Roman Tongobriga, once a mighty town which came to light only about 30 years ago. The inconspicuous Portuguese town of Freixo is located on a hilltop. In the center of the community, where around a dozen buildings sprawl out from a charming church square, is a single-lane stone-paved road. It is difficult to think that Tongobriga, one of the largest Roman cities in northern Portugal, lived here 1,800 years ago. Tongobriga’s ancient population of 2,500 dwarfs the small number of inhabitants today.
A large portion of the site’s history had vanished beneath farmland by the late 20th century, and stones from former Roman structures had been removed to be utilised in new construction. The location’s long-forgotten past only recently came to light in 1980 when archaeologists looked into an old wall that locals called the “chapel of the Moors.” It was discovered that this wall was a component of a large Roman bath complex. Archaeologists discovered a large Roman town that covered 75 acres as the excavations went on. Even its name, Tongobriga, was known to them thanks to an earlier inscription discovered there.
About 100 years after the Romans had finished conquering the Iberian Peninsula in the late first century A.D., Tongobriga rose to prominence as a key regional administrative hub. A theater, an amphitheater, and a sizable forum were all there, as befitted a town of its stature. The city was also built out on a carefully gridded street layout with neighborhoods of Roman-style homes with atriums.
Excavations conducted more recently have shown that the settlement’s past is significantly older. The Castro civilization, an Iron Age Celtic people, lived on the site before the Romans took over. Under the ruins of the Roman town, numerous examples of the Castro people’s circular stone homes have been found. Apart from an Iron Age bathhouse they chiseled out of the bedrock, these pre-Roman people didn’t leave much of a trace of their presence. As they continue their work at the site, archaeologists have come to the conclusion that the Iron Age settlement was also very large, with a population of as many as 2,000 people.
ROMAN TONGOBRIGA: THE SITE
The city of Marco de Canaveses, which is about two miles to the north, is close to Tongobriga. The extraordinarily enormous Roman forum, which is surrounded by the foundations of several commercial, religious, and administrative structures, is the focus of any trip to the location. Visitors can view the Iron Age bathhouse as well as the nearby remnants of the Roman-era bath complex, which included a sizable swimming pool, along the north side of the forum. The ruins of both Roman and pre-Roman homes may be observed lining the road as one strolls through the village of Freixo. A modest interpretative center with an exhibit on how the area’s Indigenous population’s absorption into the Roman Empire affected their life is also there.
WHILE YOU’RE IN ROMAN TONGOBRIGA
The Douro Valley wine region includes Tongobriga. Numerous surrounding vineyards along the popular Rota dos Vinhos are open for tours and tastings and specialize in producing the regional vinho verde.
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