Aquis Querquennis, the Roman camp that appears and disappears | Blog Paco Nadal

Let’s go back a bit in history: the construction and maintenance of the Roman roads mobilized a huge number of engineers and troops. And the works of the Vía XVIII or Vía Nova, between the cities of Bracara Augusta (current Braga, in Portugal) and Asturica Augusta (current Astorga) were no exception. In order to house the cohort of legionaries in charge of these tasks, a large camp was erected in the year 79 on the banks of the Limia river, in what is now the parish of Baños de Bande, in the south of the province of Ourense.

It was a remarkable fortification, with an area of ​​25,000 square meters and surrounded by a solid wall five meters high by three meters wide made with cementless granite stone, equipped with four gates and as many defensive towers plus an outer moat of others. five meters wide. A fairly impregnable enclosure, come on. And enough to house 600 legionaries of infantry and cavalry of the Legio VII Gemina, displaced for this purpose from their headquarters in León.

The site, seen from a drone.
The site, seen from a drone.

The passage of the Vía Nova through Ourense was known since ancient times because the province is dotted with milestones: it is the Roman road where the most number of these kilometer posts have been found throughout Europe. But the camp was not known until the 20s of the last century, when the neighbors, when removing land, found remains of walls and ceramics. The first visit and excavation of a certain scientific rigor was carried out in 1921 by the historian and anthropologist Florentino López Alonso-Cuevillas together with other members of the Galician intelligentsia of the Xeración Nos. They thought that it could be a city, but not even the media that They had neither the time in which they lived allowed them to advance further. The place became known among the locals as the city, the city.

Reconstruction of one of the four gates that the camp had.
Reconstruction of one of the four gates that the camp had.

Until the Civil War came and after it the dictatorship. The swamps of the Franco regime did not attend to reasons: they were made, yes or yes, whoever fell. And the construction of the Las Conchas dam, inaugurated by Franco in 1949, flooded a good part of the Limia river valley, its towns and crops, but also evidence of the Roman past.

Practical Guide

  • The visit to the site is free. The interpretation center and museum costs 2 euros. Guided visit to the site, 3 euros. Check the schedules on their website or on the phone 988 040 127.
  • The interpretation center closes on December 8 and does not open until Easter 2020. But the site is open all year round and is free to visit.
  • The waters usually cover the ruins from the end of January to the end of spring, but this is very random and depends on the rains and the opening of the gates of the reservoir.
  • At the Bande Town Hall (988 443 001) they report the state of the waters to travelers who request it.

It was not until 1975 when the excavations were renewed and what was believed to be a city was revealed as a great Roman camp, the best studied to date in Hispania and one of the most important known to date. An essential visit in this region of the Baixa Limia. Despite the inconvenience of being able to excavate only when the waters of the Las Conchas reservoir drop in level (much of the year the site is covered by the waters), the work prospered and revealed a gigantic military complex with five stigrias (barracks) for the troops around a central courtyard, warehouses, granaries, a water cistern, a hospital or the hospital Besides of principles or headquarters.

The first thing that impresses from the visit is the symmetry of the buildings. As if thrown with a pencil, the walls and rooms form a perfect grid on a plain of grass and pebbles that speaks of the constructive skill of Rome. It is true that this vision is only full from the air. The second thing is the beauty of the place: even with the invasive presence of the waters of the swamp, what surrounds the site is an overwhelming and solitary nature, with dense forests of oaks, birches, acer and other species that in autumn are dressed in a cloak of color. This region of Baja Limia is one of the most unpopulated areas of Galicia and that human absence is felt and makes the visit even more unique.

O Bath, the open-air hot springs near the camp that were used as early as the 1st century.
O Bath, the open-air hot springs near the camp that were used as early as the 1st century.

Next to the camp there also appeared a mansio, the post houses that served the Roman roads every 25 thousands suffered. It’s about the third of ten mansios of the Vía Nova counting from Braga (according to Itinerary Antonino) and still allows to see the rooms where the imperial travelers spent the night, the oven where the bread was baked, the water well and the stables. A little further on there are some open-air thermal water pools known by the neighbors since time immemorial and now used by travelers, where the Roman baths should have been and which were, without a doubt, one of the reasons why the camp settled here.

At the entrance to the site is the Interpretation Center and headquarters of the Aqua Querquennae Foundation. It houses an interesting permanent exhibition on the Galician-Roman people of the Quarquernos -who inhabited these lands-, the arrival of Rome and the construction of the camp; also on the passage of the Vía Nova through this region.

Aquis Querquennis is a highly recommended visit if you are in this region of southern Orense or are interested in the history of Rome on the peninsula. It may be that when you get to the water it will flood part of the deposit, but that is part of its peculiarity and charm.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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