Cordoba capital of the Roman Hispania

Dec 15, 2020 | Travel Blog

Roman Cordoba was founded by General Claudio Marcelo between the years 169 BC and 152 BC, and he settled, as we will see in the section dedicated to urban planning, opposite the part of river Guadalquivir where it is no longer navigable. The settlement had an undoubtedly excellent strategic situation, as it was a platform through which the land could be accessed in times of conquest. During the first years, the Romans lived together with the native population that was already established in villages near the city, but they gradually disappeared.

The new city, located on the highest hill of the current city, was from the beginning capital of the province of the Hispania Ulterior (Hispania “The Far”), which shows the importance Córdoba has had since ancient times. As time went by, a new period of conflicts started in Rome, triggered by the civil wars between Caesar and Pompey’s sons, which finished with the end of the Roman Republic. The city supported Pompey, the losing side; therefore the reprisal soon arrived, and Córdoba, with more than 20,000 inhabitants at the time, was severely punished, and a long period of recession started.
With the arrival of Emperor Augustus to power, things started to change, as he settled in Roman Córdoba a great number of veterans who had taken part in the northern wars, and he gave them numerous portions of land. But the most important thing is that, at this time, and despite his political records, Augustus granted the city the status of Colonia Patricia, the highest rank a city of the Roman Empire could have (also Carthago Nova, Tarraco or Astigi had it in Hispania).

Along the 1st century AD, Corduba experienced numerous transformations caused by this change of status: the walled perimeter was extended until River Betis (current Guadalquivir) and an embellishment and monumental process started, imitating the models brought from Rome, such as the remodelling of the primitive forum, which was extended following the example of the Forum of Augustus in Rome. The Provincial Forum was also built, located in the Altos de Santa Ana, or the Port Centre, located in the vicinity of the Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs. The currently known as Roman Bridge was erected, entering the city from the south, or the first aqueduct, which guaranteed a permanent water supply.

Due to the close relationship between Corduba and the Emperor, it is not surprising that he was worshipped here from the beginning. The Temple on Claudio Marcelo Street proves this. The building of this complex, as a public square, which centralised official activities– according to Desiderio Vaquerizo– was conceived as a tribute for the Emperor and his family, and it was dedicated to his cult.

Together with the building of monuments and the improvement of the infrastructures, we need to add the great development of civil architecture, as many domus (houses) and insulae (blocks) appreared gathered in neighbourhoods. On the other hand, we cannot forget the monumental character of the funerary landscape, which, according to experts, could be compared to that of the capital of the Empire. Located along the first kilometres next to the roads leaving Roman Córdoba, the best preserved example is the Mausoleum of Puerta Gallegos, which will be explained in detail later on.

Corduba’s splendor continued until the first crisis of the 3rd century; new public buildings were no longer built, and they also stopped the supply of quality material, thus workshops were in crisis and, consequently, some spaces were reused and the houses became older due to the lack of new constructions. All this led to the loss of the capital status of the province.

This whole decadent scene was counteracted by the building of one of the greatest projects witnessed by the city, the Palace of Emperor Maximianus Herculeus. The palace was erected in order to accommodate the Emperor during his stay in Córdoba, who was in the middle of a pacifying campaign in the south of Hispania and the north of Africa.

Next, we have prepared a brief analysis of the urban evolution of the city. Shortly afterward, as we have done before, we have organized a short tour around the most significant monuments preserved.

The roman bridge

Aulo Hircio, Captain and historian of Caesar’s war against Pompey’s sons, where our city supported the side of the latter, told the episode of the moment when Caesar entered the city: “Having arrived Caesar… he ordered to put great baskets full of stones in it, over which a bridge was erected… and the troops crossed it up to three times”. From the idea that Caesar had to build a provisional bridge to cross the river and thus enter the city, we can think that there was not any bridge whatsoever, and most probably, the one we are talking about was built years later, in times of Emperor Augustus, when our city was granted the rank of Colonia Patricia.

The Romans were, as in many other kinds of buildings, experts in erecting bridges over rivers. The first step was to choose its correct location, and, as in other examples preserved in our country, they chose the lowest part of the meander, next to Martos Water mill, looking for the deepest riverbed. The result was a bridge made in limestone (which, by the way, could be easily eroded) from the mountains, consisting of sixteen round arches supported by strong pillars with circular and angled cutwaters.

There is documental evidence of the bridge in times of Arab occupation. A text by Ajbar Madmua is particularly interesting, where he tells about the rainy night when the troops from the north of Africa crossed the bridge to enter the city. During that period, the bridge experienced numerous reparations, some due to the continuous rises of the river, others due to the natural fragility of the material used. We even know that it was impossible to cross it for some years, up to the point of carrying the dead in boats to the Arab cemetery of the suburb, located on the other bank of the river.

In medieval Christian times, as Beatriz Sánchez tells, the bridge was seen as an essential location; therefore they tried to preserve it to a great extent.

In the middle of the 17th century, a plague epidemics broke out in the city, causing a great impact on the population. When it subsided, an image of Archangel San Rafael was located in the bridge, made by sculptor Bernabé del Río, with the iniciative of Father Juan Bautista Caballero. Under it, a white marble plaque reads: “To the great glory of God and cult of our Saint Guardian, the guild of tanners and glove makers renewed this holy image… 10th September 1789”. It is the archangel which is closest to the people, and for this reason it is surrounded by a thick cloud of red candles, all of them consumed, which is a clear reflection of the affection and the deepest devotion the people of Córdoba feel for him.

For many years, our city was in debt with the Roman Bridge. Together with the terrible “restorations” carried out at the beginning of the 20th century, we must add the bad conservation state, both materials as visual or even acoustic, I would say… Besides, not long ago all kinds of vehicles crossed it, even heavy “urban buses”.

On 9th January 2008 the bridge was opened again after a long restoration period, not free of controversy, partly reasonable, which aimed at giving it back its original appearance.

Only the design and the foundations are preserved from Roman times.

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Malaga, Andalusia 

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