Some things in life are never as good as they seem. And then all of a sudden, they ARE! Barcelona’s preserved Roman ruins are some of the best and most accessible of any city in Europe, (including Rome itself – though Romans may disagree [do people living in Rome call themselves differently to distinguish from the historical Romans?]). Thanks to a relative lack of aerial bombardment during the wars of the 20th Century, the 29 AD Roman settlement of Barcino, though of course long gone, still effects a wondrous presence in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.
Among the ‘bona-fide’ Roman ruins to be seen between 1 – 4 meters below modern ground-level, preserved and curated by a fantastic team of local and international archaeologists, include a cemetery, a laundry and winery and a column from the Forum Barcino (the local senate). Most of these are free to enter, however the reconstructed archway, built as recently as 1958, comes in for some criticism. Whether this is constructive or not (get it? Oh dear, I’m here all week) is open to debate. What the historians tell is that around and about the area known as Plaça Nova (the new square) almost 2 millennia ago ran an ambitious aqueduct, transporting water into the settlement of Barcino from the River Besós (whose nearest point to the Gothic centre is about 9 kilometres due east). Once the water entered the settlement over the protective walls and gates, it was deposited into a cistern (in this case, the Castellum Aquae) and ready for distribution to the citizens for their personal and professional needs.
The story doesn’t end here. Along the line of the ‘outgoing’ aqueduct less than half a kilometre away is a square called Plaça del Vuit de Març, in which the post-industrial boom of the city saw many more modern residences built. The city of course began to sprawl outwards from its centre as society evolved and the population expanded as residents moved in from the provinces with the hope and expectation of work in the big city, as many cities across the western world saw similar expansions. That being said, as Barcelona prepared a government-funded overhaul in the 1980s in preparation for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, the detection of asbestos in some of the nearby buildings led to a demolition crew clearing away about a block and a half, obviously with the residents receiving resettlement grants and a planned park or play area for those still there.
Out of the fray steps Alfred Lloré, a resident of a nearby complex. Sharing friendly relations with the building crew, Alfred recalled in an interview recently how, in 1986, one of the builders noticed a rather curious pattern within one of the wall’s framework. That pattern consisted of four arches above eight pillars standing at a height of eleven meters, embedded into the rather more regular structure. An avid historian, Lloré managed to convince his friend and his bosses to momentarily halt proceedings, while he peeled away to the nearby offices of the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, who managed to procure an injunction against any further building until a team of archaeologists could ascertain whether this corresponded with the route attested to the Castellum Aquae aqueduct line.
We know this to be true now. So, to summarize, in 1958 Barcelona archaeologists decided to acknowledge a long-gone aqueduct by building a small replica, and almost 3 decades later, discovered the real thing! Only in this fine city are the real and the fake to be found in such close quarters!