Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Roman remains of Italica

Chosen for its prime location as a port and fort on the Guadalquivir River, the site of the older settlement of Turdetani was dedicated for veterans of the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE) by the Roman Emperor as a reward for their service in defeating Hannibal (247-180? BCE). The archeological remains of the new settlement, Italica, are found in the quiet town of Santiponce, only about six miles outside of Sevilla.

Italica was the birthplace of both the expansionist Roman emperor Trajan (53-117) (replica of original statue above) and his successor, Hadrian (76-138). Hadrian’s interests were not directed as much toward increasing the size of the Roman empire as in unifying it and making its borders defensible. His hometown benefitted from his keen interest and investments in outlying posts.

The walls erected around Italica enclosed more than 120 acres of an urbanized area laid out in a grid. Although the population never rose above 10,000 or so, the enormous amphitheatre seated up to 25,000 spectators. The “games,” generally played by enslaved gladiators, attracted visitors from far and wide, including the larger Roman neighboring city of Hispalis, or Sevilla.

While few walls of individual houses remain, some mosaic floors of the homes of the wealthy are still on site. Some mosaics have been taken to the Sevilla Archaeological Museum, but many were removed before Italica belatedly was protected as a National Monument in 1912. The central part of most mosaics made their way into the homes of Sevilla’s aristocrats. At least many in private hands were secured and well-preserved. They can be seen in several homes now open to the public as museums (photos later).

Lacking the favored patronage of an emperor, the fate of the prosperous city was dealt a death-blow by the shifting course of the Guadalquivir River. By the third century the once-vital port was left high and dry – abandoned.

Postcard from Xativa, Spain: Socarrat good for paella but not for a town

In Valencia, the crispy caramelized socarrat around the edges of the paella pan is a cook’s goal, but scorched is far from ideal when applied to your town.

Spaniards have referred to residents of Xativa as socarrats since the early 1700s. Flush with victory at the Battle of Almansa securing Spain for the Bourbons, the vengeful Phillip V (1683-1746) ordered the town taken and set ablaze. Felipe has not been forgiven, his portrait condemned to hang upside down in the city’s Almodi Museum.

The twin peaks of Monte Vernissa above Xativa have been fortified since Roman times. Himilice, the wife of Hannibal, gave birth to a son there in 218 B.C. Although the fortress appears difficult to conquer, sometimes alliances place one on the conquered side because of battles lost elsewhere.

While under Moorish control, Xativa became the 12th-century European center for production of paper. Most of the walls stretching across the two hilltops today are preserved from the Islamic and Gothic periods. Portions of the castles and fortifications were rebuilt more frequently, including the upper Santa Fe Tower – destroyed by a gunpowder explosion in 1563, an earthquake in 1748 and the French in 1813.

Xativa was home to the powerful Borgia family, known for their Machiavellian political maneuvers. Two of the Xativa-born Borgias became popes, Calixtus III (1378-1458) and Alexander VI (1431-1508). The city also takes great pride as the birthplace of the painter Jose de Ribera (1591-1652).

Out of respect for possible remaining scorched sensibilities, the Mister opted for rabo del toro instead of socarrat-crusted paella. Translated literally, this means bull’s tail, making one think this was one way Spain took care of the remnants of bullfights. But it is oxtail, slowly cooked to an extremely tender stage and served with the resulting rich broth.