Roman remains and contemporary architecture in Andalucia

This week is Carnaval (that's the Spanish spelling, not a typo), and if you have children, you'll be dressing them up (if you haven't already) to go to school or nursery, or maybe just for your local town parade: so far this year, friends of mine have mentioned themes such as cartoon characters and a toad. I'm hoping our school is free choice this year, to avoid having to buy yet another costume that my son will refuse point blank to wear. I think I've nearly convinced him to be a Roman (a rejected outfit from two years ago, but just tunic and skirt so size irrelevant; the big attraction is the sword and shield), as they're studying the Romans in school. It's easy to forget how much Roman history we have here in Andalucia. Not 10km from where I live you'll find Italica, once one of the most important citiesin the Roman empire (my son has a school trip there next term). Two emperors were born there, Trajan and Hadrian. The name of Betis football club comes from Baetica, the Roman name for Andalucia, and for the river Guadalquivir, which runs through Cordoba and Sevilla. In the last week or so, I've seen two lots of Roman remains, both part of recent or new projects. The first were Baelo Claudia, a Roman town next to Bolonia on the Costa de la Luz, which enjoyed its time of high status and importance from the 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD.
A new visitor centre (well, three years old) explains the site before you see the ruins, in terms of how the Romans lived, including a typical bedroom, along with explanations and videos of such essential topics as fish-salting methods - the famous garum sauce was made here; river transport; and funeral rites. It's a wonderful building, using its stunning sea views to the best possible advantage, and one of the best examples of contemporary public architecture I've seen in Andalucia.
The site itself is incomparable, being right on the beach, so that the boats could bring the fish directly to the salting factories (unfortunately not open to the public currently, as they're being restored) - they're behind the palm trees in this photo.
I would highly recommend visiting Baelo Claudia - you can walk around the town, following a good free leaflet guide, seeing the forum (above), theatre, baths, aqueduct and temples. Then, last week, I went for a preview of the Antiquarium, the archaeological museum housed under the Setas, the massive architectural project in Plaza Encarnacion in Seville. Officially called Metropol Parasol, it is known as the Mushrooms locally, for the wooden structures' resemblance to fungi. It is, apparently, the largest timber structure ever built, at 150m long by 75m wide by 28m high. This multifaceted and highly controversial design, by German architect Jurgen Mayer, has been opening in stages since last December: first the market; then, on 1 April, the museum opens officially; and finally, on 17 April (Palm Sunday, the first day of Semana Santa), the main structure will be launched - concert space, massive shady area; and later, the "Skywalk" viewing platform and circular restaurant, offering spectacular views over the city.
The Roman ruins are already viewable now, until the museum proper opens in April, but only in a makeshift way, as the rest of the structure is being finished, and the museum itself still being built around the remains. You have to wear a hard hat and a luminous yellow vest, and dodge the workmen, as it's a construction site. An architect explains the different areas, with Roman houses and streets, and even some more salazones (salting vats, pictured below), from the 1st century BC. In those days, the city (Hispalis) was much closer to the sea, as the marismas of DoƱana were submerged, and the river Baetica ran from the Alameda, through Plaza del Duque and down calle Sierpes, so the fish was brought straight here from the nearby port for salting.
It's hard to get an idea from my poor quality photo, but these remains are truly fascinating: there are also some extremely well-preserved mosaics, which will be visible once the museum proper opens, including a particularly fine Medusa, and various houses and other buildings which date from the 2nd century to the 11th century - there's even an Arabic-era house. If you want a (free) sneak preview of this archaeological wonder, as well as to see a major construction project in its final phases (I would have loved to nose around for longer, but we were shuttled out in typical tour-group style) - look for this sign round the back of the plaza. You have to leave your name and details, and may to have return a while later to join the next available group, but for archaeological-engineering-architectural voyeurism and inside-viewing, it is well worth the wait. It's all the more exciting if you know the city, as the anticipation in Seville to see the culmination of this massive, and massively over-budget (four times, with a final cost of 120 million) five-year project is intense.
Videos of the Setas: Visit to Metropol Parasol, including view from top. Promotional video, with speeded-up construction sequence. Virtual reality view of Metropol Parasol
Blog published on 7 March 2011