This week, I decided the best way to spend my Saturday would be to make my friends get up at an ungodly hour (8 am! In the morning!) and go look at some Roman ruins with me. We set off on our merry way in kind of a hurry because it's impossible to be a morning person/do anything on time in this country. After a forced march across town to the Estación del Norte, we got a return ticket to Sagunto for just over 7€. Ker-fricking-ching. Then on the way, the train we were on pulled into Cabernyal station, which is about ten minutes' stroll away from our respective flats and I remembered why I never organise anything.
Luckily, the half hour train ride allowed us to get our breath back, just in time for the massive upward climb to the Castle. Obviously, we stopped off for snacks first, then wandered through the tiny cobbled streets and brightly coloured houses.
|Oh good, I was hoping it'd be steep|
Beautiful as Sagunto is, calling it sleepy would be an understatement. Sometimes we'd spot the odd elderly woman sweeping, like a lone deer that we didn't want to startle, but otherwise we just had cats and crazy downhill cyclists as brief company.
At the very top of the hill is the Castle Complex, one of the admittedly few tourist attractions of the little town. When the Romans expelled Hannibal and settled, Sagunto was favoured over Valencia - aka Flatty McInvadeMe Town - for its hilly stronghold potential. I can personally vouch that no one would want to run up this hill, ever. Especially when you don't find the road until you get the top.
|The passage the Celtiberians went through to defend themselves against Hannibal|
|A barbecue. Note to travellers: never get in a hole without checking for a 15ft drop first. You have been warned.|
|An oven in the structure of a house|
The ruins are seriously excellent. And I come from the South of England; I grew up surrounded by fossils and Roman ruins (we just use that shit as paperweights), so you know the complex is impressive. The epigraphy display is also worth a visit: while the stones themselves might be a little samey for Brits, it's got some great information on the town's history. One interesting fact is that after the expulsion of the Jews in 1429, the former synagogue was occupied by the brotherhood of the ‘Purísima Sangre de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo'. Salt in the wound, friends. The most dramatic upheaval is probably the town being razed to the ground when its inhabitants committed mass suicide rather than surrender to Hannibal in 219 BC. Serious stuff, right? Even though Sagunto's Celtiberian name was Arse.
|Yep, this will never get old|
When we'd exhausted the delights of the Castle Complex, we headed back down the hill, almost missing the Roman theatre. In our defence, all you can see from the front is a very tall facade that resembles a prison. We spent some time trying to break into the theatre through the back passages (oho! because of its na-...never mind), before we discovered you could just walk in the front like a normal person.Although the theatre keeps some of its original stonework, it has been renovated for modern shows, with Roman relics on display on the stage. It's easy to picture Romans lining the absolute curves of the arena to watch tragedies, but the smooth, white renovation makes the seating feel a little artificial.
The Esglesia de Santa María only opens for mass, but we went for a closer look at the centrepiece of the panorama we'd been staring at all day. Gargoyles always remind me of Notre Dame, which is unsurprising - Gothic architecture and all - but despite Sagunto's miniscule size, it's an impressive reminder of the significance this town once had.
|Santa María from a distance|
Finally, I couldn't resist a walk through la Judería, the old Jewish quarter because shalom, it's one of the must-see parts of the city, renowned for the pretty buildings and that its topography hasn't changed (big selling point for me).
So pretty! You just can't get away with painting your house coral in England, we don't have the sun for it. Or the nice neighbours. Despite the huge amount of climbing that my glutes are totes unaccustomed to after the smooth contours of Valencia, it was very zen relaxing on a hill surrounded by blooming cacti and a bright blue sky. My conclusion - Sagunto is Arse-ome.
To get there, take the train from Valencia. You can check the timetable on the renfe website but you don't book beforehand, and the timetable lies about the last train. Just get to the station in plenty of time.