14th October 2021: Roman city of Complutum (Alcalá de Henares, Spain)

Around this time in 2020 I took a small tour around Alcalá de Henares. However, the Roman ruins were not near the town centre, and we exchanged walking there for a walking tour the university and the archaeological museum. This time I exclusively drove to the ruins (or tried to, somehow my phone and my GPS have different layouts, so ended up parking 15 minutes away when I should have parked… right by it).

Complutum was founded as a Roman town in the first century BCE, when the locals moved in looking for fertile lands for crops and cattle. The area, near the Roman road and at the bank of the river, was great – and who cared about the original Iberian settlers anyway? The city grew and a newer town started being built in the first century CE. Soon, the town became a religious (dedicated to the goddess Diana and the water nymphs), economic and strategic hub, so that several Roman roads (viae Romanae) started and died there. The town’s influence expanded for kilometres until the 8th century, when the Islamic population took over the city and the population re-settled to what is now the centre of Alcalá.

The city was eventually lost as the town developed around and over it, but part of it was excavated in the 19th century. The modern excavation was organised in the 1970s trying to salvage as much as could be from the urban developments. Most of the mosaics from the archaeological museum are from this time, apparently.

In the 1980s, the city of Alcalá decided to protect and excavate the town and as of now there are two areas that can be visited. However, they are separated and you have to walk or drive from one to the other.

I first visited a building called Casa de Hippolytus, Hippolytus’ House, which was a school dormitory for boys. The building hosts a thermal area, a bathroom, and a garden.

The key part of the house is the “fish mosaic”, commissioned by the rich family who sponsored the school (Anios) to the merchant Hippolytus, who signed the mosaic. The mosaic. is thought to have been a teaching tool as it depicts with a lot of detail a number of aquatic species from the Mediterranean Sea (in contrast with the people in the boat) – there is a dolphin, a sea urchin, a lobster, a cuttlefish, a moray eel, a sea bream…

I walked to the other site afterwards, Foro y Regio II, and it’s divided in several parts – it has a residential neighbourhood, some public buildings (therms, curia, basilica…), and the oracle building, along with remains of the sewers and water supplies.

The most important building, called ‘the house of griffin’ due to to the decoration, was unfortunately closed. But you can be sure that the place is kept safe by the kitty queen on call and her dutiful apprentice.

Driving distance: around 64 km
Walking distance: 6.79 km