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Roman Bàrcino

  • A couple visiting the remains of the Roman wall in the History Museum of Barcelona

Bimillennial city

19 August 2014 marked the bimillennial anniversary of the death of the Emperor Augustus, who founded the Roman colony of Bàrcino.

The Roman walls that surround the heart of Barcelona embrace Bàrcino, which existed from the 1st century BC to the start of the Middle Ages. A city that began as a small colony and gradually grew to briefly become an imperial city.

The colony on Mount Taber

The area stretching between the Besòs and Llobregat river deltas, the site of today's Barcelona, was already populated in prehistoric times. Shortly before the start of the current era, it housed various settlements of native peoples, mainly Laietani. According to legend there was also a Jewish colony at the top of Montjuïc, which might explain where its name ("Jewish Mountain") comes from.

When the Romans arrived, between 15 and 13 BC, they were looking for the best place to found a colony between the prosperous Emporiae (Empúries), on the coast to the north, and Tàrraco (Tarragona), to the south. The spot they chose was the top of Mount Taber, a small hill facing the sea and looking over the plain, where Plaça de Sant Jaume is today. They had little difficulty in gaining control over the neighbouring settlements. The colony, called Julia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino, grew rapidly. A wall was built around it between the 1st and 2nd centuries, which was reinforced between the 3rd and 4th centuries and marked the perimeter that remained the same until the Middle Ages. It also kept the structure of a Roman city, with a forum at the centre from which two streets spread out in the form of a cross, the cardus and the decumanus, leading to the four entrance gates.

It is still possible to trace this structure today: Carrer Llibreteria, which starts in Plaça de l’Àngel where the Porta Sinistra, one of the gates in the wall, used to be, is the old cardus that crossed the city from north to south to the Porta Dextra, at the end of today's Carrer del Call; Plaça Sant Jaume, in the centre, extends a little to the south-east of where the Forum was in those days; and three modern streets, Bisbe, Ciutat and Regomir, follow the route of the old decumanus from the Porta Praetoria in the west to the Porta Decumana or Porta del Mar, in the east.

The presence of large domus in the city, houses with gardens and rich ornamental decoration, is proof of the presence of important property-owning families. And it was probably thanks to these families that the small Bàrcino gradually grew in size and significance. By the start of the 5th century money was already being minted in the city, establishing the first link with the imperial elite and placing it among the powerful cities.

Bimillennial city

19 August 2014 marked the bimillennial anniversary of the death of the Emperor Augustus, who founded the Roman colony of Bàrcino.

Photo: Jordi Play

The Augustus temple columns

Hidden away in the courtyard of a Gothic palace on Carrer Paradís are four 12-metre-high columns from the temple that the Romans built in honour of Emperor Augustus at the top of Mount Taber.

MUHBA - Barcelona History Museum
Photo: ICUB

MUHBA Plaça del Rei

The Museu d’Història de Barcelona (MUHBA - Barcelona History Museum) is housed in one of the most important monumental complexes in the city. It is built over Bàrcino's remains and visitors can stroll through Roman streets and the interior of some of the buildings in the subsoil.

MUHBA - Barcelona History Museum
Photo: Jordi Play

The Porta de Mar and the harbour baths

En el interior del Centro Cívico Pati Llimona se encuentran los restos de las termas portuarias que estaban fuera de las murallas, así como una parte de la puerta de Mar, que daba acceso a uno de los extremos del decumanus.

MUHBA - Barcelona History Museum
Photo: P. de Grenet

Via Sepulcral Romana

Outside the old walled Bàrcino, in today's Plaça Vila de Madrid, lie the remains of the Roman Funeral Way, a necropolis dating from the 1st to the 3rd century. Items found at this site are displayed in the Interpretation Centre.

MUHBA - Barcelona History Museum

Domus on Sant Honorat

Los restos de la gran domus descubierta en la calle de Sant Honorat, cerca de la plaza de Sant Jaume, y que incluye locales comerciales del siglo IV, permiten conocer mejor la arquitectura doméstica de la época romana.

MUHBA - Barcelona History Museum
Photo: Museu Arqueològic de Catalunya Press Department

Museu Arqueològic de Catalunya

Para encontrar los vestigios que ilustran la evolución de Barcelona y Cataluña desde la época prehistórica, hay que dirigirse al Museo Arqueológico de Cataluña, en Montjuïc. Incluye piezas íberas, romanas y visigodas.

Museu Arqueològic de Catalunya (PIC)
Photo: ICUB

Map of Bàrcino

As part of the Bàrcino Plan, the Barcelona City Council Archaeology Service has created a list of all the places where excavations are being carried out, which is available to the public.

Barcelona City Council Archaeology Service (CA)

Map of the Roman wall

Before setting off around the Roman city, you can take a look at the Barcelona Archaeological Map to find out exactly where the Bàrcino wall ran.

Barcelona Archaeological Map

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