Munigua – a hidden Roman treasure

When you ask people in Seville about archaeological Roman sites, the place that generally springs to mind is Italica. But for me, there’s another site that’s much more interesting – as much for the stunning countryside where it’s situated, as for what you can see. It’s known as Munigua, and it’s the site of the Roman city of Municipium Flavium Muniguense Munigua, 8kms north of the mining town of Villanueva del Río y Minas.

Villanueva del Río y Minas is a 45-min train ride from Santa Justa on a ‘cercanias’ line, and it will cost you the princely sum of €3.55. To get there with enough time to visit, you’ll have to get the 9am train (refer to the link below in case of changes to train times). We got the train on a sunny Saturday morning. It’s a really pleasant ride, as the train follows the river plain of the Guadalquivir. As you reach Tocina, you can see the mountains of the Sierra Morena in the distance, and then the train slows down as it starts to climb. Almost all the people on the train were heading to the Sierra Morena to go hiking, so the carriages had a holiday buzz and a sense of anticipation that you don’t find midweek, when people are commuting to work.

The old-boy ticket inspector came along, gave a cursory glance at our e-tickets, and promptly said, ‘They’re not valid, you should’ve printed them off’. ‘But I bought these on the RENFE app’ I bleated. Luckily, this feeling of bonhomie must have rubbed off on the old boy, who went on to say, ‘Well, OK, just so you know for next time. I’ll also tell my colleague on this evening’s return train that I’ve checked your tickets’.

Wow, I thought, Spanish bureaucracy has really changed for the better. I thought back to how easy it was change my UK driving license to a Spanish one, and changing my NIE to a TIE was incredibly smooth too. I’ve been in Spain long enough to remember what it was used to be like dealing with any sort of civil servant, as highlighted by the brilliant short film ‘036’ (I’ve added the link below – it’s only 4 mins long and has English subtitles, highly recommended!).

Anyway, we finally arrived at Villanueva del Río y Minas, though we almost didn’t get off the train, as we were all patiently waiting for the door to open (it doesn’t, by the way – you have to press the button even though you can’t see the platform). Luckily a couple of local teens – probably the only locals on the train – pushed past us and pressed the button.

Chris on the train at Villanueva del Río y Minas

Cross the platform, and then take some time to scramble over the parked steam train – it’s like the one from the Harry Potter films, but there’s only the engine. Once out of the station, turn right onto Don Antonio Cortes, head downhill and out of town and cross the bridge over the Rivera de Huésna. You’ll see a large train bridge going over the valley, and this is the start of the trail. Just before the bridge there are two paths – important! – take the one that veers to the left. We took the one to the right, following the route on Google Maps and WikiLoc, but unfortunately, after over an hour walking, we found it had been blocked off. We’d been wondering why we hadn’t seen anyone else on the route! The fence is right next to a farmhouse, and the farmer/owner was there too. He told us that the Junta de Andalucia had come along and fenced it off. Not sure why, as it looks like a public right of way – we had more than a sneaking suspicion that he’d illegally put up the fence to keep pesky hikers from traipsing through ‘his’ land. Anyway, though it would have been easy enough to scale the fence, I’d already had one run-in with authority – plus he had an enormous mastiff ­– so I didn’t want to push my luck.

So we headed back the way we came, but what had started out as a leisurely  weekend walk in the countryside was turning into a power-hike, as we knew the site closed at 2. There’s only one path, which goes on for about 6km, so at least you can’t get lost.

By now we were a bit knackered, so we stuck our thumb out, and the first car that went past stopped. By now it was getting close to closing time – the last entrance to the site is at 13.30. We got to the carpark, only to be told that the last 2 km you have to do on foot! This was a blow to the lovely family who had picked us up – pensioners from Brenes who wouldn’t have made it in time.

So with renewed vigour we set off alone for the last 2 kilometres, and after about 20 minutes, were rewarded by the view of the western wall. It reminded us of an Incan temple in the jungle. Even though the site is originally a pre-Roman Iberian settlement, it’s been inhabited since the 4th century BC. What you can see today is what’s left from when the Romans came to mine for copper and iron. Munigua was probably the largest producer of iron in the Roman Baetica. For a century and a half, it was also the political, administrative, and religious centre of the Sierra Norte.

By the 4th century, the mineral sources were depleted, so the Roman population abandoned the city. You can still see the remains of buildings commonly found in every Roman town: a forum, a basilica, baths, houses, defensive walls, and a necropolis, though there’s definitely more that is yet to be uncovered.

We couldn’t believe we’ve lived here for so long and been unaware of this site. Go and check it out – you won’t be disappointed!

Information

Opening times

Wednesday-Sunday: 10:00 – 14:00 (last entrance 13:30 – but this means you’ll have to arrive at the car park at around 12:30 at the very latest to give you a chance to see it all. Remember, you still have to walk 30 mins to get to the main entrance)

Free entrance and free parking.

Cercancias info

https://www.renfe.com/es/es/cercanias/cercanias-sevilla/horarios

Refreshments

An enterprising couple has set up a table selling cold beer/soft drinks in the car park.

Official website

https://www.turismosevilla.org/en/what-see-and-do/heritage/monuments/mulva-munigua-archaeological-site

Walking from Villanueva station it’s 9  kms (approx 2hr walk) Important – it’s the path to the left at the railway bridge! Google map link here

https://goo.gl/maps/6B6eAXPThBJTMYRu5

Short film ‘036’ about dealing with funcionarios.

John Harrop
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