We stand on an almost 2000-year-old street and look out over the ruins of a city. Here outside Coimbra in Portugal lies conimbriga, one of the largest excavations of the Western Roman Empire. The city of Conimbriga has its roots back several hundred years before Christ, but it was only under the emperor Augustus that the city really began to flourish. The city was located along one of the Roman Empire's important trade routes to Lisbon, and many hungry travelers passed by here. Travelers who needed to shop and maybe even swim. Shops, bathhouses, a forum and an amphitheater spread out before me. These are not just ruins, Conimbriga tells the story of how people lived and lived two thousand years ago.
One of the best preserved parts of the city is protected by roofs. Here is "House of the fountains”, a large private house that once probably belonged to a wealthy family. In the center of the house is a fountain with over 500 jets of water, and around the large green courtyard, room after room spreads out with the most amazing mosaic I have ever seen. It is absolutely incredible that two thousand year old mosaics can still tell the stories of what it was like to live in that time. The mosaic tiles have barely lost any color, the patterns are fully visible.
I see wild oxen, people hunting wild boar with dogs on leashes, large ostrich-like birds, and men riding horses. The Romans seem to have lived well. The geometric patterns surround the stories and from a distance look like a Persian carpet. I see, I think I also see the wine god Dionysus. Perhaps it is not so strange that he is depicted. Wine has been produced in Portugal for over 4000 years. I also see a little red devil with horns. It's a bit more difficult for me to explain.
Only 20% of the city has been excavated so far, but it feels like the excavations just keep going and going. The houses and mosaics are lined up, it's almost like I wish the whole city was protected by roofs. But I guess the area is pretty resilient, considering it looks like this after so many years. The mosaic out here, however, consists more of graphic patterns, rather than images as in House of the Fountains.
Now we enter the bath house. Or rather, one of the bathhouses. Because the Romans liked to bathe. The bathhouses were large and modern, with male and female sections and with running water from an aqueduct and heated baths. One of the bathtubs still stands. It looks like a jacuzzi covered in white stone. Imagine that this whole bath house was this beautiful white. Two thousand years ago.
We pass into the amphitheater, which once could accommodate 4000 visitors. Here, many laughs have echoed across the meadows. But life in the city in the politically troubled 300th century was hard and the city was repeatedly attacked and raided by barbarians. So the city started building a wall. And to build a wall, you need a lot of building materials. So the city started tearing down buildings to use the material to build the wall. So the amphitheater was partially dismantled.
Sometime during the years 465-468, the city came to an end. The city was invaded and burned down and looted. The city's inhabitants who did not manage to escape were killed. After this attack, the city did not manage to recover, but was abandoned.
Not much remains of the city's great forum and temple. Nor from the aqueduct. But in the museum that is connected to the excavations, you can see many of the fragile parts that were found in the city during the excavations. Hand-painted walls, urns and vases, decorations. A model shows how the temple once looked. Big and mighty. Conimbriga was certainly no small town.
We wander around among more houses, more magnificent mosaic floors and even more bathhouses. Everything was so advanced and so developed. In Sweden, we struggled with the Iron Age when the Romans down here made delicate mosaic floors with three-dimensional patterns and took hot baths in white stone jacuzzis.
We start rounding off the day. Not really because we want to go, but because we stayed until closing time.
How do I get to Conimbriga?
Conimbriga is 1,5 miles south of the town of Coimra, or 20 miles north of Lisbon. The museum and ruins are open almost every day between 10-19 (check holidays before you go here)
What an exciting place! I want to read more!
There is a lot to read about the city and all its buildings on it official site.
Do you want to read more about Portugal? Look into my Portugal page!
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Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.