Pollentia, Alcúdia's Roman Ruins
While you will find Pollença on your maps, the Roman town of Pollentia was several miles to the southeast, alongside the town of Alcúdia. Here you can explore the ruins of what was once the capital of Insulae Baliarum , the Balearic Islands . The word 'major' in Latin means 'greater than' while 'minores' means lesser than... hence the names Mallorca and Menorca.
Not long after the Roman conquest of Mallorca in 123 B.C. a new town called Power (some say strongpoint), or 'Pollentia ' in Latin, was established just to the south of where Alcúdia is now. It was built on the site of a talayotic settlement and the site was chosen because guards could easily keep a watch over both Pollença Bay and Alcúdia Bay. Before long settlers from the mainland were moving here to take advantage of its position on the Mediterranean trade routes. It also became a popular place to send exiles from Rome. Pollentia was soon the capital of the island and it had its own forum, theatre, arena and institutions. At the time it was twice the size of Palma, was larger than Alicante , Girona, and Denia and was nearly as large as Barcino (now Barcelona). Pollentia was an important town in Roman Hispania.
The town was surrounded by a wall and had two paved streets and a forum decorated with statues and monuments. Capitol Temple was the largest public building, at 22 metres long and 18 wide, and it stood on small mound overlooking the rest of the square. The building was dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva and there were two other small temples for other gods. The forum also had a portico of columns and a row of shops, where the largest property may have been the Exchange which dealt with merchants trading all over the Mediterranean.
The typical Roman house of the time had an open air atrium in the centre to let in light, air and rainwater. It was the centre of family life and had several rooms leading off it and while they were decorated inside, the outside walls were plain. Each family also had its own chapel, or lararium, where statues of gods and ancestors were honoured. There were several large mansions with mosaic floors , and decorated walls surrounded by smaller houses, shops and apartments. Around eight miles of pipes and aqueducts carried fresh water from the nearby Ternelles stream to the network of lead pipes running through the town .
Pollentia grew for around 300 years but it peaked around the 2nd Century when a fire destroyed part of the town. Peasant riots during the reign of Septimius Severus (211-217 AD) caused the townspeople to abandon the southern part of the town and built a new wall, to create a smaller manageable fort at the north end. The abandoned buildings were then pulled down and the forum area became a cemetery.
Unrest increased across the Roman Empire over the next 300 years and the town went into decline, probably due to a decrease in organised trading. People may have still been living there when the Vandals arrived at the end of the 5th Century or they may have already abandoned it and moved to Palma. Either way Pollentia was sacked and burnt to the ground; the ruins were then left to the elements. The Moors captured Mallorca in 902 A.D. and they established a new town on virgin ground to the north, calling it Alcúdia , Arabic for 'The Hill'. Pollentia then became a rich source of stone for their houses and its ruins were reduced to ground level.
Nature reclaimed the area which was once Mallorca's capital and it lay hidden for over a thousand years. After several attempts to locate Pollentia, Gabriel Llabres and Rafael Isasi found it and between 1925 and 1954 opened many ditches, finding many of the features we see today. Unfortunately, the owner wanted to continue farming the area and would only let them dig if the ditches were to be filled in as soon as they had been recorded. Only photograph records exist and as the techniques of the day are not as advanced as today, many trenches have been lost. Lluis Amoros and Jose Malberti also contributed to the work in the 1940s as did Vicente Ruiz Argilés and Bartomeu Ensenyat in the 1950s.
The turning point for Pollentia came in 1957 when Pollentia purchased by the Bryant Foundation. Under the new owners, archaeology began in earnest and over the past 50 years large parts of the town have been excavated, recorded and preserved.
The entrance to the archaeological dig is opposite St James' Church and there is a large car park next to the gate. Check out the displays explaining life in Pollentia by the entrance before you start exploring the ruins. Then follow the gravel path through the ruins.
The first area you see is Sa Portella, at the northwest corner of the town, and the town wall runs alongside the modern Port d'Alcudia road. The town centred around the forum was split by a north south road. A number of large houses have been discovered and the largest, measuring 32 by 22 metres, was called the House of the Bronze Head because a bronze sculpture of a girl's head was found in the ruins in 1948. Two houses were called the Large and the Small Houses of Treasures because the owners had hidden valuables before leaving for what was their last time.
The town extended nearly as far south as the modern cemetery, alongside the main road. The forum was south of the Portella area and beyond that was a large building with columns which may have been a gymnasium or an arena.
A short walk through the woods southeast of the forum brings us to the remains of the town's theatre, which was built next to a prehistoric cave. It is estimated that the original structure had a 10 metre diameter stage and a 100 metre diameter auditorium with a capacity for 2,000 people. Two steps at the front created the orchestra area for musicians while wooden pillars supported the raised stage.
The theatre was built in the first century AD but it was only used for around 100 years. It was abandoned around the time of the peasant revolts and was turned into a cemetery some time later. The peculiar carved slots in the seating were shallow burial chambers which would have been covered in slabs. The theatre had 11 rows of seats in 1805 but it was reduced to only six tiers (and only 75 meters) over the next 100 years due to people robbing the stone. The Bryant Foundation acquired the property in 1952 and began cleaning up the ruins.
To learn more about the site and find out about opening times and ticket prices, visit www.ajuntamentalcudia.net
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