© Sara Rodríguez Romo
© Sara Rodríguez Romo

Ammaia, Alentejo's unknown Roman city

3 minutes to read

At the north of the Alentejo, only five kilometers away from Spain, there is a mysterious old Roman city: Ammaia. The locals had always been aware of these ruins, but nothing had been done officially about it. Intrigued about these stones, the archaeologists began a severe excavation in the 90s. Immediately, the wonders started to appear: the forum, some thermae, columns, steles. Lately, a significant finding was brought to light: an amphitheater, and specifically the 5th discovered in the Roman province of Lusitania! This is the story of a forgotten city, rediscovered 1000 years later.

© Julie Chojnacki
© Julie Chojnacki

Ammaia was built in the first century BCE. It was very prosperous until the fall of the Roman Empire. It had been built in a valley, with fertile lands, near some gold and quartz mines, with plenty of water to supply the city. It grew vital because it was on the crossroad between Emerita Augusta (Mérida, the capital of Hispania), and Olisipo, (the current Lisbon), one the most important ports of the Atlantic. But in the 5th century, this dreamy place was not safe anymore. Therefore, the current Marvão was formed eventually at the tallest nearby mountain. The still standing stones were afterward used for many purposes: for instance, to build the new bridge of Portagem. Also, the arch of the powerful South entrance was dismounted and rebuild in Castelo de Vide. However, the great basilica building, the most important of the city, got the worst part: it was destroyed when the road to Portalegre was built. To this day, this road crosses the site at its very heart. 

© Sara Rodríguez Romo
© Sara Rodríguez Romo
Ammaia
Ammaia
Estr. da Calçadinha 4, 7300-328 Marvão, Πορτογαλία

The ruins of Ammaia can be visited daily. The visit starts with a documentary about the city and a 3D representation that explains its old structure and history. After that, the rest of the museum is on display. The most important thing in it is the glass collection: many, many items made of rock glass, have been found intact 2000 years later! There is a statue of a man, with a hole in the crotch. It had been reused as a fountain. Indeed, Ammaia is empty in the surface because its remains had been removed from there and used elsewhere. Just by walking around the old city, it is easy to recognize the Roman stones in the nearby farms, used for decoration, walls, fountains, etc. Also, 20 statues were sold in the 30s to the British Museum. By that time,  some scholars had found out that the city was not Medobriga as they had assumed, but another one that nobody had thought of before: it was Ammaia

© Sara Rodríguez Romo
© Sara Rodríguez Romo

One would think there would be nothing remaining after these raids. And this was a general thought. But recently, the excavations have received extra funds and what seemed like an empty land, has started to reveal what was lying beneath the surface. Little by little, the tabernae in the forum have been brought back to light. The monumental south entrance has been almost fully recovered, with its two towers practically fully built. Also, an amphitheater has been dug out! Amphitheaters are a scarce building to find: imagine that only five have been discovered at the large province of Lusitania.

Nevertheless, only 1% of the Roman city has been brought to light so far. Therefore, who knows what other treasures are hiding underneath this Alentejan earth?


The author

Sara Rodriguez Romo

Sara Rodriguez Romo

I live between Salamanca, in Spain, and Marvão, in Portugal. A passionate traveller, I have visited over 30 countries in four continents. Currently I am doing a PhD in Greek Mythology and working with horses, doing rides in the nature.

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