The answer: Italica.
This isn’t just any old day trip and, once the lovely man at the tourist office hinted at just how amazing this destination is, we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity.
Luckily, Italica is located only 9 km from Seville, in the city of Santiponce. There are regular bus services here (although these are much more irregular on Sundays and public holidays) from Seville’s Plaza de Armas bus station.
So I’ve confirmed that we caved into the temptation to see the place, but what is Italica?
Italica was once a grand Roman city, founded in the south of Spain by Scipio Africanus in 206 BC. Although it may not be as well known as Roman ruins found elsewhere in Europe, by the end of our day there, I was convinced that Italica is one of the best preserved Roman cities I’ve visited so far.
|The entryway of Italica, the Roman city.|
And don’t be fooled by the modest entrance, either – this is the birthplace of Roman emperors. Indeed, Trajan was born in Italica in 53 AD and, accordingly, visitors to Italica should be prepared to see displays of ancient grandeur.
Admission is free for EU citizens (remember to bring proof), and costs 1.50 euros for everyone else.
Once through the gates, all paths seemed to force us straight ahead, where we could just make out a mass in the distance.
This would turn out to be the structure that Italica was most famous for – both in the Roman times and now.
Although much of it lies in ruin now, with walls eroded by time and steps that have almost completely disappeared, the sheer scale of Italica’s amphitheatre instantly gave us insight into how spectators (and gladiators) must have felt when seeing it for the first time.
|Italica’s amphitheatre in all its glory.|
|Inside the arena (thankfully, not as a participant of the ancient competitions once carried out here!)|
Italica’s amphitheatre was undoubtedly a status item – it was supposed to impress. Even at the height of its development, Italica was only ever home to a maximum of 8,000 people. This amphitheatre seated 25,000 spectators.
This was a visual demonstration of Italica’s excessive wealth and power. You can consider it to be the ridiculously expensive designer handbag of yesteryear.
There’s much to see at the amphitheatre, from the chambers and passages that can be glimpsed below ground to the corridors encircling the entire arena.
|The inner workings of the amphitheatre.|
|And my beautiful mum enjoying the view from above.|
Clambering up some crumbling steps, we also got to see the original spectators’ view over the amphitheatre. Beyond the arena, cypress trees seem to be omnipresent.
After exploring other parts of Italica, I think I can confirm that these trees are everywhere! And this is fitting. As soon as I see them, I always immediately think of Mediterranean landscapes (and paintings of said Mediterranean landscapes).
The trees only work to make the stunning grounds of Italica that much more striking.
Apart from the amphitheatre, the city’s centrepiece, there are other ruins to see. There are aqueducts, a mysterious temple dedicated to Trajan, Roman roads as well as extensive foundations of Roman villas.
To see all of these, be prepared to do some walking, as the distances can be quite sizeable between different sites.
We chose to spend most of our time admiring the villas.
Most of these former homes contain something remarkable – almost perfectly preserved floor mosaics. Some of these intricate designs, often filling up entire rooms, feature mythological characters, while others display animals or plantlife.
|A mosaic in the Villa of the Birds – so named for the subject matter pictured here.|
Whenever I see mosaics like these at Roman sites, I always find myself thinking how lucky we are that we get to see these artworks when they could have easily been destroyed or chipped away at tile by tile.
In the centre of the villas is a recreation of a Roman garden. With its bright yellow sand and accurate symmetry, it makes a stark contrast to the uneven grey foundation walls all around it.
At the highest point of Italica, just above the villas, is a view of modern-day Santiponce. It’s another contrast – this time between old and new.
|A Roman garden.|
|A contrast between ancient and modern.|
We spent a few hours wandering the grounds of Italica before we felt Seville beckoning us to return.
Our exit towards the amphitheatre and entrance gate was via the old Roman road, which once carried people to and from Italica and to other cities of the empire. This route was the ideal way to conclude a special day spent out amongst some of the best Roman ruins I’ve ever seen.
|The Roman road.|
|One last view of Italica’s massive amphitheatre.|
If there’s one day trip that sends you out of Seville even during the shortest of stays, make sure that it will be a visit to the ancient city of Italica. The surrounding landscape and awe-inspiring structures are guaranteed to grant you a day you won’t soon forget.
Planning a trip to Italica? Check out the website for more information.