Sagunto: City of Ruins
Sagunto is one of the most popular day trips from Valencia, and with good reason. It’s extremely easy to reach: just an inexpensive 30 minute trip on the Renfe Cercanias train system that binds the Valencian Community. And most importantly, the city is fascinating, especially for fans of history.
Sprawled across the side of a huge hill, Sagunto’s setting was well chosen by the area’s pre-Roman Iberian settlers, who were far more advanced, organized and powerful than their contemporaries in Valencia. Even after the Romans arrived, Sagunto remained the region’s most important city and received a Roman Circus and Theater, the latter of which is still in use today. (Read more about Valencia’s Roman origins.)
Jürgen & I took a noontime train to Sagunto on a Sunday in late August, forgetting that this is Spain and everything closes at 2pm. Finding ourselves with just over an hour to see the highlights, we bolted through Sagunto’s narrow alleys, throwing only cursory glances at the time-worn architecture and cobblestone streets.
The hustle proved worth it… First, we arrived at the ancient Roman theater which has been renovated multiple times through the years and is still in use, most notably during August’s Sagunt a Escena festival.
While the theater itself was impressive, we thought the renovation wasn’t well done. Especially around the stage, the polished cement took away from the setting’s ancient feeling. Still, while walking around the arched halls and checking out the view over the old city, it’s not hard to feel transported back to Roman times.
The theater is high up the side of Sagunto’s hill, on top of which a gigantic castle looms over the city. This castle ruins extend for a kilometer along the top of the hill and provide a view that reaches for miles in all directions. It was a site chosen for defense and, while looking down on the land below you, it’s not difficult to imagine hordes of marauding barbarians falling before the castle walls. The ruins on the grounds are extremely impressive, with the highlight being the Plaza de las Armas. The castle was built and occupied in turn by Iberians, Romans and Moors, each contributing their own styles and expansions.
Walking down from the castle, one comes across the Calvary — a beautiful religious park built in the 19th century for passion plays and the stations of the cross. We hurried through this area back into the Jewry of the old town. This is perhaps Sagunto’s most picturesque neighborhood and was inhabited by the city’s Jewish residents until they were forcefully expelled from Spain by the Catholic monarchy in 1492.
Sagunto has a lot to offer, and we were kicking ourselves that we didn’t have enough time before the lunch break. So, we recommend that you plan to arrive by 10:30 or 11am.