The Romans made their presence felt in every part of the Mediterranean basin. And so when I travel the region, I always make a point of looking for Roman ruins.
I was headed outside the Mediterranean this time, but the Empire was there too, and the southern coast of Portugal — the Algarve — did not disappoint.
I found a significant Roman site just a 15 minute drive from the apartment I was renting in Tavira. It was 10km north of Faro, and just outside the town of Estoi.
That’s where you’ll find Milreu: the remains of a Roman manor house dating from the first to sixth centuries AD.
This villa rustica was a small farming centre, and the remains include agricultural buildings, a temple, an oil press and a bath complex with underfloor heating and marine-themed mosaics.
The richly ornamented sanctuary was built in the 4th century, so that the owner of Milreu would have a private place to worship.
But the old beliefs were eventually abandoned as the dour religion of the Man of Sorrows swept the Roman world. The pagan temple on this site was converted into a church in the 6th century, making it one of the oldest Christian churches in the country.
The farm was finally abandoned in the 10th century too, when its vaulted ceilings collapsed. But this prime agricultural land wasn’t empty for long…
The more recent white painted building that you see in the photos was built at the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century, when the site was re-inhabited, and it gained its present configuration sometime in the 19th century.
Many of the mosaics are in quite good shape, and I spent a couple sunny hours wandering the villa, sitting beneath the almond trees, and imaging the life of a wealthy Roman landowner on an estate like this.
If you find yourself on holiday in the eastern or central Algarve, take a couple hours and pop by Milreu. It’s a great opportunity to touch a piece of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.
Photos ©Tomoko Goto 2014