When most people think about a trip to the Costa de la Luz, they think about Tarifa. And yes, Tarifa has a lot to offer with its boho vibe, Moorish architecture and surfing beaches but don’t forget about its next door neighbour, Bolonia, only twenty three km to its West.
Bolonia is a coastal village and beach in the municipality of Tarifa in the Province of Cadiz. The village is very small (inhabitants 117 in 2011) but the beach is vast running from Punta Camarinal to Punta Paloma. It measures approximately 3.8 kilometres (2.4 mi) in length, with an average width of about 70 metres (230 ft).
Bolonia is known for its large sand dunes and the occasionally exposed mud flats. The swell is gentler than in Tarifa and perhaps better for swimmers. It is a lovely place for day-trippers to swim and lunch.
However, Bolonia is probably most famous for the ruins of the Roman town of Baelo Claudia located very close to the beach. The ruins are considered the most complete Roman town ruins yet uncovered in Spain.
The first excavation of the site was in 1917.
The site´s important history rests on Baelo Claudia being a strategic point for trade routes between Europe and North Africa. The Straits of Gibraltar are just 14km wide at their narrowest point, and Baelo Claudia profited from this proximity. The remains of the impressive temple, forum, basilica, baths, aqueduct, and large fish-salting factory in particular, can all be seen today, giving an insight into the former glory of the city.
Baelo Claudia dates back to the Republican period of the 2nd century BC. The city´s central Forum was constructed under Emperor Augustus, but it wasn´t until the rule of Claudius (the city´s namesake, 41 – 54 AD) that the monumental complex of the city was established. It was during this time that the site acquired the status of a municipium, attaining its greatest urban and economic splendour.
Several of the city´s buildings underwent demolition or changes in function during the 2nd century AD, but it wasn´t until the 3rd century AD that Baelo Claudia´s decline was really set in motion. Enduring multiple urban redevelopments and earthquakes, the city survived until the 7th century AD.
Like many Roman cities, the streets of Baelo Claudia were constructed methodically from East to West, and North to South; the space was designed to nestle neatly into the striking coastline.
A visitor centre was developed in 2007 and this acts as the portal into the Roman city. Until then the ruins were accessed via the beach with little if any protection of the artefacts or information about them. Visitors now step into a central atrium, painted white and with a glass balcony framing the coastal view. The centre is a good precursor to the ruins, with a scale model of the city in its heyday, and accompanying audio guide. Information boards are matched with artefacts (or reconstructions of lost artefacts) found on the site during its excavation. Examples include a marble statue, presumably of a goddess, and plumb lead piping from the 1st century AD. There is also a restored column from the Basilica, and the ´crown jewel´ of the collection, the Doryphorus of Baelo Claudia, the remains of a marble statue found in the maritime baths depicting a nude male athlete, which indicates the former wealth of the city.
The visitor centre opens up onto the site; you can follow a suggested route but this is not mandatory. Beside the remains of the Eastern entry gate is a small stretch of aqueduct that would once have been 5.2km long, bringing the city the water so essential to its baths. The remains of the baths themselves are to the West of the central Forum. They would once have consisted of both sport and leisure spaces, with large and luxurious thermae and smaller, private balneae, and the water supplied by the aqueduct was heated by external furnaces.
There are many social spaces in the site including the forum South Square, with twelve remaining columns of varying quality standing around it. The basilica of the 1st century AD would once have stood in this space, providing a centre of justice and the town´s principal civic site. The amphitheatre to the North of the site is one of the most effectively reconstructed spaces. Its seating occupies a natural slope, and the caveae (vaulted entrances to the seating area) have been fully restored. The space is still used today, with a modern stage and seating serving audiences during summer productions of classical Spanish theatre.
The maritime centre on the southernmost edge of the site is the most crucial insight into the city´s former industry. The many restored curved dips of the salt baths, into which tuna would be layered with salt for preservation, reflect Baelo Claudia´s strategic role as the main port connecting with Tingis (Tangiers). This was the industry that funded the city´s urban growth, and the fixed net fishing method used by the Romans is echoed in the almadraba nets of today.
The site is still one of the best preserved in Andalucia. The beautiful setting alone justifies a visit, but the scale and quality of the remains make it a crucial destination for those interested in classical history.
Have you visited Bolonia?