Sagunto is not new to me. We discovered this Carthaginian town sprawled across the top of Sagunto’s hill the day we arrived in Valencia driving by it then wondering what it could be. Little did I know how incredibly ancient it was or I probably would have swerved off the road in surprise. Since then we’ve been there several times taking visitors as part of our tourist route of the area.
This is a gem that most tourists miss when coming to Valencia. Just 30 minutes outside the city, it falls outside the tourist radar and rarely makes the maps. A sprawling complex you can easily spend 4 hours here climbing up and down steps over 2000 years old. It’s FREE, it’s beautiful, the views of Valencia and the Med are fantastic, and there’s a great little cafe below that serves cold drinks on hot days and hot drinks on cool ones. An easy day with the family, you can bring a picnic and spend the entire day.
Hours: Tues – Sat 1000-2000; Sun and holidays 1000-1400
Kid friendly: Yes. This is a place where kids can run and play (with supervision). The ruins are wide open with many old windows and doorways for kids to climb through and play peek a boo or hide and seek. It’s a great place to run. There are; however, several places along the edge where the mountain drops off behind the wall and there are no fences of rails to stop someone from falling. This ruin is fantastic for kids as long as they are being watched.
Dog friendly: Dogs are permitted on leashes.
The History: This ruin that I’ve walked around so casually since living here began as the Carthaginian city of Arse in the fifth century BC. It was also the initial scene of the Second Punic War between the Carthaginians and the Romans. In 219 BC it was conquered by Hannibal, then seven years later in 212, it was restored by Scipio as a Roman city and remained in Roman hands until the 6th c. AD when the Visigoth monarchy moved into the peninsula.
|The Roman Amphitheater|
You’ll see signs that say Saguntum and signs that say Arse. Some say it’s Roman and others, Carthaginian. It’s a quandary atop a mountain unless you poke around. You won’t find more than three plaques in the vast ruin that explain what you’re looking at and there are no guides there to answer questions. If you want to learn more, stop in Ceramicas Arse and ask for the guide booklet. The man there sells them in English and it tells about history of this place. You can also peruse the museum at the old Roman Amphitheater and pick up information there.
BY TRAIN: From Valencia, take the Renfe to Sagunto, then walk (30 min) towards the church and up to the ruin or take a taxi (5 minute drive).
BY CAR: The roads leading upward towards the castle are fantastically photographic, but a nightmare to drive (and you can’t very well photograph while driving, can you?). If have a minuscule rental car and nerves of steel, you can GPS your way to the top. I don’t recommend this; however. It’s much better to park on the street or in the parking garage at Avenida de los Santos de Piedra (Avinguda dels Sants de la Pedra). The garage is the best option unless it’s closed which occurs every Sunday and on most holidays. Parking is free at the teeny tiny amphitheater lot just below the ruin and there are two parking spots at the gate of the ruin, but it’s steep and a tight spot to turn around if the spots are taken. There’s also free street parking near the Ayuntamiento.
There is little information written about this castle. It’s sprawling mass of old walls once the city of Seguntum is now a butterfly play land. No tour, no guide (perfect), you can spend hours walking around the entire ridge first one side, then the other admiring the view from all sides. Perfect, untouched, and really, unchanged. No signs of modern life stand here except for three small placards and the little white ticket booth.
The rest is up to your imagination. Walls, drop offs, places that would be fantastic for a game of hide and seek with the kids and places where one wrong move would send you down the mountain into a patch of waiting prickly pears.
|Looking to the left|
When you get there, you’ll see this building with columns. This is a great reference point. Go left and you’ll see beautiful views of the Med. That’s my favorite half of this complex and the place I spend the most time.
|Squatting at a Roman toilet?|
If you’re feeling crazy and want a unique photo op, you’ll find what we think are old toilets, in one of the buildings to the left through that old gate. Or at least that’s what this gang thought they were…
If you go straight ahead from this point and walk down the tiny stairs to the edge where you can’t go any farther, look left. There are two places here nearly completely hidden where you can go down into a series of hidden rooms. It’s said that in these dark chambers that the women and children hid during the last seige and that is where they died.
To the right, there is a long walk to the other side of the complex. It’s more rugged on that side, but beautiful as well. There are constant digs here as they are still uncovering bits of history and pieces of the wall have been repaired. Along the long straight stretch to the larger portion of the ruin is a long building on the right. Stop in. Here you’ll find the largest collection of epigraphs in the Iberian peninsula. It’s pretty impressive with many column heads and engraved stones from the first century A.D. and even a few B.C. stones as well.
See this one? This is the top of a column. You can see the tiny cut marks where it was carved into the coil.
Tours: Tours are available by contacting the museum staff at the bottom of the hill in advance for large groups.
|Taverna de la Serp|
Near the Lion Fountain(Not the name, just the location): The first little restaurant that you run into is a good one that I’ve been to many times sitting outside near the lion fountain and sipping on something cold. It’s a nice little place and has good food, friendly service, and larger meals available if you’re very hungry.
La Taverna de la Serp is relatively new, but really charming and become my fast favorite. It’s a tiny little bar/cafe just below the theater as you look down the hill. It’s perfect for a coffee or beer and a small snack and, if you’re lucky, you may catch live music there in the evenings.
They serve delicious tapenades here of various types with bread. I’ve tried several including one of olives that was absolutely delicious and one with bacalao (cod) and potatoe that was good, but milder than I’d hoped.
The coffee is delicious, but don’t be surprised if you get a strange look ordering coffee with your food. They drink coffee after the meal here in Spain – even after dessert.
Other stuff to see/do: There’s an old Roman amphitheater where they still have concerts, a museum, and a cute pottery shop at the base of the castle hill. The town itself is very sweet, has nice atmospheric restaurants, cute shops, narrow roads, and a couple nice old churches.