Portugal is such a long way from Rome that it’s hard to imagine the Romans settling there but the remains of a city at Conimbriga prove that they were present in the region. They first arrived in 138BC and took over the site previously occupied by Neolithic and Bronze Age inhabitants. Its position was perfect for connecting Olissipo (Lisbon) and Braccaria (Braga).A large forum was built with a temple and shopping areas, and grand baths were constructed in the south of the city. Water was brought from 3.5kms away via an aqueduct and spacious villas were richly decorated with polychromatic mosaics and courtyards with fountains. However, the citizens feared invasion when the Franks and the Almans arrived in 270AD.
A wall was built around the core of the city and many of the exterior buildings were destroyed to provide material for the construction. After the Swabians attacked in 465 and 468, the city declined and was eventually deserted and reclaimed by the land, which served to preserve it until it was rediscovered in 1898 and partially excavated.
The most interesting parts of the ruins are the villas near the entrance which display some beautifully restored mosaics. Unfortunately the Forum and Baths have been spoilt by the hideous reconstruction that somebody felt was necessary. The best archaeological finds are housed in an onsite museum and serve to illustrate just how sophisticated the Romans were all those years ago. Weapons, tools, jewellery, glass and coins are displayed along with sculptures, mosaics and pottery. The latest project, when funds allow, is to excavate the amphitheatre but, as this lies beneath the village of Condeixa-a-Velha, it’s doubtful that this will happen anytime soon.