Cunit and Peniscola. These are the names of towns we passed through on our way to the town of Sagunt, known in ancient times as Arse.
Let’s be a clear - this is a Spanish town, with awful traffic and all the usual suspects - a Moorish Fort, slapped on top of Roman ruins, with the remnants of a Jewish Quarter abandoned during the Inquisition, and a tenuous link to El Cid. And yet surprisingly, Sagunt was wonderful.
A mild warning: anyone who has difficulty with an incline should tread carefully. We’re talking Roman cobblestones on top of Moorish cobblestones on top of local council repair jobs. Our ankles vocalised their concern at various points along the way.
Access to all Sagunt's historic sites is free. The museums, the Castle, the Roman Theatre. All free. The free App provides you with commentary that will transform the near vertical scramble up ancient laneways into an academic achievement. And we welcomed the opportunity to remove any ‘value for money’ assessment from our experience. It was refreshing to be able to discover history and learn without a commercial barrier.
When we reached the Roman Theatre, we discovered that although everything appeared to be free, there was still some apparently necessary bureaucracy at play. We were invited to wander around the Theatre but first we needed a ticket. A ticket she then took back from us to be able to rip off a stub to allow our access. She was lovely about it.
The Roman Theatre is still a functioning outdoor theatre; ancient Roman foundations with some granite on top presumably to offer some modern comfort. The whole facility was open to explore. Tunnels for days and I can personally vouch for the acoustics.
But this was all just a distraction from the main event. We hadn’t hit our Fitbit goal for the day so we were keen to get to the top. Someone behind a desk collected our next ticket stub after which we were pointed up a dirt track. There were no signs, no paved paths. Although they have made adjustments to the Castle’s approach for disabled access, I think they still have a little way to go before the castle is suitably accessible by all.
Castell de Sagunt is a ruin. It felt like everyone in Sagunt had forgotten about the little (massive) citadel on the hill behind them for centuries and had decided to do a little fix-me-up job. With it’s crumbling walls, sheer drops, dark alcoves and the absence of ‘ACCESS PROHIBITED’ signs, this was a child’s paradise and a parent’s nightmare. And by child, I mean me. Every time you thought you had reached the top of this imposing citadel, you found a whole other part of the complex to explore. Rob noticed some construction works taking place. I was hanging off the edge of a landslide waiting to happen, so Rob made a silent plea that this construction was related to the installation of a railing.
We passed by a small exhibition of inscribed stones they had found on the site; Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Arabic languages all represented. When the curator asked us where we’re from in rapid Spanish and I dribbled out ‘Gran Bretaña’, he apologised. We presumed it was because he had assumed we were Spanish, rather than our citizenship. Either way, what sort of anglo-centric world do we live in where someone feels the need to apologise for speaking in their native language in their own country?
Sagunt is the Catalan spelling of the Castilian Spanish Sagunto variant.
All the sites were free in late October 2016. We have no idea if this is the case all the time!
Click here for some more photographs of Sagunt.