Baelo Claudia was established at the end of the 2nd century to the beginning of the 1st century BC. It was one of the most important towns on the South coast of Baetica. It was established for the purpose of exploiting the tuna which every April to June swarms past the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean to spawn and in August return again to the Atlantic. These, with other fish abundant in the Straits were caught, salted and packed in Amphorae ready for shipping. Even more important was the by-product of this trade, the making of Garum, a Roman ìgentlemanís relishî which, with its associated sauces of liquamen (similar to garum but made with small fish), Allec, (the dregs of garum) and Muria (the salty liquid used to prepare the sauces), occupied an important position in the daily life if the Romans for whom it replaced salt as a condiment in seasoning a meal, fowl, vegetables and fish. It was probably also used as a drink mixed with honey or wine and was used to cure a variety of diseases affecting all parts of the body of both humans and animals.
Spanish producers and merchants exercised a near monopoly over this fish sauce commerce in the Western Mediterranean between 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Their merchants transported it in specially made amphorae to Italy, Gaul, Africa and the Northern provinces ñ even to the Roman army in Britain. As well as producing the average quality product, Spain also produced the most famous and expensive ìGarum Sociorumî.
From classical sources we know that by the late 5th century BC processed fish products were being exported from Spain to Greece by Greek and Punic merchants and Strabo mentions that they were operating in the 1st century BC but no pre-Roman remains have been found at Baelo Claudia and no Roman remains dating before the 1st century AD.
The first settlement on the site, now buried below the Marcellum and Basilica at the lower end of the city, was established in the 2nd century BC. It was a simple settlement consisting of fish salting ands Garum installations and a few houses. The city developed gradually. From 40-100 AD it constructed its first public buildings. Others were added in three phases. During the reign of Claudius (41-54AD) it became one of Baeticaís ten municipiae whose inhabitants were awarded the Status of Roman Citizens.
Baelo achieved its greatest splendour during the 1st century AD once it had been elevated to the status of a municipium it embarked on rebuilding on an impressive scale, often demolishing the earlier buildings in the process. The town was laid out in accordance with the plans of a typical Roman city with its centre and most important buildings at the crossroads of the two main streets, the East to West Decumanus Maximus and the ,North to South Cardo Maximus. From them ran the lesser streets. Commercial and residential areas were restricted to their own zones.
Although Baelo is planned like a typical Roman City, the main inspiration for its layout appears to have come from Roman North Africa; the general plan of the monumental centre being a reminiscent of Leptis Magna in Tripolitania where the relationship between temples and basilica is similar. The construction technique of the walls with their irregular stone courses alternating with stone upright is also North African (Carthaginian) in origin.
The rather crude stone columns from the temples are believed to be either imitations of Roman Orders like the Corinthian or to be in the style of the earlier Turdetania architecture of the area.
The Forum or Public Square, the centre of the towns administrative, social and religious life, was dominated to the north by the three magnificent identical temples of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva (the Capitoline Triad) the most exalted Gods of Imperial Rome with, immediately to the right of them the temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis. To the east of the forum and opening onto it was the row of shops, which became redundant when the marcellum (market place), with its characteristic central space and tholos, was built opening not onto the forum but onto the Decumanus maximus. To the west was the Curia or Senate house adjacent to a temple of the local divinities. To the south was the double-storied basilica, the municipal law court which had attached to it a small building, which housed the town archives.
Some way off on a steep slope to the northwest was the theatre. This theatre, begun early in the 1st century AD, is the only one in Roman Baetica whose site was systematically excavated of being cut out of sloping ground. It was abandoned during the 4th century, filled with refuse and then used as a cemetery.
Water was brought into the town by way of an aqueduct to cisterns on the north, which supplied water to the town. Thermal baths were constructed in the extreme southeast corner using bricks stamped with the letters IMP AUG, which show that they were imported from Morocco where that stamp was used. The cemeteries were located on the east and west approaches to the town, some of the later burial in former being in sarcophagi of re-used masonry. In the south-eastern cemetery cremations were placed in cinerary urns or, sometimes, in small lead caskets. It was during this first century development phase that the town, hitherto mostly open, was entirely enclosed with walls in which a monumental gateway to the west, guarded by gatehouses, led into the wide Decumanus maximus bordered by shops. The town then turned in on itself offering its back to the smelly commercial fish installations from which it earned its living.
At the height of its power the town is estimated to have had a population of 20,000 to 30,000 seasonal occupants with a resident population of 10,000.
The marked decline ion the trade in garum and other fish products in the third century, when the formation of the Gallic empire under Postumus caused unsettled social and economic conditions and bands of Franks and Alamanii were passing through Spain in route to Africa, probably caused a similar decline in the city. From the end of the 2nd century to the beginning of the 3rd century public buildings were abandoned and civic planning virtually broke down. First the shops were deserted, and then the market place, which gradually became a rubbish dump, and finally the basilica, was abandoned and its judicial functions moved to a site in the western gallery of the forum. Only one of the temples remained functional.
In spite of this decay in its public buildings Baelo continued to be occupied.
In the 4th century there was a brief period of reconstruction when repairs were done to the two main roads, small baths were built to the west and the west side of the marcellum (market) was used for housing. The 5th and 6th century reconstructions covered rather than followed the plans of the earlier city and by the 7th century the city was abandoned.
During the first phase of building the monumental part of the city in the 1st century AD were built, at the north end of the square, the three identical temples dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva and the podium standing on its own. Further development during the reigns of Nero (54-68 AD) and the Flavian emperors (69-96 AD) resulted in the erection of the steps from one side of the podium to the other to give access to the terrace and the construction of the great arc-shaped fountain behind.
Not long afterwards the square was paved with huge stone slabs from Tarifa and bordered both to the east and west by galleries each with stairways giving access to the temple terrace. In the eastern gallery were built shops opening onto the forum, in the western gallery a temple with a great arched entrance into the forum and to the south of that gallery another building which had an earlier house to its north. The basilica was built at its southern end.
In the last phase of development under Domitian (81-96 AD) and early Trajan (98-117 AD) the last mentioned house was demolished to make way for another temple. At the end of the century the marcellum with its open centre was built and four of the five shops in the eastern gallery built during the second phase were closed down.
In 85-90 AD the temple of Isis, a building unique in Spain, was constructed alongside and parallel with the temple of Juno. It was markedly different in plan from the earlier temples. Steps reached up to its portico, which as surrounded by a peribole enclosing three sides of the temple. Inside was a square hall on top of the cellar, a centrally placed fountain with lead pipes leading in and out of it and a hearth. At the northern end were three small rooms, the one in the northeast containing a crypt and a basin of unknown use.
The fish processing plant, the most interesting remains at Baelo Claudia, are to be found away from the town on the beach. This is the best preserved fish processing plant of the many to be found along the Atlantic coast from the Algarve clustered along the straits and up the Mediterranean coast of Spain as afar as Cartagena. These processing plants require an abundance of fish, an adequate supply of salt and sufficient water to clean the fish, prepare the brine and clean the installations. Baelo Claudia was blessed with all three. Its five factories, which were placed on the beach beside the RÌo del Valle, had two sets of living-quarters attached, one of which was undoubtedly a villa. A central room, in which the fish were scaled, cleaned and cut up before being thrown into the vats linked the two factories containing respectively six and nine salting vats. Along one wall of this room, whose floor sloped towards the sea to facilitate cleaning, was an oblong sump to collect the refuse. Between the two factories, but not in contact with either, lay a house with a peristyle. A villa stood opposite this across a large colonnaded street and to the north of that laid a fifth factory.
The saltery of five separate factories contained thirty-three large vats and four small ones giving a volume of over 175 cubic metres of processing space. The Baelo vats, arranged in two or three groups either parallel or in square formation were built in rooms open to the air. There was no access between the vats but walking along the tops of the separating partitions could approach any of them.
The vats themselves, square or rectangular in shape and sunk into the ground, were of large or small size, the former were used for salting fish, the latter to make garum. They were lined with mortar to which broken tiles; brick and small stones were added (opus signinum). Their top corners are rounded while at the bottom corners there is a protuberance to re-enforce the sides and to facilitate the cleaning. There was usually also a hole in the bottom of each vat to collect the dregs and to help in the cleaning because there was no way of draining the tanks.
The saltery may have flourished into the 4th and even into the 5th century while the town still remained occupied.
Among the many finds from Baelo Claudia the most outstanding are the colossal white marble toga-clad statue of Trajan with socketed arms and detachable probably locally carved head, which once graced a pedestal at the eastern end of the basilica, and the unique marble solar clock which measured 740mm wide, 845mm high and 602mm deep. Among other finds worth mentioning are the stone olive crusher and press.