In Roman times, and especially during the reigns of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, a grand access route was created in the west of the peninsula that linked the Cantabrian coast with the lands of the south of Hispania. Goods, troops, traders and travellers moved in continuous transit along this trail, which favoured the spreading of Roman culture, its language and way of life, at the same time as facilitating the control of the territory that the administration of the Roman Empire required.
This trail continued to be used over the centuries, both by Arabs as well as Christians during the Middle Ages, and went on to play an important role in the communications network of the Iberian Peninsula.
Throughout their empire, the Romans built several thousand kilometres of roads that formed a complex communications network made up of diverse types of thoroughfares. The importance of the route, together with the geography of the places through which it passed, determined to a certain extent the building system chosen in each case.
Nevertheless, the majority of Roman roads share a series of common features. In their construction, the land was excavated until reaching a firm level that acted as drainage and as a base for the upper layers, made up of earth and stones, which provided a solid structure.
Finally, large flagstones were used to pave the road, giving it the characteristic appearance of Roman roads, whose remains have on many occasions lasted until the present day.
The passage of Roman roads often meant that other work was needed in infrastructures to facilitate their passage through places with difficult terrain.
Side retaining walls or calzos -from which the name calzada (road) is derived- were built on the slopes of mountainous regions, whereas constructions ranging from small drains up to large bridges were built to ford streams and rivers. Some of these constitute veritable feats of engineering, employing complex systems of falsework in their construction.
The mastery of building techniques in Roman times is evident in the construction of large bridges, which 2,000 years later remain as grand monuments at the same time as fulfilling their original function.
A journey in the roman road
During Roman times, long-distance journeys were carried out on horseback or in diverse types of carriages.
These were generally rudimentary vehicles, which meant that journeys were slow and it was necessary to realize numerous changes of relays. As a result, diverse types of resting places were distributed along the thoroughfares; the simplest were those known as mutationes or small posts destined solely for resting and provisioning and changing horses.
But there also existed other, more important establishments, called mansiones, that offered the traveller other services and which often coincided with towns. On other occasions, the continuous transit along the road meant that a town would also grow around these mansiones.
In order to know the distance travelled and that remaining until the next resting place, travellers along these roads were provided with the so-called miliarios. These consisted of large, cylindrical milestones that included not only information pertinent to road signs, but also other aspects related to the road, such as its period of construction and the name of the reigning emperor or the repairs carried out on the road.
The communications system in the Roman world achieved considerable importance, affecting other aspects such as religion, there being minor gods to protect travellers and routes. On occasions, small altars dedicated to these gods, known as lares viales, were placed next to the roadway.