By 100 BC the fledgling Roman Empire extended from Turkey in the east, along the northern shores of the Mediterranean, Greece, Italy, southern France, Sardinia, Corsica, Spain and small territories established in North Africa. Already the empire was struggling to feed not only its resident population but the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and slaves from surrounding territories.
Baelo Claudia was founded about this time for two reasons. First it was an ideal place from which to trade with Tangiers and secondly its location, on the Gibraltar Strait, facing the Atlantic, made it a good place to establish a fish-salting factory to take advantage of the annual migration of tuna through the Strait.
Fish salting was not a new technology, it was already an established process during Phoenician times seven hundred years earlier, in fact the Romans, innovative though they were, never shied from copying technology if it suited them. This is one of the reasons Baelo Claudia is so fascinating. It is not the largest Roman site, it is not the most monumental, nor did it economically or politically ever compete with sites such as Corduba or Italica but, when it was built, it was to a genuine Roman town plan that incorporated the latest and borrowed developments, not just in fish processing but street planning, water supply and building. It was also built to provide the needs of a resident population and a migrant worker population that were brought in during the fish harvest. The theatre for instance is far larger than that required by the permanent residents. It is clear that migrant workers were respected and catered for.
The lay out of the town is a grid with two main roads, the decumanus maximus that runs east to west and the cardo maximus that runs from north to south. The whole site, 13 hectares, is surrounded by a wall with gates where the roads entered the town. The east gate is called the Carteia gate, the road led to Carteia which is near San Roque and the western gate is called Gades Gate, the road taking you to Gades or Cádiz. At the crossroads of the two main roads is the Forum, the centre of political, administrative and religious life. To the north of the Forum is the Temple of Isis and to the west the market area. South of the forum is the Basilica. On the southern side of the decumanus maximus, just behind the beach, is the salting factory. If you walk up the cardo maximus beyond the Temple of Isis you will be climbing the hill into the residential area of town, an area largely un-excavated as yet but it is worth the effort because you will come across an aqueduct, one of two that carried water from the hills into the town. The second aqueduct, on the western side fed the thermal baths.
It is all still there for you to wonder at. There is also, recently completed, a museum that tells you much more through interactive and static displays and clever use of computer enhanced video. A technology the Romans would undoubtably have embraced with enthusiasm.
Take the N340 (Tarifa to Jerez road) and at KM 70.2 turn off on the the CAP2216 local road, continue until you reach the site
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.