The roman city of “Corduba”

by | May 8, 2022 | Blog

Corduba, that is, Roman Córdoba, 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.

Funerary Monuments of Puerta Gallegos

Some of the most significant examples of monumental funerary architecture in Roman Cordoba, for its size -13 meter diameter- and for the architectonic type in which they can be classified.

They are located on both sides of the Roman road connecting the city since Republican times, the so-called Corduba-Hispalis, on the right bank of the river Guadalquivir.

This road forked in two; one of them was old road to Almodovar, which was one of the most important burial areas in the city.

It was in Augustus’s times when the first funerary monument was built, consisting of anustrinum (where the cremation of the corpse was made) and an area of funerary placement separated from the former by a low wall, thus forming a complex that has interesting similarities to those of other cities in Betica, such as Baelo Claudia.

We should probably date in this time the paving of the road with puddingstone, now a clear extension of the main street in the city with an orientation east-west, the Decumanus Maximus. This must be understood taking into account the urban planning of the area, together with the building of a bridge and the embellishment of the gates of the city.

In times of Emperor Tiberio, this process of building monuments got to its peak with the construction of two cylindrical funerary monuments with identical size but different function.

The northern one, which has a better conservation state, was erected respecting the previous burial, which suggests a familiar relationship between the users of both complexes. It also maintains its individual character, whereas the southern one seems to have been conceived as a collective burial probably for the remains of the relatives of that buried in the first building.

As for its type, we can highlight its direct Italian tradition, although there are exact parallels in the funerary architecture in Hispania. Their shape resemble other monuments located in Carmona, Alcalá de Guadaira, Mérida and maybe Les Gunyoles (Tarragona).

The spreading of this kind of cylindrical monument can be explained through the importance of the mausoleum of Emperor Augustus himself.

The existence of these magnificent buildings is just another proof of the fact that Roman Cordoba was a clear reflection of the capital itself, Rome, in the middle of a process of ideological and iconographic transmission, which was unique in the rest of Hispania.

This type of building seems to be related to the ordo equester, one of the most important sectors of Roman society. We must also remember the privileged location of the funerary monuments, very close to the road, thus being part of the “image of the city”, which emphasizes the special importance they had in the society of Roman Córdoba.

The constructive techniques show the continuous use of traditional techniques in the Patrician architecture, such as the use of the opus quadratum or the “mine stone”, but at the same time, new trends in Roman architecture were imported, such as the opus caementicium and the massive use of marble.

Although it may be difficult to understand, the funerary monuments did not last long, as at the end of the 2nd century AD, the funerary area was literally invaded by domestic and commercial buildings that belonged to one of the neighbourhoods that had appeared outside the walls of the city while the road mentioned was removed and elevated.

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