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Roman architecture for beginners

jungleboy

Spirit of the Camino (Nick)
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés 2017
Primitivo 2018
Madrid 2019
Kumano Kodo 2019
Português 2020
This is the latest thread in the 'architecture for beginners' series begun by @C clearly. Previous threads are on Romanesque, Visigothic/pre-Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

Those three threads mostly focused on a single building type: churches. Roman remains cover many different public and private buildings and that makes this a more complicated topic, but hopefully an enjoyable one to discuss.



To get us started, today I published an article titled Best Roman Sites on the Camino de Santiago. Here's the introduction:

Pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago tread in the very footsteps of the Roman Empire, traversing Roman roads and Roman bridges as they make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Roman milestones and castra (fortified settlements) are also found along the camino and serve as constant reminders of Rome’s expanse and organisational capacity.

These most basic aspects of Roman infrastructure don’t reveal the true grandeur of the empire, however, which is to be found in theatres, amphitheatres, aqueducts, temples and other monumental works of architecture. Fortunately, these more spectacular vestiges of the Roman world are also within reach of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago.

Here are two of these monumental Roman buildings that can be found on the camino.

Roman Theatre at Mérida (VdlP/Mozárabe):

Mérida Theatre.jpg

The Roman aqueduct at Segovia (Camino de Madrid):

Aqueduct Segovia Night.jpg

If you're interested in seeing more photos, I have a dedicated Roman Empire album on Flickr.



Some Features of Roman Architecture

Here are just a few features of Roman architecture. There are many more, of course.
  • Roman temples, such as those seen at Mérida and Córdoba on the camino, show a combination of Greek and Etruscan influences. Typical Roman temples tended to be rectangular with a raised platform, façade orientation and columns all the way around.
  • Roman mastery of concrete (which took centuries) was pivotal in allowing for greater structures and larger interior spaces. Examples of this include the concrete dome of the Pantheon in Rome, and the vaulting of Trajan's Market in Rome.
  • Arches are a hallmark of Roman architecture, used in aqueducts, amphitheatres and theatres (e.g. the Theatre of Marcellus in Rome). Filled-in arches were also used for weight distribution in buildings like the Pantheon.


Recommended Resources

The History of Rome - a phenomenal podcast by Mike Duncan offering a narrative history of the Roman Empire from the founding of the city of Rome in 753 BC to the traditional end date of the empire in AD 476.

Roman Architecture - an excellent free course by Yale/Coursera that gives an introduction to Roman architecture and architectural techniques and developments.

Following Hadrian - a great project by Carole Raddato following in the footsteps of the Roman emperor Hadrian. She has visited many, many Roman archeological sites and has a vast photo library.



What are the most impressive Roman sites you've seen on the camino? Off the camino? What are the Roman sites you would most like to see? Discuss all things Roman architecture here!
 
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Raggy

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2017, 2018, 2019
Thanks for the beautifully organized introductory post. This should be a fascinating thread.

In addition to information about Roman architecture along the routes that we walk, I think some of us would also like to learn about the roads themselves. While they might not count as architecture, it's often a thrill to know that we're walking along or near to roads that the Romans paved and maintained.

EDITED TO ADD:
See post #10 below for links to a series of documentaries on Roman engineering by RTVE. They're all in Spanish, but the pace is relatively slow and the graphics make things quite clear, even when I can't follow exactly what the narrator is saying.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
Thanks, @jungleboy, looking forward to this discussion. When I think of Roman, I think of thermal baths and mosaics, so I would be happy to broaden my understanding.

I will stick to Roman sites on the caminos, though I think your article hit the main ones. Beautiful pictures and great text, as always!

On the Invierno, Las Médulas is a UNESCO world heritage site, a Roman gold mine where they channeled water through the mountains to make them explode and disgorge the gold. Very good museum and just an amazing yet eerie site to walk around. And you can even walk through one of the water tunnels

23B1A3CD-D7F8-45DA-BB79-34F511937224.jpeg

On the Lana planning thread, we learned that there is a huge, really huge Roman villa that is being excavated outside Cuenca near the town of Noheda.Comes complete with litigation over the amount of money due the landowner.

One of the articles, with pictures, is this one:


Arco de Cáparra on the Vdlp is a pretty iconic place.

4DDBAAEF-87E1-4100-9CCA-433C76B73A31.jpeg

And then there are the many miliarios, the mile markers that you see a lot on the Vdlp. There are also quite a few up in Peneda Geres, which is on the Geira e dos Arrieiros (I‘ve not walked it, just visited them as a tourist).

CDA5BECB-56C2-43CB-B814-5539172ADDFC.jpeg 70B93FE0-D3C0-4125-840D-FC2EB819A147.jpeg

I agree with @Raggy about some discussion of the Roman roads. On the way out of Fuenterroble (or is it near the parish church in Fuenterroble?) there are several information boards that explain the many layers and the pretty astonishing engineering that went into building those roads. It wasn’t just a bunch of square stones laid nicely all over the Iberian peninsula. For today’s pilgrim, I think that a lot of the luster wears off after your first few times picking your way gingerly over what used to be engineering marvels, but are often now just shots of pain into your feet.
 

jungleboy

Spirit of the Camino (Nick)
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés 2017
Primitivo 2018
Madrid 2019
Kumano Kodo 2019
Português 2020
Thank you @Raggy and @peregrina2000! That Roman gold mine sounds great, hopefully I will be able to visit later this year if my proposed autumn Invierno is possible.

And I still find Roman roads fascinating after all these years! On the CP last September, there was a stretch of Roman road between Redondela and Pontevedra that included chariot ruts. Although I used to work in an 'office' that had these ruts (the Roman Forum) and have seen them elsewhere (notably on the Via delle Gallie in Aosta), this was the first time I had seen them on camino. So that was cool!

50426005213_ec0e0a17cb_c.jpg
 

peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
I was trying to remember all that I had read about how the Romans built those roads, and there is a very clear, short and to the point description of the roads as well as other things like bridges, aqueducts, mills.



Here’s the relevant paragraph from that site

Roman roads were built by first setting the curb stones, digging a long pit between them that was the entire width of the road, and then covering it with rocks or gravel. The layer of gravel was compacted and a layer of finer gravel was added. The road was then paved with large polygonal rock slabs. Because of the layer of gravel below, Roman roads were able to resist freezing and floods and required relatively little maintenance. Furthermore, the road surface had slight inclinations, so that rainwater could flow to the curbs on either side.
 
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C clearly

Moderator
Staff member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
On the Invierno, Las Médulas is a UNESCO world heritage site, a Roman gold mine
Don't forget the Camino Frances - Astorga has Roman ruins on display. There's a connection between this thread and the thread about the Camino Invierno where we have just walked past the Roman gold mines at Las Médulas. Regarding Astorga, Wikipedia says:
  • The Roman city was founded in 14 BC, being entitled by Emperor Octavian as Asturica Augusta now known as Astorga. It became an important administrative and military centre.
  • The walls of the town were built at the time of Ancient Rome. In 35 AD as mining plans developed, this Roman Hispania castra was redesigned and built with the help of the army, into a city. A provincial capital, and the meeting-place of four military roads. Vía de la Plata (Silver Way) or Ruta de la Plata (Silver Route) is an ancient commercial and pilgrimage path that connects Astorga to Mérida. It was conceived and built as a trade route for the exploitation of gold.
  • The Roman walls were rebuilt by Bishop Nuño around 1242 and they underwent several repairs during the Middle Ages. The city had thermal baths with hot, warm, cold water systems, sauna's and two main sewer system still in use today. Ruins of Roman baths are still visible today.

 

jungleboy

Spirit of the Camino (Nick)
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés 2017
Primitivo 2018
Madrid 2019
Kumano Kodo 2019
Português 2020
To rejuvenate this thread, maybe it would be helpful to take Roman buildings one category at a time.

Let's start with temples. As mentioned above, Roman temple architecture was influenced by earlier Greek and Etruscan buildings. IIRC Greek elements in Roman temples included having columns all the way around and having a raised platform (think of the Parthenon in Athens), while the main Etruscan element was having a façade orientation (that is, an obvious 'front' of the temple, with steps leading up to it). Combining these elements gave us the typical square/rectangular Roman temple design.

(Of course, not all Roman temples looked the same - three obvious examples of round temples in Rome are the Pantheon, the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum and the round temple on the banks of the Tiber, but these were exceptions to the standard template.)

Here are two typical Roman temples on the camino:

The Temple of Diana in Mérida on the VdlP/Mozárabe:

16459939363_c9f98749dc_c 2.jpg

Another Temple of Diana - at Évora, Portugal (on the Caminho do Este):

16461690073_90b0f3bbe2_c 2.jpg

Not on a camino, but one of the best preserved standard Roman temples is in Nîmes, France, and is known as the Maison Carée. This gives us a great idea of how these temples looked and we can of course see how similar it is to neoclassical buildings constructed in the last couple of hundred years.

728245788_cf2726a1ed_c 2.jpg

In all three of these examples we can see the Roman preference for the Corinthian order of column capitals (rather than Doric or Ionic).
 
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peregrina2000

Moderator
Staff member
I thought of a few more on caminos.

This one in Vic on the Catalán.
39E3B6BB-F7CC-4319-B5FA-1F53C4DF8995.jpeg

This one in Córdoba on the Mozárabe.

BDE6F4C0-7B7E-4354-89D7-DFA4EC567126.jpeg


And this, which is a mausoleum, so maybe not quite fitting your category, in Fábara on the Ebro. This one was quite cool to visit. Drop off your passport and get the keys in the bar. Walk a few kms out of town and use the first key to unlock the gate and the second key to unlock the entrance to the mausoleum and climb around in the dirt.

297E96A3-A63C-4436-9E47-09747DE56C34.jpeg 3ECBBEA5-918A-4CBF-99A8-E53C0CC895C9.jpeg
 
Year of past OR future Camino
2012 Lemovicensis + Francés;
2016 Podiensis + CdN + Fisterra;
2018 VdlP + Sanabrés + Muxia/Fisterra
@jungleboy, thanks for your introduction into the subject.
Just let me give an additional recommendation: If you´re on the VdlP and come to Mérida, after a walk around the roman sites take some hours to visit the National Museum of Roman Art. They put it all together: Architecture, Art, Technic and every day life in "Emerita Augusta".
I found it worth an off-day.

IMG_4886.JPG

--
Ultreia
 
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Raggy

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2017, 2018, 2019
I would like to add a resource - a series of documentaries on Roman engineering by RTVE. They're all in Spanish, but the pace is relatively slow and the graphics make things quite clear, even when I can't follow exactly what the narrator is saying.

Perhaps I should copy and paste these links into my post at the top of the thread rather than having them stuck down here in the discussion about temples?

Mines:

Roads:

Aqueducts:

Cities (part 1):

Cities (part 2 - seeds of the empire):

The interactivity on this site is a little unorthodox (at least it seems quirky to me), but there is some great content to explore - 360 degree views and interactive videos of different locations.
 
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