For a view of dead Romans, you can’t beat the subterranean tombs at Carmona. Declared by Julius Caesar to be “the best defended town in the whole of Roman Baetica” (Andalusia), this hilltop walled town that towers above an agricultural plain was settled 5,000 years ago, and later invaded by the Carthaginians who fortified it.
On taking it into the Imperial Empire, Rome adapted the old town to its new and modern concepts. The urban centre was transferred to what remains the town’s main square and four gates were built into the massive town walls, including the impressive Cordoba Gate which we entered through.
An amphitheatre and necropolis were built alongside what would become the longest and busiest of the major roads built by the Romans in ancient Hispania.
Commissioned by the Emperor Augustus (Octavian) the Via Augusta was built to link Spain with Italy, from Cadiz to the Pyrenees mountains along the length of valleys parallel to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Along with us was our nephew Josh, newly arrived from the airport at Seville and keen to see evidence of Romans as studying Classics at sixth form college. His knowledge was to be our guide through ancient history. We put that to the test straightaway that by sending him down a ladder into a dark and dank tomb!
Roman burial practice in Carmona turned out be rather surprising. Large stone tombs included dining rooms, kitchen areas, and water pools as well as niches where the jars of ashes of cremated bodies would be stored. We all found this rather strange.
A burial would consist of the building of a funeral pyre with the body of the deceased placed upon it. The male head of the family (or in the case of their own death, their male heir) would set alight the flames. The family watched the fire and gathered the ashes.
A wake was then enjoyed with food prepared in the kitchen area and family gathered around the pool, water from which was also used for plants. If this wasn’t enough, the whole thing was repeated on the anniversary of the burial every year!
Not all the tombs were subterranean but those that were lay deep underground. Some of the tombs had interesting features. One had an animal sculpture named to be an elephant, but sheepy-looking. Others had columns and painted garlands of flowers. The most elaborate, a colonnaded hall with places for statues was the Tomb of Servilia.
We couldn’t establish if this was the final resting place of the mistress of Julius Caesar, a fascinating woman living through high politics at a knife-edge time.. and the mother of Brutus. It was quite exciting to imagine it being her tomb!
We retraced our steps downhill through quiet old town streets of whitewashed houses at siesta time, being greeted by nuns in brown habits and white veils on their way to and from the Convent Santa Clara.
At the crest of the town’s hilltop, the ancient Carthaginian’s fortress was reinforced by the Romans and then again later by the Moors, who occupied Andalusia after the fall of Rome and the collapse of control by the Visigoths. It was the Alcazar.
In soaring temperatures of 35 degrees we climbed each floor along glass platforms and metal walkways and had incredible views across the town’s rooftops and out along the miles and miles of surrounding, flat plains.
One long straight road ran from the horizon to the fortified gates at the bottom of the town. We imagined a weary wanderer travelling along its route and coming ever closer to a hoped-for night’s comfort of a warm bed and board. The Moors, however, were suspicious of strangers and most likely to turn you away. Imagine being told to go back all the miles of the way you had trekked!
Local schoolchildren who we had seen being schooled in Roman warfare at the Necropolis had marched in tunics carrying weapons to besiege the Arab fortress. From our eagles’ eye view we saw that they were being goaded by a Moorish cloaked and black hooded executioner waving a sword from on top of the walls.
Much screaming, thumping of weapons and chanting of “we can see you, we’re coming at you” from the legendary ‘IX Legion Hispania’ mixed up history a bit but we scarpered down the stone stairways just in time to escape being embroiled in the noisy battle!