Munigua: a forgotten Roman mining town in the heart of Sierra Morena

There is no shortage of Roman ruins in Spain. Some are in the middle of modern city centres, such as Mérida’s theatre and amphitheatre, in Extremadura. Or Itálica, which is reachable by bus from Seville. Others, are out in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a track, in a random field. This was the case with Munigua, making it a reasonable option to explore in the middle of a pandemic.

Munigua's terraced temple from a distance
Munigua’s Sanctuary from a distance

What do you do when you’re sick of staring at the living room walls but you need to stay socially distanced because there’s a global pandemic going on? 1) Pick something you can do outside. 2) Wear a mask at all times. 3) Steer clear of other people. Right? If we could manage this, we could keep any risks at a minimum while still getting a change of scenery. Or at least, that was our reasoning when looking for a weekend activity back in October.

With new restrictions looking likely for the upcoming November bank holiday we wanted to take what might be our last chance to leave the city in a while but, where should we go?

A good ten kilometres from the nearest town of Villanueva del Río y Minas, in the middle of a field, at the end of a bumpy track, the Roman ruins of Munigua sounded like they could fit the bill.

Off we set, bright and early into a fog bank, heading northeast along the A-8008 Seville-Brenes road. The cooler weather turned out to be a blessing, keeping the number of visitors significantly lower than they might have been.

I hadn’t heard of Munigua before, unlike other famous ruins from the same period. I guess a mining village sounds less impressive than an amphitheatre and this small settlement is not as accesible as other sites in the region. Nevertheless, the fact that these stones are still standing is a testament to the Roman legacy here and I marvel at how centuries later we can understand their way of life so clearly from all they left behind.

Getting to the town was easy enough. So was finding the route that lead towards the ruins. There came a point, however, that we wondered how much bumpy track the car could take before we should park and walk* the rest of the way. It didn’t help that we met a 4×4 and, shortly after, a tractor coming in the opposite direction. How much further was it, anyway?

We took the car as far as we could go and parked by the railway track. As we got out of the car, the early morning mist still floated among the few other vehicles that had arrived before us. The smoke of a barbecue wafted gently in the air and the guy at the impromtu refreshment stall prepared the embers for cooking later in the day.

The ruins are located within a private property (open to the public for visits) and no vehicles are allowed beyond the main gate. That means you get to walk through a grove of oaks and a field of cows, but they mind their own busines if you mind yours and keep to the path.

Other than a family of four who were in a bit of a fluster over the proximity of said cows and a couple of other walkers, we had the place mainly to ourselves. Follow the signs and you’ll have walked the 2km or so to the ancient remains soon enough.

I was surprised to see quite how much had been uncovered. 6 homes, a public bath house, the forum and several temples are evident as you walk around the site, with a few signs telling you what’s what.

The settlement goes back to Pre-Roman times and reached it’s prime in the 1st and 2nd c. A.D, linked to the copper and iron mines in the area. It was hit by an earthquake in the 3rd c. A.D. and this marked the beginning of its decline.

The pre-Roman Iberian village at the top of the hill was razed to build the terraced sanctuary that stands there today. It was originally thought to be a fortress, given its location at the top of the hill and was known as the Mulva Castle by the locals. Future investigations, however, identified its original purpose as temple and possible seat of the Senate.

Climb the symmetrical slopes and steps to the very top for a wonderful 360º view of the surrounding area.

With only trees and hills to see for miles around, it was easy to feel time stood still, far away from the city rush and noise. Not much to worry about here, there wasn’t a soul in sight.

The Romans seemed far more preocupied with their deities than with fending off any earthly enemies, as evidenced by the different temples. You have the Sanctuary of Terraces at the very top, the Podium Temple, the Temple of Mercury, and the Forum Temple dedicated to Dis Pater, a Roman god of the underworld, quite appropriate for miners.

The lack of fortifications felt strange, although given the location, it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t feel too threatened. The defence wall was apparently never completed and had the peculiarity of going right through the burial ground, which would usually be outside the city walls.

I read afterwards that some of the oldest Moorish tombs in Spain can be found at Munigua. We didn’t see that part of the site while we were there, though. Today, the focus is mainly on the Roman remains.

The town gained prominence under Emperor Vespasian, who gave it municipium status, leading to the construction of many of its buildings. Other structures visible today date from the Augustan era.

Since we got there early, we were almost done with our visit by the time more people started arriving. It still wasn’t crowded but we met more people on our way back than we’d seen all morning. A hunting party was gathering back at the car, too, with dogs in trailers and a bit more coming and going of people than there might otherwise have been.

As we ate a quick sandwich in the car park to keep us going, a train hooted slowly past. It seems so quiet and peaceful, it’s easy to think the tracks are no longer in use and people sometimes wander a bit too close. Aware that there are often people nearby, the trains proceed with caution. They’re not very frequent, either, but do be careful and keep your distance when you’re in the parking area.

As we drove home, we shared our surprise at not discovering Munigua sooner. As with so many places in Spain, it seems to be a little known, often forgotten, hidden treasure in the heart of Seville’s sierra. Whether you know much about the Romans or not, the settlement is well worth a visit.

Last of all, I must be honest and say the track didn’t feel nearly as bad on the way back as it did that morning, but I guess we knew our way by then.

*It is possible to walk all the way from the village, but we hadn’t planned to do the full treck this time, since we wanted to be back in time for a late lunch, Spanish timetable, of course. (So, sometime between 3 and 4pm.)

When can you visit Munigua?

Munigua is open Wednesdays to Sundays, from 10:00 a 14:00h.

If you go in summer, make sure to wear sun cream and take plenty of water, there are no shops or fountains nearby.

You can find more information about Munigua’s history here. (English)

You can find more information to plan your visit here and a cool video at the end of the page. (Spanish)

This video has some cool aerial footage of the site.

Have you visited Munigua? Had you heard about it before?

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