Greece and Rome

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January 15th 2011
Published: April 11th 2011
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My visit to Spain is unfortunately short and driven by necessity but that doesn't mean I can't find some time for visiting somewhere new. My friend came to the hostel to pick me up this morning and we drove to Empuries. After all my annoyance over the lost job and having to return to Spain for my things I finally felt that little flash of excitement that meant I was going to a place I'd never been before, to see something I'd never seen before. Added to that despite the January chill the sun was shining and it felt like a warm English Spring day, and I was getting to spend the day with a good friend.
We arrived and parked the car and I skipped out to find we were beside a beach with a perfect view of the sea... not bad for a January day when back home is cold and grey. We stood by the fence by the beach and watched a few families playing on the sand, then walked up the hill, bought our tickets and walked up to where we could see a large wall and presumably the start of the ruins.
Empúries was founded in 575 BCE by Greek colonists from Phocaea with the name of Εμπόριον, meaning market. Originally the city of Empuries was built on a small island at the mouth of the river Fluvià, in a region inhabited by the Indigetes. This city came to be known as the Palaiapolis, the "old city" when, towards 550 BCE, the inhabitants moved to the mainland, creating the Neapolis, the "new city". After the conquest of Phocaea by the Persian king Cyrus II in 530 BCE, the new city's population increased considerably through the influx of refugees. In the face of strong pressure from Carthage, the city managed to retain its independent Hellenic character. Situated as it was on the coastal commercial route between Massalia (Marseille) and Tartessos in the far south of Hispania, the city developed into a large economic and commercial centre as well as being the largest Greek colony in the Iberian Peninsula.
During the Punic Wars, Empúries allied itself with Rome, and Publius Cornelius Scipio initiated the conquest of Hispania from this city in 218 BCE. After the conquest of Hispania by the Romans, Empúries remained an independent city-state. However, in the civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar, it opted for Pompey, and after his defeat it was stripped of its autonomy. A colonia of Roman veterans, named Emporiae, was established near Indika to control the region.
From that time onwards, Empúries began to decline, obscured by the power of Tarraco (Tarragona) and Barcino (Barcelona). At the end of the 3rd century it became one of the first cities in Spain to admit Christian evangelists. In that century, too, the Greek town was abandoned while the Roman town survived as a mint and the largely ceremonial seat of a coastal county, Castelló d'Empúries, until the Viking raids of the mid-9th century.
Hurrying up the hill we walked alongside a large wall which presumably was the start of the ruins. In fac,t according to the first information sign we found, we were at the end of the ruins, but quite happy doing things in reverse we perservered. The Roman City walls enclosed the city perimetre, measuring 300 by 700 metres and dating from the first century CE. Beside the walls we found the Palaestra. Built outside the main city walls it was a large rectangular building used for physical training and gymnastics which formed part of the education of the city's young men.
Beside this lay the remains of the city's ampitheatre, once able to hold 3,300 soectators and now sadly a simple ring of stones.
We walked on through the entranceway in the city walls and through what was once the local shopping street. We arrived in the forum, it's grandeur partially recreated. We wandered amongst the other ruins, picking our way through the sun-warmed stones, and gardens and onto the Greek part of the ruins, including the Atrium houses and Asklepieion, a religious centre dedicated to the greek god of medicine Asklepios, used for both religious purposes and the healing of the sick. A large replica statue of Asklepios stands in the temple, the original was discovered in a cistern in 1909 and now housed in the on site museum.
The museum itself is small but nicely laid out and interesting. We perused the displays of mosaics and jars finally coming to the star of the show, the original statue of Asklepios standing proudly in the centre of a black room. The statue was made in two parts, the bust made from marble from the island of Paros and the body from Pentelic marble. According to myth Asklepios was the son of Apollo and Coronis, and entrusted to the care of the centaur, Chiron. Chiron taught him the art of medicine and Asklepios dared to use his knowledge to bring back the dead, thus angering Zeus who struck him down with a bolt of lightning. The original Hippocratic Oath began with the invocation "I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods ..."
Asklepios main centre of worship was in Epidaure in 293 BCE and from there spread to Roma. Asklepios was asociated with snakes and believed to incarnate in this form.
After Empuries we drove onto to the town where my friend works as he had remembered a restaurant there. Bizareely the place was nearly deserted but we had a good meal and then moved on to the sea front. It was quite novel being on a beach in January and actually enjoying it and not feeling cold. We walked along the sands to the docks and discovered a group of cats who apparently live locally. Someone had left water out for them but they were obviosly feral and although I could get quite close to their sunbasking spots they soon moved if I attempted to touch them. Eventually we had to move on and return to Girona. We stopped in Salt and passed time in the shopping centre, oogling at the cute and fluffy animals in the pet shop and then finding a cafe for a drink. I finally returned to my hostel to prepare my things for the flight tomorrow.

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