Silver Road Background

Silver Road » Downloads »In Roman times during the reigns of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, a grand access route was created in the west of the Iberian peninsula that linked the Cantabrian coast with the lands of the south of Hispania. Goods, troops, traders and travellers moved along this trail which encouraged the spreading of Roman culture, its language and way of life as well as helping to control and administer this new territory.

This trail continued to be used over the centuries, both by the Mores as well as Christians during the Middle Ages as well as the returning conquistadors from the New World. Today, it has been overtaken by modern communications such as motorways, trains and air travel but still retains its unique character as in most places it retains its original Roman route.

The Roman Origins

Throughout their empire the Romans built thousands of 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 construction and then use of the Roman roads meant that other work was needed in infrastructure to facilitate their passage through places with difficult terrain.

Side retaining walls or calzos – from which the Spanish word 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.

One can still see the mastery of building techniques in Roman times 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 on the Roman Road

During Roman times, long-distance journeys were carried out on horseback or in carriages.
This meant that journeys were slow so it was necessary to build horse relay stations and eating and resting places. The simplest were those known as mutationes and were small posts designed solely for resting and provisioning and changing horses.

But more important establishments called mansiones grew up, offering the traveller enhanced services. They were either in towns already or grew in importance to become towns in their own right.
There were no maps in those days so a series of miliarios, large, cylindrical milestones, where built informing travellers of the next resting place, the date of construction of that section, the reigning Emperor at the time and repairs carried out to the road!

This system also provided a way to distribute propaganda and other news on minor gods which protected travellers and routes. On occasions, small altars dedicated to these gods, known as lares viales, were placed next to the roadway. Some can still be seen today.