What's the best archaological site in Spain? It might well be the Greco-Roman site of Empúries.
Where else can you see Greek and Roman coastal trading centers in a single, easily accessible archaeological site, visit a museum, and then bathe at a sandy beach on the Mediterranean for a cost of six euro?
Empuries was first described to me as "one of the most fascinating archaeological sites" a frequent traveler to Europe had ever seen. So I went. I wasn't disappointed. Empuries has lots of free parking close to the ruins, a beach just outside the site, a museum (free with site admission) and a small cafe.
And there's more: a short walk along the sea takes you to the medieval village of Sant Marti d'Empuries, where the earliest settlement dates back to the end of the Bronze Age (9th century b.c.). Just down the road to the south you'll find L'Escala, a tourist center with many fine seafood restaurants, an internet point, and popular beach.
Below is the 4th century BCE statue, said to be of Asclepius, the god of medicine, at Empuries (Emporiae), Spain.
Empuries: A Little History
The earliest settlers at Empuries traded with the Etruscans, Phoenicians and the Greeks during the 7th century b.c. By the 6th century, Greek traders founded a first settlement called Palaia Polis and eventually created a new sector of city called the new town, or Nea Polis--and this is the Greek part of the site you'll see when you visit Empuries. the colony itself was called Emporion, which means market in Greek, and it certainly was.
In 218 b.c. Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio showed up to block land access to Carthaginian troops on the occasion of the Second Punic war, and thus begun the Romanization of Spain. In the time of Augustus, the Greek and Roman cities became one under the Roman name Municipium Eporiae.
As Girona, Barcelona and Tarragona rose in importance, Empuries fell, and in the second half of the 3rd century b.c. the Roman city and Neapolis were abandoned.
The most interesting things to see at Empúries?
- The water purification system
- The erotic (phallic) drinking vessels in the museum
- The massive Roman Walls
You can get an audio guided visit of Empuries. Ask at the information point in the car park (where you'll buy your tickets). Tickets include the on-site museum, which means the good stuff from the site hasn't been carted off to the big cities.
The excavations are quite interesting. Below is the ground water purification station, the tubes used sand to filter the water in the 3rd century BC.
Where to Stay near Empúries
Although hotels are available in the larger cities near Empuries, like Girona and Figueres, we stayed at the Cal Ratero Apartments in the town of Maçanet de Cabrenys, where an old house has been remodeled into 9 small apartments with balconies and small kitchens. Great value for an apartment in a town with some good restaurants and bars.
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How to Get There
Empuries is located to the west of route A7 between Barcelona and Afranca in far northwestern Spain. A small map and visitor information are found on the Ruins of Empuries information page.
Empuries is in the Region of Catalonia (Catalunya). Other towns worth seeing in this region are: Barcelona and Tarragona.