The site of Empuries in Catalonia contains the remains of an ancient Greco-Roman city and military camp and is one of the oldest of its kind found on the Iberian Peninsula.
The history of Empuries dates back to the early Iron Age, but the remains that can be seen today at the Empuries archaeological site are those of both a Greek trading port and a Roman military camp.
Founded in the sixth century BC by ancient Greek traders from Phocaea, Emporion – as it was originally known – was used by Greek merchants who utilised the advantageous location of its valuable natural harbour. The very name of the city implied its commercial purpose – empurion meaning ‘market’ in ancient Greek.
In 218 BC the Romans took control of Empuries in an attempt to block Carthaginian troops during the Second Punic War. By 195 BC a Roman military camp had been established and over the next century a Roman colony named Emporiae emerged at the site, lasting until the end of the third century AD. However, over time the city waned as the nearby centres of Barcino (Barcelona) and Tarraco (Tarragona) grew. The importance of Empuries dwindled and the city was largely abandoned at this time.
In the eighth century AD the Franks took control of the region, after defeating the Moors, and the area took on an administrative function – becoming capital of the Carolingian county of Empúries. This role remained until the eleventh century, when it was transferred to Castellon. From then on Empuries served as the home of small groups of local fisherman and was largely forgotten.
Today, the archaeological site of Empuries is nestled between the coastal village of Sant Marti d’Empuries and l’Escala, on the Costa Brava. Remains at the site include the ruins of the Greek market and port, an ancient necropolis as well as the Roman-era walls, mosaics, amphitheatre and early Christian basilica.
The ruins illustrate the rich and diverse history of the city, from holy areas and temples to a statue honouring Jupiter. Many of the finds from Empuries can be seen in the small on-site museum, which contains replicas as well as original items. Artefacts from the site can also be found at the central museum in Barcelona.
The site’s location on the Balearic Sea boasts magnificent views, making it a perfect location to explore history in scenic surroundings.
Empuries is managed by the Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya, which looks after other historic sites nearby and on the peninsula.
Contributed by Ros Gammie