Almoina Archaeological Centre: Delve into Ancient Valencia

The archaeological ruins in the Almoina were discovered by pure chance when there were plans to extend the Basilica. When they started to dig in this spot, they came across these ruins and therefore the initial plans had to be scrapped. It is not surprising that when you dig into the ground of ancient cities, such as Valencia, ruins of past civilizations will come to light. If it wasn’t for these plans, this labyrinth of Roman, Visigothic and Islamic ruins would probably still be hidden underground.

Archaeological surveys and excavations took place from 1985 – 2005 and finally in 2007 this archaeological centre was opened so that we could delve into the depths of Valencia and discover the civilizations that left their mark in the city.

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Outside the building there is a glass skylight on the ground covered by a shallow layer of water so that you can see some of the ruins that are waiting to be explored underground, that is when the glass has been cleaned which, unfortunately, is not always the case.

Once you go through the main entrance you are met with the reception where you get your tickets to enter. If you look towards your right you can view a section of the ruins down below, mainly the Islamic period alcázar fortification and some stairs that lead down into the main area of the ruins. This alcázar was part of Islamic Valencia known as Balansiya (بلنسية).

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Don’t go down these stairs into the main sublevel just yet but instead walk to the far end and watch an audiovisual projection, if you wish, and/or check out the Ancient Glassware Exhibition (El vidre antic en València) located down a small flight of stairs.

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Once you come back out of the Exhibition Hall walk down some additional stairs where you will be immersed in the area where the foundation rituals or Valencia took place. Here you’ll find an Islamic period and a Roman period well. Whenever a new Roman city was founded, priests would engage in an Etruscan origin ritual where they would seek advice from the gods about the layout of the urban area. They would then have a banquet and deposit animal carcases, ceramic and other objects used into a votive well which would then be cremated and buried in soil. The Romans believed that these offerings needed to be discarded because as they had been in contact with the divine they would be impure to humans. The Roman votive well in this area was found full or artefacts and animal bones from the foundation rituals.

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Come back up the stairs and marvel at the few objects on display in glass cabinets from Balansiya (Islamic period Valencia). Apart from ceramics there are also dirhams (Islamic period currency), an alchemical still and a tombstone from the Rawda (Islamic cemetery) that was found in the area.

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Now, you can make your way back to the entrance and descend the stairs into the sublevel where the main ruins can be found. To get your bearings, check out this floor plan of this level. The grey parts on the map indicate walkways.

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At this point you should be at the bottom of the stairs and at the entrance to the sublevel (marked with an arrow on the floor plan). You are now standing on top of the main North-South Roman road known as the Cardo Maximus and looking at the central area of ruins where the thermae (Roman Baths) are located. Up above you can see the skylight that you saw on the outside of the building, but this time looking up above instead of down below, where you are now.

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From now on you will mostly encounter ruins from the Roman Period. Valencia was founded in 138 BC by Decimus Junius Brutus and named Valentia Edetanorum (Bravery of Edetania – former Iberian settlement). The Roman period is divided into two periods: The Roman Republic and The Roman Empire.

The first Roman Republic ruins that you’ll encounter are the thermae which date from the 2nd Century BC. They are located in the centre of this complex and most other ruins are orientated around this central space.

Let’s look at the thermae in more detail:

The thermae found in the Almoina are of particular interest because they are the oldest in Hispania (Modern Day Spain & Portugal) and one of the few examples of thermae from the Roman Republic Period.

Thermae were vital to Roman daily life and everyone from all social classes would partake in this communal ritual. Access to these thermae was through the apodyterium where bathers would get changed. They would then move on to the caldarium (hot room) where they could bathe in the alveus, a hot water pool fed by water from a nearby well and heated by a furnace situated in the praefurnium. In the caldarium people could also take a steam bath to open their pores and then apply lotion which would then be removed with a strigil, a type of curved blade scraper. Apart from bathing, massages were also important in the thermae; in the caldarium and tepidarium (warm room) you can still see the stone benches where people would get a massage. All floors in these thermae are exquisitely decorated with tiles that resemble fish scales. These thermae also had latrines where Romans would do their business…

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Right next to the thermae there is another well and some adobe walls which date back to the first buildings ever constructed in Valentia Edetanorum in 138 BC.

almoina-adobeAfter visiting the thermae, head towards your right where you’ll discover the main Roman roads. Roman city planning consisted of two main roads: the Cardo Maximus (North – South) and the Decumanus Maximus (East – West). These roads formed the axis of the economic hub of the city and along them the most important buildings were located such as the forum and thermae. In the Almoina you can clearly see the crossroads where the Cardo Maximus and the Decumanus Maximus meet. Another important road in Hispania (Roman Spain) was the Via Augusta which connected Cadiz and the Pyrenees and ultimately Rome. The continuation of the Cardo Maximus coincides with the Via Augusta and on street level it spans Calle del Salvador where there is also another archaeological Roman site (not open to the public). The Decumanus Maximus continues on modern-day Calle Caballeros.

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On this map you can see where the Cardo Maximus and Decumanus Maximus are located and where the unearthed portions are approximately located in modern-day Valencia.

Next to these Roman roads you can then see the ruins of the Sanctuary of Asclepius (Roman Republic Period) and the nymphaeum (Roman Empire Period). The sanctuary was dedicated to the water cult, most probably of Asclepius, and consisted of a lacus (pool) where people could engage in ritual ablutions. The nymphaeum was built in the same place as the Sanctuary of Asclepius and had a similar function but it was consecrated to water and health deities known as nymphs. The ruins of the Islamic alcázar fortification is located just behind.

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If you turn around you can then see a wall that used to belong to the Islamic alcázar fortification. Behind this wall there is a necropolis (cemetery) but the tombstones are not actually from this site but were relocated here from the excavations of the Boatella Cemetery surrounding the Central Market. There is also a funerary lion sculpture that was discovered in the cemetery that was located in Plaza del Marques de Busianos.

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Walk back to the Roman crossroads and follow the Decumanus Maximus. On your left there is a horreum (Roman Republic Period) where grains were stored, much like the Valencian Gothic Almudin located up above in the city and very nearby.

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Follow the Decumanus Maximus again until you reach the forum (Roman Empire Period), the focal point of Roman life. A portico has been reconstructed so you can see what this area would have looked like but most of the forum ruins consist of just the bases of the columns alongside the back wall of the Almoina. The majority of the forum is, or at least would have been located under the current basilica and Plaza de la Virgen which is close by. From the outside of the Almoina you can also view this portico through a window above.

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Next to the forum (on your left) you’ll find the curia which is where the senate used to assemble. Today all that is left of the original building is a rectangular base where there is also the base of a statue dedicated to Caius Virius Nepos and a pedestal dedicated to Marcia Postuma Messenia. Opposite this visible curia base there are also ruins of what is thought to be an identical curia which would support the idea that Valencia had a double curia (Valentini veterani et Veteres), a rare occurrence indeed.

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In front of the curia and down below there is also a Visigothic well built towards the end of the 6th Century.

Once you walk over the Visigothic well, you can then see weapons and a skeleton of an executed Roman soldier who was one of the many victims of the Civil War that brought an end to the Roman Republic in 75 BC at the hand of Pompey. Valencia was abandoned for nearly half a century until it was revived with the arrival of the Valentini Veterani (new inhabitants) et veteres (people from the 1st city).

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Next to the skeleton of a Roman soldier there is a basilica (Roman Empire Period) where there was also an Aedes Augusti which was used as a justice tribunal. Unlike Christian basilicas that are common today, Roman basilicas were entirely different as they did not serve a religious function at all.

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In front of this basilica there is a Visigothic apse of a church on the site where Saint Vincent is thought to have been martyred back in the 4th Century. Saint Vincent the Martyr was and is still highly venerated by Christians in Valencia and is now the patron of the city of Valencia. Explore more about Saint Vincent the Martyr by visiting his underground crypt in the vicinity.

Opposite the Visigothic apse there is a factory from the Roman Empire Period which was used as a small-scale factory for the manufacture of food. You can see a few amphorae that would have contained oil, wine and garum.

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After the factory, walk along the pathway and look down through the glass as you do not want to miss (unless you are squeamish) the Visigothic tombs containing several skeletons. There are a few tombs in this area because the faithful wished to be buried near the grave of Saint Vincent the Martyr. This became the first Christian cemetery of Valencia located in the vicinity of the Visigothic Cathedral (beneath the current Cathedral of Valencia) and the Visigothic church dedicated to the Martyr. The main tomb that you can see inside contains the skeletons of several people.

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After the Visigothic tombs, you’ll come across the ruins of the Visigothic baptistery which is one of the few remnants of the Visigothic cathedral of Valencia. Most of the Visigothic cathedral must be buried under the current cathedral so make sure you also visit the newly opened Museum of the Cathedral of Valencia which has unearthed Roman, Visigothic and Islamic ruins beneath it. Additionally, you can also see a section of the Visigothic cathedral apse located in the Archaeological Crypt of Saint Vincent where there is also a Visigothic funerary chapel.

Check out this diagram which shows the location of the Visigothic cathedral (where the Cathedral of Valencia is now located) in relation to the ruins found inside the Almoina Archaeological Centre and the Archaeological Crypt of Saint Vincent.

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You should now be back on the Cardo Maximus next to the thermae where you can go back up the stairs and transport back into modern-day Valencia.


Rating: 9/10

Where: Plaza Decimo Junio Bruto (Behind Cathedral and Basilica of Valencia)

Opening Times: Tuesday – Saturday 9.30am – 7.00pm/ Sunday & Bank Holidays 9.30am – 3.00pm

Entrance Fee: Free on Sundays and Bank Holidays, otherwise 2€

 

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