More than 2000 years ago, Baelo Claudia was a major Roman settlement along these shores, before its eventual demise and burial in the Atlantic Ocean sands. In recent years the Spanish government has made significant attempts to excavate and explore the site (located only a few kilometres northwest of Tarifa), including the construction of an almost brand-new Visitor's Centre. Our initial explorations the day before had failed because this was one of many attractions that are closed in Spain on Mondays. However, after spending the night further up the coast and inland we returned the next day to really have a close look at the place!
The Visitor Centre definitely had a big enough parking area as well as four nice patios providing different views as we began to see what Baelo Claudia had to offer, with Sue illustrating the point (2nd photo). With an entry fee of only 3 Euros for the two of us we certainly could not complain! After admiring the views out over the stone ruins of this old town we entered the building itself for a closer look at some of the artifacts that have already been recovered (only about 20% of the site has been excavated thus far).
The final photo shows a distant view of the Visitor's Centre taken from the mountain road that leads down to Bolonia and the ruins.
It was not long after we passed the standing columns of the Basilica in the centre of Baelo Claudia before we found ourselves almost on the Atlantic Ocean shore, near both the fish factory that was the town's main commercial industry and another of those 'walking' sand dunes driven by the ferocious winds of the Strait of Gibraltar. In fact, while en route, a sudden gust of wind had torn one of the tourist pamphlets out of my hand and whisked it down into a roped-off excavation hole before I could even blink!
Also on the way there, one of the local cats had taken a liking to us and decided to tag along. As I got into position for a shot by Sue of the fish factory/dune, the cat was determined to get into the scene as well - and it succeeded, with us both hanging on for our lives with claws and hands as the wind blew straight at us!
As for the fish factory, it was one of the main reasons that Baelo Claudia lasted so long because 'garum' was very popular with the Romans as a garnish used with meals. However, one of its problems was the odour it gave off in the process of producing it - fish guts, layered in salt and left to ferment in the sun for a few months in outdoor fermenting pools (5th photo) . Final preparation for shipping was carried out in the factory whose walls remain standing in the background. There, the liquid garum was taken from the top of the mixture and shipped to Rome where it commanded prices similar to what caviar brings in today. The fish-gut leftovers were used too, by the poorer classes of Roman citizens to flavour their meals. Being on the coastline as it was, Baelo Claudio did not have to worry too much about upsetting the neighbours with odours!
It was great not having any timetable as we made our self-guided tour around the remains of Baelo Claudia! The weather was fantastic and the Romans had certainly chosen a picturesque location for their little town all those centuries ago. In addition to the many ruins, both upright and those that had been gathered for later piecing together as part of the larger picture, we also enjoyed the local trees and vegetation.
The most impressive was a huge solitary Ombu 'tree' (3rd photo). I remember seeing one of them in Buenos Aires on one of our trips and this is what I found out then: " The ombú is a massive evergreen herb native to the Pampas of South America. The tree has an umbrella-like canopy that spreads to a girth of 12 to 15 meters (40 to 50 feet) and can attain a height of 12 to 18 meters (40 to 60 feet). The ombú grows fast but being herbaceous its wood is soft and spongy enough to be cut with a knife. Because of this, it is also used in the art of bonsai, as it is easily manipulated to create the desired effect. Since the sap is poisonous, the ombú is not grazed by cattle and is immune to locusts and other pests. It is a symbol of Uruguay and Argentina, and of Gaucho culture, as its canopy is quite distinguishable from afar and provides comfort and shelter from sun and rain. The fireproof trunk also stores water for the large fires that rage across the Pampas." Of course, the local Spanish vegetation looked quite impressive too - such beautiful colours (4th and 5th photos) in December when I would normally be looking at snow!
As we turned inland from the coast, the next of Baelo Claudia's attractions that we stumbled upon was their main East-West street, called Decumanus Maximus and shown here looking westward. I thought it was in quite good shape for a street that was 2000 years old - a lot better than some modern ones I've driven on! It runs along the southern edge of the town with the Basilica (2nd photo) standing beside it. This was a two-storey structure from which the law was administered and also part of the 'downtown' area of the community which also featured the main South Square.
Getting lost as we always do on Spanish streets, we walked down Decumanus Maximus until we reached the western outskirts of Baelo Claudia where we came upon the remains of the Thermal Baths (3rd and 4th photos). I'm telling you, these Romans really knew what they were doing - the bit at the back of the 3rd photo was called a 'prefurnium' where the water was heated and the semi-circular bit at the right was where the actual bathing took place! Definitely a tough life in southern Spain in the old days!
No self-respecting Roman town or city could exist without having a Theatre to entertain the local populace, and Baelo Claudia was no exception. Located at the northwest corner of the town, it was the last relic of this long gone civilization that we reached on our clock-wise exploration of the site.
It was still very impressive, even all these centuries later. With seven entrances and perched on a hillside as was the Roman custom, it had a great view out over the town and down to the Atlantic Ocean. One strange thing I learned about the Romans was that they called the entrances 'vomitoria' - must have been a very bad show the night the definitions were made! This was one of the better restored parts of the town, with work still continuing on the other areas. On Tuesday, December 30th we had the place almost to ourselves so I performed a short oratory for Sue from the stage while she filmed - after all, one does not get a chance to do that very often! In a nutshell, don't miss Tarifa or Baelo Claudia if you ever get the chance - it was so different from the Mediterranean shores!
Romans ended up ruling Spain in 206 BC as a by-product of wars with their main rival of Carthage, which was located across the Mediterranean Sea in North Africa. After conquering the native Iberian tribes in a battle near Seville, the Romans soon made the Iberian Peninsula one of their best colonies. In 61 BC the up and coming Julius Ceasar was promoted to Governor of this remote western and southern part of modern-day Spain, called Hispania Ulterior at the time. The Romans remained in control for about 700 years, until the Mongol invasion of Europe from the east eventually ended their run - but artifacts of their presence at Baelo Claudia still remain.
We had a look at some of them on display in the lower level of the VC, in this case two reclining marble statues holding wine-skins from which water once poured at a fountain. The one on the left is of Silenus laying on an animal skin (in Greek mythology, Silenus was a companion of the wine god Dionysus). It was quite interesting wandering around reading the small signs that explained what each of the 2000-year old artifacts on display were about, as well as the history of how Baelo Claudia was re-discovered.
As we left the Visitor's Centre to begin our actual explorations of the site we immediately came upon the remains of one of their aqueducts, used to carry water down from the mountains surrounding this little cove to supply the homes and buildings of the community. In the first photo it is possible to see a part of the actual water-channel that has fallen off the top of aqueduct. A second aqueduct is also present on the other (western) side of Baelo Claudia where the Hot Baths were located outside the city walls.
Baelo Claudia first came to prominence in ~120 BC partially because it was close to an easy crossing passage between Europe and Africa but also because it was a excellent fishing area as schools of tuna migrated between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It did quite well for a few centuries but two earthquakes in ~50 AD and ~350 AD as well as a tidal wave caused severe damage that can still be seen in the masonry today as the site is excavated. Later attacks by pirates along this coast were the final blow as the town was gradually abandoned about 100 years before the Roman Empire itself collapsed. Hmm, maybe those earthquakes and the tidal wave are why that section of aqueduct has fallen off?
If you have time to spare you can visit Africa. There is a ferry service from Tarifa to Tangier in Morrocco. It takes 35 minutes and there are regular services each way each day.
On board is a duty free shop, cafe and restaurant.
Should you arrive in Algeciras there is a free shuttle bus between Algexiras and Tarifa for people buying a ferry ticket.
We did notice quite a large car park down by the ferry however, I dont know whether you have to pay for parking or not.
Apparently euros, dollars or british pounds are accepted in most places in Tangiers if you prefer not to change any money.
Within an hours drive from Tarifa is Gibraltar, which is British territory. The people there are known as Gibraltarians and speak english and spanglish which is a mixture of english and spanish.
It was here in the bay 200 years ago that Admiral Nelson of the British Royal Navy Fleet was killed during the battle of trafalgar and his body was brought ashore here.
Gibraltar is also known for the Rock which looms up so high, and is the home to dozens of monkeys that roam free.
You can get a cable car up the Rock, or even walk if you are energetic enough. St Michaels Caves on the Rock are very impressive. Casemates Square where there are cafes and restaurants. Main Street which has an assortment of supposedly 'duty free' shops, although I dont think they are particularly duty free prices, unless you haggle with them and get the prices down, especially electrical, never buy something without having a haggle first. Pefume shops, and cigarette shops where the prices are a 1/5th of the price that they are in the UK. Probably half the price that you would pay in Spain. You are only allowed to take 200 into Spain though and the customs there are very strict, not the English customs but the Spanish customs.
The town of Tarifa has some pleasant beaches, but for the very best head a few kilometers west. Punta Paloma has fastastic stretches of white clean sand and many large sand dunes. It has ample parking space and is very rarely busy. A few small cafes and some campsites are located just behind the beach near the car park.
Here is also where you walk across the runway of the tiny airport to get into Spain.
If coming in by car, queues can be very long especially in the summer months. There is car parks on the Spanish side if you prefer not to queue and walk in. You must have a passport to gain entry into Gibraltar even if you are British.
I actually find it strange though that Gibraltarians have to show their passports when entering Spain, and yet by some arrangement with the Spanish authorities, Spaniards dont have to show their passport but just their ID.
Lots of English pubs, you would think you were at home if you were from the UK.
Here is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married, as did Sean Connery.
It is quite popular getting married here, you only need to register the day before.
The currency here is the British Pound Sterling. You can use Euros but you will get a terrible exchange rate so everything will appear much more expensive then. There are bureau exchanges in Main Street if you want to change money.
Another of the coasts incredible beaches. Miles of clean white sand and sand dunes, rarely becoming crowded even in the summer months. Bolonia also has another attraction. Just behind the beach is the ruined Roman city Baelo Claudia.
The beach has large parking areas and some good small seafood restaurants.
Located just behind Bolonia Beach are the ancient ruins of the Roman city Baelo Claudia. Open to the public the site is interesting and worth visiting. The city covered a large area and a large section of it is available for exploration, ideal if you get a little bored of sitting on the beach all day.
I am building a Bolonia page giving much more information on this site.
Tarifa is reputedly the windiest spot in Europe. Lining the higher hills around the area are literally hundreds of windmills. I my opinion one of the more pleasant forms of modern progress, I think they are attractive and neccesary, better than seeing coal fired power stations on the skyline, churning out copious amouts of steam and smoke.
My wife being a civil and hazardous waste engineer is always fascinated by great civil work achievements. The Baeolo Claudia aqueduct system was among them.
The Romans recognized that they needed a reliable source of water for the fish salting basins, domestic water, and water for their baths. Interestingly, Baeolo Claudia contained three distinct aqueduct systems for meeting the needs of the town.
The first aqueduct and the main one started in the dune area of Punta Paloma which is eight miles away. This aqueduct carried the largest volume of water and also was the longest of the three aqueducts. It is also the one that you see as you walk down from the visitor center.
The second aqueduct, which is called the west aqueduct, brought water down from the nearby mountains into the town. It specifically was intended to supply water for the town's baths.
The last aqueduct brought water in the from a northerly spring at El Reallilo. The aqueduct passed over the City walls and a large part of the cistern from that aqueduct can still be viewed as you walk around the northern edge of the City.
What was interesting to us was the knowledge that the Romans wanted a system that was reliable and met the needs of their people and factories. To achieve that they built the three distinct aqueducts.