Birth at a Roman ruin

Living in a place with Roman and Arab ruins abound, one could become jaded. We had been told that Andalucia’s best-preserved Roman theatre laid merely 20 minutes drive away, yet we had been ‘too busy’ to go and explore it. One day we saw the sign for Ronda Veija and decided to drive and check it out. We have been back several times since and it never ceases to amaze me.

Sitting on a 1000-meter high mountain plateau overlooking de Sierra de Grazalema and the Serranía de Ronda, the Roman town of Acinipo can only be described as stunning. Approaching the city through olive groves and vineyards, you can already see the wall of the Roman theatre. Arriving, the first thing that hits you is the mountain breeze, these days perfumed by spring blossoms. If the gate is open, you can just wander in, giving your country of origin to the gatekeeper. You are usually there alone, maybe sharing the entire 32-hectare area with a couple of other visitors. There are no tour buses, no entrance fees, no brochures and nothing for sale. You are free to walk about and explore at your leisure with nobody to disturb you, other than three horses, one donkey (who thinks she is a horse) and 80 or so sheep grazing on the plateau. I cannot help but think that had this historical site been in Northern Europe or North America, there would have been a steep entrance fee, designated walking trails with arrows, barricades and sturdy guard fences, security guards at every point and ‘no touching’ signs abound. And absolutely positively no loose livestock!

Yet here we are, in a place where retired Roman legionnaires came to rest more than 2000 years ago. And if this should not be enough, there was also a Bronze Age settlement here between 1,100 and 750 BC, all mostly untouched by archaeologists!

Some historians believe that Acinipo was created after the battkle of Munda in 45 BC, between the armies of  Caesar and Pmppey’s sons, Gnaeus  and Sextus. Once a city of 5000 inhabitants, Acinipo even minted its own coins. In addition to the first century AD theatre that seated 2000, the town also had temples, a forum, public baths and even three swimming pools. Acinipo finally fell in 429 AD, when the Roman centre of power switched to what is now called Ronda.

We went back this week, bringing a friend who had not had the privilege of seeing Acinipo yet. As we zigzagged our way up towards the theatre, the local  shepherd was walking with a sheep in tow and something hanging from each hand. As he got closer, we saw it was two tiny lambs. He told us that they were born a mere hour earlier, a sturdy black one and a smaller white one with a most memorable and dear face. Since the farmer did not name his sheep, we named the little white one Vera, after our friend who soon will leave Ronda. The mama sheep was getting a bit impatient with all the attention, so we left the shepherd to bring the sheep and her lambs inside a stone cottage, so that foxes and vultures would not catch them in the night.

And so with little Vera and her brother, life prevails on this great rock, as it has done for thousands of years and hopefully will do long after we all have left the scene of this life.

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