Dream Alcalá1st centuryArchaeological Site of Complutum, the Roman Alcalá

Archaeological Site of Complutum, the Roman Alcalá

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Complutum, the only Roman city within the Community of Madrid, holds the best Roman wall painting of all Spain.

Back to primary Iberian settlements two thousand years ago, Romans founded the old city of Complutum or Compluto, west part of current Alcalá, explaining why Alcalá’s inhabitants are named after Complutensians.

The great site of Complutum archaeological remains is founded next to the current neighborhood named Catholic Monarchs and to the old road—from Madrid to Barcelona—passing through the city. Several areas, where information of what Roman Alcalá’s constructions can be found, are able to be visited.

The city’s design can be appreciated during your visit. It is compound by its streets—decumanus and cardos—, and the forum area. Also the market and the curia—within the administrative core of the city—, as well as other excavations in progress such as Casa de los Grifos—developing rapidly—, or Casa de Hippolytus—holding a great amount of discoveries in its inside—are worthy to visit.

Six Roman Centuries

Complutum was founded during the twenties of first century A.D., having a second period of expansion and splendor during third century, and existed until sixth century or even seventh, until the Roman Epire fall. Then, the city was moved to the surroundings of Campo Laudable, where the Magisterial Cathedral is located today; place in which Saint Children, Justo and Pastor—patrons of Alcalá—were martyred.

Before the emplacement we know today was settled, Complutum was placed into San Juan de Viso hill. Afterwards, it was moved to a flat area, riverside of Henares River, looking for richer lands. Besides, the new location meet with the intersection of the two most important Roman roads communicating Emerita Augusta and Cesaraugusta (current Mérida and Zaragoza) with Toledo. Such an exceptional position allowed Complutum to develop itself and to increase its economic prosperity. All these reasons motivated Emperor Vespasian to confer the municipality the title of privileged city in the year 74 A.D.

40.000 Complutum in America

One of the charms of Complutum is given by the grid of its design. Thanks to the orders of Philip II, you can observe how 40,000 cities urban planning—former Spanish colonies in America—have their origin in Alcalá’s one. The design is similar to a checkerboard—just like the famous crossword board game—, with square-shape blocks, all of them equally measured. Placing the central square in the middle of the intersection between two main roads of the city, one of them from east to west—called decumanu byRomans—, and the other coming from north to south—so-called cardo. A similar planning is also adopted by thousands of cities founded in Brazil by Portuguese.

Excavations of Complutum started at 1985, at the same time the law on National Heritage was approved, impelling the investigation and cataloging of the remains of the rich Spanish past. Although Complutum was partially destroyed when buildings adjoining the site were constructed; thanks to prospections—with the aid of aerial photographs and additional techniques—, the total perimeter of the city has been delimited and the urban planning has been successfully documented. Five decumanus and one cardo have been preserved, as well as all buildings whose remains have been found.

Taverns and Offices

Excavated remains show the main buildings of the city, whose impressive size and historical significance are instantly transmitted to visitors who observe them. . There were so many details in columns, walls, mosaics, that archeologists have been able to provide a complete description of both constructions and its daily uses.

As in every Roman city, the center of daily life of Complutum was its forum, where main public buildings were located and whose surroundings hosted inhabitants’ social, economic and political life. The monumental whole of Complutum forum was compounded by a basilica, a curia, some public baths, a temple and a market—with numerous establishments of retail trade where all kind of items, including wines, were sold. There were taverns—antecessors of today’s bars—and offices or trade workshops, where their products were also sold.

The Forum Was Not Outside

The name of forum has its origin in Latin, meaning outside, as in the first Roman cities it was preferred to place them away from the center with the only aim of holding the market. However, afterwards, it was moved to the core of the city, to the intersection of two main axes of the city, preserving though its name.

The basilica was maybe the most characteristic building of Roman forums. Seat of the Court of Justice, it was very relevant within Roman daily life, and within it, business agreements were negotiated. Adjoined to the basilica, foundations and remains of the curia can be observed, previously holding the so-called Termas Norte. The curia—where Senate or the government of the city of Complutum were gathered—was decorated with a monumental façade, some fragments of which have been found today.

Old Roman basilicas, contrary to what it may seem today, were not religious buildings, but the seat of the Court of Justice. Later, Christians took advantage from the basilica-shape and, in many cases, Roman buildings themselves; to hold their own places of worship.

Public baths were also a very valuable place to Roman culture, so they were not only intended for personal hygiene but also for citizens’ social and leisure meetings. Different time slots were scheduled for men and women. That is the reason why during third century A.D., next to the new market, Termas Sur substituted the old and disappeared Termas Norte.

Within the remains preserved today, you may observe the rubbles of heating systems, with pipes of hot air coming from big ovens and heating the floor and stays, such as hot-water pool for public baths and different meeting stays of certain importance.

Houses or Domus

The touristic whole of Complutum holds valuable rests from several houses, some of them of considerable size, such as Casa de Hippolytus—with its own visits timetable— and Casa de los Grifos—in which works continue under an iron dome of 100 tons which protects it. You can also visit houses of Bacchus, Cupid or Leda. Wonderful mosaics have been found in all of them, some of which are still in the very same Complutum while others are found into the Regional Archaeological Museum, into Plaza de las Bernardas.

Additional Information:


Useful information:

  • Address: Camino del Juncal, 20
  • Telephone: +34 91 881 32 50


Access from Madrid

  • Renfe Cercanías railroads C-2 and C7A. Garena Station
  • Bus nº 223 (departure from Avenida de América Interchanger). Liade Stop


Opening hours

Summer (May to Sept.):

  • Tue-Fri: from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Monday closed)
  • Sat and Sun: From 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.


Winter (Oct to Apr.):

  • Tue-Fri: from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Monday closed)
  • Sat and Sun: From 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • Closed: Dec: 24, 25 and 31. Jan: 1 and 7
  • Ticket price: 1 €



Access from Madrid

  • Renfe Cercanías railroads C-1, C-2 and C7A.
  • Bus nº 223 (departure from Avenida de América Interchanger).


Image gallery:

[gdl_gallery title=”ciudad-de-complutum” width=”125″ height=”94″]

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