“Out there, in the confines of the Iberia, is a people that will neither rule itself nor let itself be ruled” – Julius Caesar
Funnily enough, not much has changed about Portuguese people in that respect since those times. The ruins of Roman and pre-Roman settlements – much like our inability to rule or be ruled – still remain to this day.
History in a nutshell: Before the Romans arrived in what is now Portugal, castro culture (wikipedia link here) already existed and there are still vestiges that date to the bronze and iron age. Eventually, they were incorporated into the Roman towns and, as with countless cities and towns, the new dwellers built on top of previous settlements.
Visiting Conímbriga today: Conímbriga is an archeological site of one of these castro settlements that was invaded by the Romans, and one of the finest examples of ruins I’ve encountered. It is found not too far from the present-day city of Coimbra (which, by the way, is gorgeous and worth visiting). Evidence shows that Conímbriga was inhabited as early as the 9th century BC (!!!) and probably conquered around 146 BC.
I was impressed by the grounds, which are surprisingly vast, and by the fact that the entire site very well-presented. Everything element of Roman towns that you learn about at school can be found in Conímbriga: the forum, rich and poor houses, roads, an aqueduct and walls circling the town. The size of the amphitheater leads archeologists to estimate that the population in 70 AD was approximately 10,600 inhabitants. I was so impressed by the quantity, the condition and the beauty of the mosaic tiles that are visible throughout the site – these pictures were taken with an older camera so they don’t even do them justice.
The site today has a small, but very interesting, museum featuring archeological finds (such as tools and objects used in the daily life of the town’s inhabitants, artwork and even surgical tools) excavated from the site. There’s also a gift shop so you can purchase some souvenirs to take home with you.
If you like Conímbriga and are interested in visiting other Roman ruins, be sure to visit the ones in Tróia.