Thursday, 23 September 2021

Roman villa of Torre de Águila, Barbaño, Badajoz


Arranged a visit here last Tuesday, well worth the short trip, some good views of the Guadiana beyond the well know stretch at Merida. I suppose this was another reason for the position of this 1st century Roman villa, only 30 kms from Merida to Barbaño for river transport between the Roman settlements.

The site of the Roman Villa, Torre Águila, near the village of Barbaño, Badajoz is one of the most representative examples of rural Roman settlement in the fertile Vegas Bajas del Guadiana.

Aerial view of the Roman Villa of Torre Águila

The Villa has an intriguing history starting with its foundation 2000 years ago.

The surrounding scenery was very different from the irrigated landscape of today. The land was mainly planted with the newly imported olive trees, vines and cereal crops.

Built on a slight elevation the Villa was protected from the annual floods of the Guadiana, then known as Flumen Anas, the "River of Ducks". During the Moorish occupation and settlement, the name was extended and referred to as Wadi Ana, Wadi being the Arab term for river. Known later as the Ouadiana, and later just Odiana. Since the 16th century, due to Castilian influences, the name has slowly evolved to take on the form Guadiana.

The site is very close to the important Roman road linking Merida with Lisbon, a strategic site for the foundation of a Roman settlement.


Discovery of Torre Águila

The discovery of the site  occurred by chance, when some land was levelled to install irrigation.  The baths from the first period of the town were nearly destroyed before it was realized what lay under the earth.

The first excavations and studies were carried out in 1984, by Dr. Germán Rodríguez. Throughout these years, important findings have been discovered about the construction and the inhabitants of the town. It is a worldwide benchmark for the study of Roman villas.

 The land that the villa occupies is about 30,000 m² and currently only one third has been excavated. It is hoped that when the excavations are continued there will be very interesting new discoveries adding to the current data. Dr. Germán Rodríguez says "The best of Torre Águila is yet to come."

 Until now numerous domestic, industrial and religious constructions have been located. It is a site that has been populated from first to eighth centuries by different cultures. There are three fundamental phases.

 1st and 2nd century AD

It is thought that among its first inhabitants was an Italian family, they built a sophisticated house using decorative materials. Some elements of Northern Italian tableware have been found. Few rooms are preserved from this phase, but an underground room with functions of a cellar or barn stands out, which is supposed to be accessed with a wooden staircase. The walls built with limestone blocks, avoid the presence of insects and rodents.

The second phase -2nd to 3rd century AD

There were major reforms resulting in  large rustic villa. The remains dedicated to olive and wine processing reveal one of the most complete wineries and oil mills in Roman Hispania, allowing us to get a clear idea of ​​the pressing, decanting and depositing process of the wine. Also noteworthy is the thermal complex, so important in Roman life, with a hipocaustum ,floor heating system, caldarium,hot water bath, tepidarium warm water bath and laconium, steam bath. The jewel of the archaeological site is a summer room which  is exceptionally complete with the entire ceiling. It is an underground room (triclinium) used to mitigate the summer heat. In the upper part there is a small semi-circular window, which illuminates the room.


Torre Águila summer room

 The third phase- 4th century AD Visigoth

After a process of total abandonment, the villa resurfaces with the structure of a more monumental complex, demonstrating the power of the owner with a sumptuous house. The octagonal room and the improvements to thermal rooms stand out from this stage, with the addition of a large apoditerium ,dressing room . At this stage, a building with religious functions is built and an important necropolis will arise in its surroundings, which in later centuries (7th and 8th centuries) came to occupy a large part of the town that was already in ruins.

Octagonal Room. Villa Torre Águila


Remains of religious buildings. Villa Torre Águila

 Abandonment and deterioration of the Villa

The epidemics and the subsequent Arab invasions of 6th and 7th centuries caused the abandonment and ruin of the Villa.  Many of the marble statues and ornaments are thought to have been destroyed and turned to lime in times of epidemics.

 After the Christian Reconquest among the ruins was found a dark wooden figure which became the Virgin of Barbaño (Bar = daughter and Anna = Guadiana river) It is in the style of the Virgin of Guadalupe from the XIII century. An Ermita was built by the order of Santiago to house the figure.

 More finds at Villa Torre Águila

 On old map the area of ​​the Villa  appears marked as "The Treasure"We can imagine the reasons for this name is  because of the amount of objects and treasures that would have been found during the centuries before the modern excavation.

 Since the discovery, some 11,000 pieces of varied use have appeared, agricultural tools, skylights, crockery, plates, ornaments, needles, containers for ointments and perfumes. Most are in the Provincial Archaeological Museum of Badajoz and some in the Museum of Roman Art in  Mérida (Badajoz). Some of these pieces are:

 Aquilliform fibula

A  beautiful fibula, with a stylized shapes of eagles made of gilt bronze, 9.5 cm long and 3 cm wide. Fibulae are pieces of decoration and personal prestige, which were used symmetrically on the shoulders or in the belt area as buckles. The beak is very curved, the eye is formed by a blue vitreous paste. It has a central domed shield in the shape of an almond. It is magnificent  example of Visigoth  goldsmith work of the “cloisonné” type (6th century AD). There are only 6 of this type in the whole world.

 Bronze mask

Dating from the second century, there is a bronze fountain sconce, which represents a tragic theatrical mask, and which constituted the fountain spout, possibly attached to a wall. The water came out of the mouth. It is currently in the Museum of Roman Art in Mérida (Badajoz).


The successive reforms that the town has undergone meant the deterioration and the scarcity of mosaics, but it is thought that at this stage there were rooms with rich polychrome floors. To date, only one mosaic has been found that is preserved underground. It is a geometric design with floral motifs and concentric circles.


A Milestone from the time of Constantine which preserves part of an allusive inscription to Magnetius, one of the usurpers of the Lower Empire (350-353 AD).

Tombstones of MAXSOMMA and DVLCISVS

The area to the northeast of the peristyle was used as a necropolis, with different burial structures of the different stages. The mean age of life was 35-38 years for women and 37-39 for men. The oldest found are Maxsomma and Dulcisus, with 81 and 93 years respectively. Inscriptions can be read on the marble tombstones, where three proper names appear. Maxsoomma and Dulcisus could be married couple and Epundius the dedicator of the inscription. It is currently in the Montijo City Council (Badajoz).

Visits to the site of the Roman Villa of Torre Águila

 The Barbaño ayuntamiento and the Association of Friends of the Roman Villa of Torre Águila care about its conservation and enhancement. They offer guided tours. The site is usually closed, a visit must be arranged in advance by calling 924 449 431.

 This site could be an important tourist resource for the region of Las Vegas Bajas del Guadiana and for Barbaño, which has held the Roman Amnis Callis Festival for several years in June.  It is a lively Festival, which with few resources but with great involvement of the inhabitants of Barbaño, offers many activities to visitors. Its main objective is to promote the Villa de Torre Águila, offering guided tours during the festival.

 The Villa de Torre Águila, in Barbaño can be easily reached, the road is paved up to the entrance. From the Madrid-Lisbon highway, take exit 365 (Montijo- Puebla de la Calzada) and when crossing the bridge over the Guadiana River, take the first deviation to the right, which leads to Barbaño, the site is just before the village on the right.

Friday, 16 April 2021

A little walk around the finca

 Any suggestions to identify this tiny butterfly? There were many of them in the lavender as well as hundreds of bees.

A rich cluster of Serapias Strictiflora

Viper's Bugloss is just coming out, expecting the usual purple haze soon

Friday, 2 April 2021

Visit to Sotofermoso Palace of ABADÍA, Ambroz Valley, Extremadura

Abadía is on the river Ambroz, located in the middle of pastures on the upper side of the Ambroz valley with breath taking views of the surrounding mountains.

 It is a village with a rich cultural variety; A medieval bridge, the Sotofermoso Palace (also called the Palace of the Dukes of Alba) and the Bien Parada Convent. 

The Sotofermoso Palace was declared a Historic Artistic Site in 1931.

Originally built as a stronghold during the 12th century, after the triumph of the Christians against the Moors it was given to the Templar order. 

In the 16th century the palace was remodelled by the third Duke of Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, to include a splendid Mudejar style cloister and  Italianate renaissance gardens including a replica of the principle piazza of Naples no less.

The Alba family were some of the principle members of the Spanish royal court and would entertain various monarchs here throughout the following centuries. Also celebrated writers and artists would be invited to stay e.g. Garcilaso de la Vega and Lope de Vega both great writers during the golden age of Spanish baroque literature. 

 The fabulous cloister in the Mudejar style in an excellent state of conservation.

The elaborate garden is now unfortunately in a state of neglect. 

Six beautiful portals overlooked the Ambroz River, originally with wooden doors that could be opened to enjoy the panorama, they are now cracked and strangled by vegetation, a great pity. 

There are some original statues now moved into the cloisters

Visits on Tuesdays only 10.00 - 14.00

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Another visit to the molinos near Botija, one of our favourite walks, Spectacular after the spring rains

One of the most wonderful walks from Finca al-manzil. Totally emblemic of the Extremadura dehesa and the meandering Tamuja river with an original molino as an historical architectural attraction. Bird watching is amazing in this totally untouched environment. If you walk beyond the molino there is a celtic-iberic site Villaviejas, super interesting, see the blog post here:

Sunday, 22 November 2020

A trip to Las Hurdes and the waterfall of Chorro de la Meancera at El Gasto

We left  the finca early as it's a 2 1/2 hour journey to the tiny pueblo of El Gasto, literally the end of the road, a very winding and steep road.

Our aim was to do the hike between El Gasto and the powerful waterfall known as Chorro de la Meancera.

We were impressed by the effort spent on making the walk along the river accessible and safe, much easier than we imagined to reach such a remote site. We particularly enjoyed the well constructed
boarded walks suspended around the rocks of the river valley.


The views down the valley and up to the amazing crags were exciting before getting to the main attraction, the waterfall itself. The water seems to irrupt from a narrow crack in the crag and falls with mighty force for over 100 metres crashing into a pool before tumbling down the river over smooth rocks and ledges.

The day was sunny and warm, a wonderful place to linger and breathe in the surrounding nature but I would love to come back on a gloomy day with rain and possibly some thunder and lightening for a really gothic romance experience.

We walked back on the same route with fresh perspectives. 

On re-entering the village Manfred and Lucy headed off for a drink while I wanted to find some original primitive dwellings built of dark slate giving these Hurdes villages the name "pueblos negros" notoriously featured in Buñuel's  film "Tierra sin pan". Also wanted to find some natural honey, Las Hurdes has always been famed for its honey, one of the few products the inhabitants could sell for cash.

 When roads were built covering the original mule tracks over Las Hurdes it was possible to bring building materials and modern life invaded these remote villages, buildings were thrown up with hideous results, no reference to the nature of the terrain or natural building materials. But who can blame them?  They had been driven out of their hovels in these wild mountains by the deprivations of extreme poverty and hunger to work in big cities or further afield in France and Germany in the 60s and 70s. They returned with money to improve the dire living conditions but unfortunately they chose to build in an urban style with several floors using cheap materials which have not aged well, a pity. I was hoping to find at least some vestige of old dwellings, an important part of the history of Extremadura when life had been so diverse with traditions, cultural differences, costume and even dialects depending on the area. There were more old houses than I expected, all huddled together at the extreme end of the village next to the river. The alleyways between the ruins filled with weeds and rubble, a mule observed me from a stable that had no doubt once been inhabited by a family.

In the past it was recorded  that not only were the people here were so restricted that they could not make bread but also they built with no chimneys, letting the smoke from cooking fires escape where it could through the rafters and roof of slate slabs. I saw that none of the old houses had chimneys or even windows, just one primitive wooden door. A vision from the past appeared,  a woman sitting at her door with smoke billowing through her roof, she might have been 80 and probably remembers the time before roads, electricity and piped water when the only food was foraged in the woods or from tiny patches of cultivation by the river which were regularly ruined and flooded every winter, when the village was just this collection of old houses with no modern conveniences at all. 

She sat there quietly with memories of a life lived through amazing changes, it was as recent as  her parents generation that the bizarre and mysterious life of the people here inspired real horror stories of disease, incest, mental and physical afflictions and incredible superstitions..... See this post  

P.S. Found the honey, bought 500 g of the most wonderful tasting honey for €7.00, no label but straight from the bee keeper.


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