My maternal family is from south central Italy, the Abruzzi region to be specific, and I have always been drawn to knowing more about my family and ancestors from there (Jesse and I were even lucky enough to visit a few years ago). Also, I have always loved history. I was a history major in college, and have loved reading and researching Roman history, since more than likely two thousand years ago my ancestors were Roman. I remember in college being very enamored with my Roman history class (as well as history of modern Italy class) and the professor who had done excavations in Rome itself.
We visited Rome on our first trip to Europe together and, while we went to four different countries and multiple cities, Rome was our favorite. When we chose Asturias, I did not know the Romans had a presence here. While I was aware there were settlements in North Spain, I did not know or recall that I had learned that Gijón itself was an important city in Roman times. So imagine my excitement when I learned that Gijón has three ancient Roman sites, dating back to the first century, beginning at the time of the rule of Caesar Augustus. There is even a statue dedicated to him in the old town, Cimavilla (The statue picture I took, the other is borrowed from an art contest, which is of the same statue at night).
The statue is located very near where the first of the three Roman sites is located, known as the Roman Baths. We actually walked by the Baths many times and did not know they were there, since the museum is located underground, in front of St. Peter’s church in Cimavilla. See the pictures below of the entrance, the square in front of the church (underneath lie the baths) and the church itself so you can see what I mean.
Due to Covid we had to make an appointment to tour the baths, and Jesse called and used her Spanish to book us a tour. We were joined by a dozen or so tourists from different parts of Spain as we toured the remnants of the ancient baths. As we were underground, the ceilings were quite low, and we had to hunch as we viewed much of the baths. One can still see the pathways that the heated water ran through, under the multiple rooms, and we marveled at the engineering.
Cimavilla was the second headquarters of the Romans in Gijón; the first is located at much higher elevation on the outskirts of the city, in a place called Campa Torres. We decided to walk there, as it is within walking distance of where we live, but just barely. Jesse wrote a blog post about our trek, and I highly recommend reading it, and then coming back for the rest of this. I’ll wait. Good, you’re back, let us continue.
Campa Torres dates back to the first century, and it is located high up, so that one looks down upon all the surrounding landscapes. It is clear that the Romans chose this as their first headquarters because they could see ships approach from all directions as well. Below is a picture toward the west.
There is a welcome area, and then a path that walks past other roman ruins to a small museum, and on to the modern lighthouse. It is very low-key, meaning one can wander on the grass off the stone path, and there are benches for sitting and taking in the beauty. One can also see Gijón and how large it is. Since we were on no schedule, we could take our time and enjoy the natural beauty, the curvature of the earth noticeable when staring out at the vast ocean.
The third, and least well known of the three sites, is located about 10 kilometers outside of Gijón in a town called Veranes. We told multiple Gijón residents that we had visited Veranes and they all looked at us quizzically, and so we thought we were pronouncing it wrong, but no, it is just not very popular. As it is to far to walk, but not far enough to go through the trouble of renting a car, we found that the ALSA bus has a stop near there, and so we went to the bus terminal, bought our tickets, and took the short bus ride to Veranes.
We exited the bus and looked around. It looked like farm country, and we followed the map app instructions that took us on narrow streets with no sidewalks up the rather large hill. We only saw one car on the roads up the hill, as the whole place gave off a sleepy vibe. There were large homes, some new, some in disrepair, on large plots of farmland, and even a couple horses. We did not know what to expect, and could not see any tall structure off in the distance to guide us, so we proceeded to follow the map.
Eventually we came upon the entrance to the Roman Villa at Veranes, though there were no cars in the parking lot, and we took a break to have some water and catch our breath. There was a large entrance building and we saw the security guard, who told us to remember we need to wear our masks inside (as it is still Covid times). Once ready, we went inside and spoke to the docent of the museum, who told us about it and the remains of the Villa, which was behind the museum. He told us there was a short video, and even offered the English version (as we were the only guests of the museum when we were there). After the informative 10-minute video we walked through the small museum which was replete with ancient artifacts excavated from the site, earthenware and other tools used for cooking and everyday life.
The Roman Villa at Veranes was used to manage the large farms that surrounded it, and it had guest rooms, a dining room, shared baths, a master bedroom with its own private bath, as well as a large reception room with a long hallway leading to it. It was used until the fifth century and it is amazing that we could still see the bases of all the structures, and it was easy to imagine the Villa when it was in operation, more than 1500 years ago. The reception room was rebuilt because it now provides protection to the original floor replete with mosaic tiles and the pattern underneath, preserved for all this time. The museum even added a mannequin of the Villa owner, sitting at his desk, welcoming visitors.
There was a sidewalk that was laid out in a zig-zag patter that allowed walking between the museum building, the ruins and the reception building, with benches to sit and take in the natural beauty as well. As Jesse and I were the only visitors at the time, we stopped at each (even eating our snack of mixed nuts and apples under a tree). We were free and able to enjoy the peaceful grounds, where people have been living for thousands of years, and I am sure some of them sat near where we sat, and snacked, taking in life, the cool breeze, and warm sun.