the salting process to be completed.
The Theatre was constructed on a natural slope in the 1st century AD, around 70 AD. At the end of the 2nd century it was no longer in use.
The Theatre.
The defensive walls were built during the Augustan period and were repaired and renovated with the same layout during the second half of the 1st century AD.
Within the walls were the main entrances to the city.
The Necropolis.
The remains of the arches of the North aqueduct which supplied water to the buildings located in this area.


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