With many of Spain's ancient cities built by Romans and Muslims, the ruins impress even today as a testament to their ingenuity. Each city tells a story of struggle, hope and resilience as the population has weathered many upheavals in its history.
Whilst on a camping holiday in Spain, venture into one of these incredible cities and explore some of the most impressive sights you're likely to see. Spain is very tourist heavy, so be sure to time your visit well and observe local laws to help preserve these remarkable living histories.
Founded in the 2nd century BC, Itálica is located in the modern-day town of Sanitponce, approximately 8.5 miles north of Seville. Birthplace of two Roman emperors; Trajan, who was instrumental in developing the town's infrastructure, and Hadrian, whose achievements can be found further afield, most notably in Britain.
The ruins of Itálica are exceptionally well preserved, and you can see intricate mosaics and frescoes, which you will find across many homes and public areas. These mosaics depict nature as well as myths and legends.
One of the essential attractions to see in Itálica is the amphitheatre that could seat 15,000 people - a remarkable feat of engineering for the time. Embark on a guided tour of the ruins and hear stories of the gladiatorial fighting that firmly put Italica on the map.
Make your way to Malaga and seek out the ancient Moorish (meaning characteristic of Muslim civilisation) fortress of Alcazaba. Built on a hill in the centre of the city in the 11th century, the fortification was designed to protect the city from invasion.
Considered one of the finest examples of fortified defences, it is divided into three main areas: lower fortress, middle fortress and the palace. It includes numerous patios and gardens in the middle, making it feel less like a form of defence.
With three UNESCOWorld Heritage sites and a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event held in May, Córdoba has more World Heritage sites than anywhere else in the world, all contained within just 10 kilometres - impressive!
It also has some of the highest recorded temperatures in Europe, with average temperatures as high as 37 degrees Celcius (and an all-time high of 47 degrees Celcius!), so if you're going in the height of summer, be sure to carry a lot of water with you.
Córdoba World Heritage Sites
Great Mosque of Córdoba
An absolute must-visit for any history buff, the Mezquita is a stunning example of the Muslim legacy in Spain. The two structures combine an 8th-century mosque and a 16th-century Cathedral to form a spectacular architectural monument. Highly recommended is the immersive audio-visual guided night tour, The Soul of Córdoba. Limited to a maximum of 100 people, you can enjoy a show that explains the history and religious importance of the site while there is hardly anyone around.
Historic Centre of Córdoba
The winding streets, jasmine and orange-filled courtyards, the Jewish quarter, all of these and more showcase this ancient city's rich and diverse history. Food and art go hand-in-hand in this area: share tapas whilst watching a flamenco show in a tablao, sample local wines and hear stories of ancient civilisations.
This remarkable historic site, known as the Shining City, was a Caliphate palace city built in the 10th century. A victim of a civil war, its short history of just 70 years meant it lay forgotten for almost 1,000 years until the early 20th century. Excavations have since shown the footprint of this city, which has a complex urban infrastructure and gives us an insight into ancient life. Even though by historical standards, this is a large city, only 10% of the site has been excavated, so there is no doubt there is much more to be uncovered.
Festival of the Courtyards in Córdoba
Every May, the city's patios are filled with colour, sound and scent as residents decorate patios with flowers whilst flamenco dancers show off their dance routines. Tapas and wines are abundant here, with friendly hosts keen to share their produce.
Known as the City of Three Cultures due to its heritage of Jewish, Christian and Muslim influences, Toledo sits south of Madrid on a hill overlooking the Tagus River. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1986, Toledo is made up of multiple historical sites, including a cathedral, Alcazar Zocodover and the Palacio de Galiana, which has a botanical garden.
One of Toledo's most important historical aspects is its role in sword-making. This region's output got Rome's attention, and soon Toledo was producing swords and other weapons for Roman legions.
There are a lot of places to visit in Toledo, and below are just a few. Due to its history and the significant role it has played across the centuries, Toledo is a must-visit for any history enthusiast. Food lovers will also be amply catered for, with a wide variety of restaurants available almost at every winding turn the streets take.
Much has been written about Catalonia and its myriad attractions. Perhaps one of the world’s A-list destinations, it boasts such gems as the Park Güell, the Sagrada Familia and the Dali Theatre-Museum, not to mention Valencia’s incredible Science Museum and dozens of theme parks, castles, vibrant cities and galleries.
As of 2021, there are 43 UNESCO sites in Spain, four of which are located in the Canary Islands, one in Ibiza and one in Mallorca (we've only included mainland sites). Spain joined the 8th Session in 1984 and inscribed five sites; Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Córdoba, The Alhambra and the Generalife, Granada, Burgos Cathedral, Monastery and Site of the Escorial, Madrid and Park Güell, Palau Güell and Casa Milà, Barcelona.