Marching towards Italica

A year ago this weekend, I set out to find Italica on a trip to Seville in Spain.

Ideally I would have liked to call this post Marching on Italica, but it did not quite work out that way!

Italica is a former Roman settlement 9km outside Seville – and the rumoured birthplace of the emperors Trajan, Hadrian and Theodosius.

The Romans called the city Italica to reflect their own culture.

I visited Seville in September 2019 – and one of my first thoughts was visiting the site of Italica, which lies in a small suburb called Santiponce, which is now full of smart, executive homes.

Getting there seemed easy. I had visited the famous Maestranza bullring in Seville in the morning – and had been reassured by a post in an online forum that the bus ride to Santiponce was only a 10-minute journey, with a further 10-minute stroll to Italica.

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Chariot to Italica, Plaza de Armas bus station, Seville

I headed to the bus station at Plaza de Armas and paid my 2.60 euros for the trip. The bus soon filled up with elderly Spaniards doing their shopping – and whisked me past the school where young bulls are trained for the bullring.

A good 25 minutes later we arrived in Santiponce at 1.30pm – siesta time. Maybe once the site of a Roman settlement, Santiponce is now a sleepy little place with few shops and cafes that is perfect for young families and white collar workers. Building work there is ongoing.

I set off down the steep curving road of Av. de la Virgen del Roccio full of expectation that within 10 minutes I would be arriving at the birthplace of Trajan.

Italica town plan
Site of Italica (Image Wikipedia)

Half-an-hour later, weary in the scorching heat, I stumbled upon a small modern forum. Santiponce might once have been the birthplace of Trajan and Hadrian, but none of the locals brave enough to face the heat of early afternoon had heard of it, even though it is likely they had lived there all their lives.

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The new forum at Santiponce

The steep curving road that should have only taken ten minutes stretched out on the map before me, snaking round past the community centre into oblivion – not even my Roman blood coursing through my veins was going to spur me on to the entrance gate before my bus departed back to Seville at 4.40pm.

I took a shortcut up a steep hill bordered by more newly built executive houses and followed my instincts. In the distance I could see a wire fence and behind it a field. Calle la Fuente would in the end save me from heat exhaustion and at least give me a peek at Italica from a distance.

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But if it did not turn out to be Italica, I was too hot and tired to care. Locals I stopped and asked shrugged and frowned and had never heard of it, they claimed, confronted by a red-faced, angry looking woman in an impractical sundress and sensible sandals, who could not speak a word of Spanish except “dónde?”

Walking past the wire fence at the top of another steep hill, I finally saw a pile of rubble that was undoubtedly Roman – and then turned into a long, unmade pathway covered in dust and sharp stones and thistles that led first to the local cemetery – and then to the back gate of Italica.

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It was a vast site, stretching over the sloping hillside with pockets of excavated Roman ruins dotted about and deadly Venus flytraps lining the wire fence. One nearly bit the top off my finger as I carefully positioned my camera.

The main site of Italica I could make out in the distance – tantalisingly, there was no way I could reach it from my position, as the gate was locked; unless I turned around and braved the steep curving road and this time marched on without stopping, like a true Roman. I didn’t, however.

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The Roman general Scipio Africanus – my ancestor – founded Italica in 206BC. It boasted an impressive amphitheatre that seated around 25,000 citizens, with a forum at the centre. It was sited on a former Iberian town and became prosperous, with temples and public buildings.

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Amphitheatre, Italica (Image Diego Delso)

However, Italica began to lose its influence around 3BC, possibly due to changes in the Guadalquivir River, which flows through Seville, making water less available.

In actual fact, I did not see very much of Italica at all – but I did mange to stamp my way back to the bus stop to catch the bus back to Seville in time. I cannot say my ancestors would be impressed.

You can read more about Italica online. Many of the important artefacts are also at the Archaeological Museum in Seville.

But here are my photos of Italica – including the offending Venus flytrap. It hurt. So did my feet.

Never trust a post in an online forum that advises reaching Italica is only a 10-minute stroll from the bus stop in Santiponce. It isn’t.

I fell off the bus at Plaza de Armas, limped back to my hotel, took a shower and crawled into bed for a late siesta. I slept like an empress till the cocktail hour.

Buon viaggio – or ¡buen viaje!

Writer in search of Italica, Santaponce, nr Seville
Marching towards Italica
Images copyright A. Meredith 2019 except where stated

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