Greco-Roman archaeological sites of Ampurias (Empuries) in the Gulf of Roses, Catalonia, Spain.

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Top choice in Costa Brava

The evocative seaside archaeological site of Empúries, 1.5km northwest of central L'Escala, immerses you in a strategic Greek, and later Roman, trading port. A lively audio guide commentary (included in the price) unravels the history of the Greek town in the lower part of the site, before leading up to the Roman town, with its reconstructed 1st-century-BCE forum. The museum exhibits the top finds, including a marble statue of Asclepius, Greek god of medicine, dating to the 2nd century BCE.

Traders from Phocaea set up shop here in the 6th century BCE at what is now the charming village of Sant Martí d’Empúries, then an island. Soon afterwards they founded a mainland colony, Emporion (Market), which remained an important trading centre and conduit of Greek culture to the Iberians for centuries.

In 218 BCE Roman legions clanked ashore to cut off Hannibal’s supply lines in the Second Punic War. Around 195 BCE they set up a military camp and by 100 BCE had added a town. A century later the Roman town had merged with the Greek one. Emporiae, as it was then known, was abandoned in the late 3rd century CE, after raids by Germanic tribes. Later, an early Christian basilica and cemetery were on the site of the Greek town, before the whole place disappeared under the sands for a millennium until its 20th-century excavation. Barely a quarter of the site has been excavated so far.

Points of interest in the Greek ruins include the thick southern defensive walls, the site of the Asklepíeion (shrine to the god of medicine) with a copy of his statue, and the agora (town square), with remnants of the early Christian basilica (4th to 7th centuries CE) and the Greek stoa (market complex) beside it.

The larger Roman town includes palatial Domus 1, source of many of the finest mosaics (displayed April to October only, for conservation purposes), and excavated Roman baths. Outside the walls are the remains of an oval amphitheatre, dating to the 1st century BCE.

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