Dating from the 5th century, Sagunto is an Iberian settlement on Spain’s east coast. The city is dominated by a sprawling castle on top of a hill, visible from miles away. Due to its strategic location, Sagunto was hotly contested for by many civilizations, most famously the Carthaginians under Hannibal who conquered the city in 219 B.C., bringing along his elephants. Seven years and the Second Punic War later, the Romans recovered the city, followed over many centuries by Visigoths, and later, Arabs, until they were expelled from Spain by the Christian kings. All of these influences left historical monuments which are a delight to explore following Sagunto's narrow, pebbled streets.
During a brief period at the beginning of the 20th century, Sagunto became a center of steel production and the massive steel ovens and some warehouses at the plain below the castle and at the Port of Sagunto have been converted into an open-air museum and tourist attraction, documenting Sagunto's very own industrial revolution. Just an hour by bus or train from Valencia, Sagunto also makes for an enjoyable day trip.
Climb the Castle of Sagunto
Dating back to the Iberians who first constructed vast and fortified walls on top of a flat-topped hill, Sagunto's castle reflects best the historical ups and downs which have happened during the course of 2,000 years. The climb isn’t an easy one but can be made more comfortable by riding a tourist train from the center of town half way up.
The castle complex is divided into seven sections, each with its own history. The full half-mile of the wall can be walked with splendid views over the city on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. Bring water and a sun hat, as there is little shade and no refreshment kiosk.
Applaud at the Roman Theatre
Make your way down the castle hill slowly along rather slippery paths but through shady pine trees to the Roman Theatre. It originally had a capacity of 8,000 spectators. Much of the theatre has been ruined, but it was restored at the end of the 20th century, incorporating remaining historical features. You enter through a vast arch and can walk around, emerging at the stage. The theatre is now used for highly attractive performances and concerts, especially the Sagunto Summer Stage Festival.
Explore the Jewish Quarter
In the early 15th century, Sagunto had a thriving Jewish community. The Jewish Quarter, including the cemetery of Sagunto, is one of the best preserved in all of Spain. The entrance is marked with an arch and a plaque and you’ll easily find it on your way down from the castle past the theatre. Right inside you’ll find a tiny opening in a thick wall which, according to the guide, is the world’s smallest window. You can explore on your own or go on a guided tour. If you stay overnight, you can even enjoy a night tour.
Stand to Attention at the Plaza de Armas
The most famous of the seven sections of the castle complex is the Plaza de Armas, reached through a Moorish arch near the middle. Here you find yourselves in the oldest part of the castle with remains of a Roman forum, public buildings of the times, cisterns carved out of the rock, and even remnants of shops.
Gaze at Via del Pórtico
Discovered in 1991 when the foundations for two apartment buildings were laid, Via del Pórtico offers insight into Roman life in the 1st century B.C. The centerpiece of the discovery is a 196-foot long road complete with ancient paving stones and ruts made by chariots, which is thought to be part of the original Via Augusta. Along the road, now well protected by glass with walkways from which to look down, are foundations of Roman houses and baths as well as some original household items.
Get Informed at Casa dels Berenguer
Plaza Mayor is, as the name indicates, the main square in Sagunto. A short walk from it you’ll find the Casa dels Berenguer, a remarkable Gothic palace with Renaissance features which is also a center for information about the history of Sagunto via interactive displays and videos.
Hit the Beach at the Port of Sagunto
If you plan for more than a day trip you will want to enjoy a dip in the sea at the lovely white beaches near the Port of Sagunto, some five miles from the town center and easily reached by local bus. Head for the Marina Canet and north to Malvarossa Beach, a long stretch of fine, white sand and dunes. The beach is almost never crowded, except for the summer holidays in August. South of Canet is the more urban but equally white beach of Sagunto with a promenade, bars, cafes, and restaurants.
Buy a Traditional Souvenir
A traditional vessel for carrying water by farm workers and walkers and only found in Sagunto is called a colcho. It’s made from cork and canvas, reinforced with richly embossed brass on the handle, sides, and little taps. Today, these trinkets are still handmade but are produced by people with disabilities at the Center of Occupation San Cristobal. It’s a decorative souvenir — and the acquisition also serves a good cause.
Glimpse the Industrial Past
On your way to the beach, leave the bus as soon as you spy a monumental industrial building on your right: Alto Horno No. 2 is the last remaining of three huge furnaces from the short-lived era of steel production in Sagunto. The massive oven has been restored and can be visited on guided tours, climbing up on an outside staircase from platform to platform. Adjacent to it are warehouses and several streets with well-preserved houses of the steelworkers, including the bars and pubs they used to frequent. It's a very different kind of history in a city which is brimming with it.
Light a Candle at the Church of Santa Maria
On one side of Plaza Mayor stands the gothic church of Santa Maria with a baroque façade. (The bell tower also makes a good landmark when navigating the city's streets.) Next to the church is a long and high wall which, at first sight, seems unremarkable until you know that it contains part of what in antiquity was a temple to the goddess Diana.