The triangular plateau in which Conímbriga was implanted is one of those places that called humans to inhabit it. It had fertile lands for agriculture, a river nearby as well as wealthy stone resources for building. The name Conímbriga, which can be roughly translated into “High rocky place” shows another one of the city’s characteristics: it was easily defendable, due to the fact that the plateau is flanked by deep gorges and canyons (sometimes 50 meters deep), an only has one entrance possible.
The earliest remains of human occupation found in Conímbriga date from the 9th and 10th century B.C., from the period also known as Iron Age.
According to Pliny, the elder, the first Romans to arrive in Conímbriga were the troops that accompanied the General Decimus Junius Brutus, in his expedition to the north of the Iberian Peninsula on 138 B.C.
All indicates that these first contacts were peaceful, and that the Romans conquered the population of Conímbriga by the strength of their civilization rather then by their strength of arms. The Romans offered them protection against Conimbriga's enemies, and allowed the city’s more important families to take part of the government.
Under the motto of peaceful coexistence, Conímbriga became a part of the roman province of Hispania Ulterior. The change between indigenous fortified place and full fledged Roman city was slow, and took over a hundred years.
In time, Conímbriga reflected the roman way of life. It had its first roman monuments in the last years of the 1st century B.C:
- The Augustan Forum, a venue was both for religious worship and for commercial trade.
- A defensive wall that had more of a symbolical nature than a defensive one, to serve as a warning for those who arrived there that the 16 acres of land inside its belt belonged to the Roman Empire.
- The first aqueduct that transported water from the spring to day called Alcabideque, 3 km northwest of Conímbriga. Everyday, for 400 years, this aqueduct brought to Conímbriga approximately 18.000 litres of water, a volume of water that would fill today seven Olympic pools.
- The first Roman Baths, with the usual three rooms of cold, medium and hot temperature, a key in transforming the rough indigenous into Romans through social customs.
During the reign of Emperor Claudius, a few years later, the forum was augmented and it received a Curia. Under the rule of this emperor Conímbriga’s first amphitheatre was built. It was placed on the valley north of the forum and it had the capacity for 4000 thousand spectators.
In the end of the first century A.D., Conímbriga was a city of importance. It was crossed by the important road that linked the city of Olisipo (current Lisbon) in the south, to the city of Bracara Augusta (current Braga) in the north. It was a bustling place of commerce that attracted merchants, farmers and visitors form all over the surrounding areas. As a reward for the city’s development and the provincial support he received in his taking of the imperial throne, the emperor Vespasian granted the status of Municipium, which meant that the city’s inhabitants became roman citizens. The city became even more luxuous. Later, during the time of Hadrian, a new wave of constructions swept the city. Conímbriga's domus grew in beauty and in size. A good example of that is the House of the Fountains.
Conimbriga had reached its height. It was a splendid, bustling provincial metropolis but that wouldn’t last long. The storm that veiled the empire would soon crash down over it, and the city would be drowned and lost it.
Sources and sites to visit:
Coinimbriga - Museum
Conimbriga - Virtual Tour
Roman Ruins of Conimbriga
Alarcão, Jorge de, “Arquitectura romana”, 1986 In Alarcão, Jorge de (coord.) História da Arte em Portugal, Vol 1, “Do Paleolítico à arte visigótica “(Lisboa, Pub Alfa, 1986). p. 75-110
Alarcão, Jorge de, O Domínio Romano em Portugal , 1988 Lisboa, Pub. Eur-América, 1988, Forum da História 1.
Alarcão, Jorge de, Roman Portugal, 1988 (2 vols.), Warminster, Aris & Philips. 345-351