I’m out in my fishing boat, fighting the storms as I fish for mackerel and tuna, with huge shoals swarming around the coast; these are the fish that give us garum, The Romans love it; it’s the sauce they all want for their most culinary dishes. Jamie Oliver has nothing on garum! Garum was one of the industries that gave Pompeii its prosperity before it was destroyed by the volcano – we still wonder of there was something sinister about that, but here at Baelo Claudio we continue to fish. It’s the one thing that keeps all in work. Garum, the fermented fish sauce that is so still highly prized by the Romans that emperor Claudius gave us his name, just as Caesar had given his name to Cesares along the coast.
We have a new town being built at Baelo Claudia, with a new paved forum, temples, marble statues and columns of the basilica, as well as the garum factories with their stone vats used for mixing the ingredients.
Sadly, the Romans lost the plot and their influence declined, and so did my town. My grandchildren left and by the second century it was empty and was nearly destroyed by an earthquake. This was the start – a few hundred years later, Baelo Claudia was totally abandoned.
Two millennium later, in the digital era, it is now famous for its beaches and the windsurfing, Some guidebooks do not event mention my home town. Yet, we still have the remains that follows the classic town planning model of Rome, with streets running from east to west, and north to south; you can still walk along to see the Basilica, the Theatre, the Thermal Baths, the Temple of Isis, the Aqueducts and the Salting Factories.
We have stood here ruined and neglected for years, despite being one of the most important Roman settlements in the area. Suddenly we are important again but how do you add a 21st cenury Visitor Centre to a Roman town? A Roman temple perhaps? The answer is keep is simple, robust and as well designed as our town was. It must not pretend to be something it isn’t, but it must be bold, modern and respect the ancient ruins, ideally built in the same materials. That’s why we now have a simple, stunning Visitor Centre overlooking the sea and the remains of my town. It has exhibitions and interactive displays to explain the history of my city; its development and its importance to the Romans, plus something of how my friends enjoyed life. Baelo Claudia’s economy was based on fishing, so the fish-salting factory – located in the lowest part of the town, right on the beach, for easy delivery of ingredients – was key to its success. With each audio-visual presentation, there are artefacts to complement, such as funerary urns and fishing equipment.
We are now having a new lease of life and the well-designed visitor centre is a crucial part of this. The one thing they haven’t quite got right is that they don’s sell garum in the shop. Perhaps this will come…..