On Spain’s magnificent Costa Brava, in the province of Girona, an invisible time portal beckons you to enter and explore the region’s distant past. The Empuries Archeological Site presents the remains of the Ancient Greek city of Emporium and the Roman city of Emporiae, which for a time existed peacefully side-by-side. This was the gateway through which the Greek and Roman empires introduced their culture to the Iberian Peninsula.
Empuries is located approximately 40 minutes from Girona and approximately 2 hours from Barcelona by car. A bus or train will also get you there, making it an ideal day trip. If you stay in either city, you can book a guided bus tour, but this will limit your time at Empuries and allow you less flexibility.
You don’t have to be a lover of history or archeology to be drawn in by the ancient siren song of Empuries. All you need is a healthy dose of curiosity and these nine reasons.
Disclaimer: Our visit to Empuries was hosted by Patronat de Turisme Costa Brava, Girona. All opinions are entirely my own.
1. A One-Of-A-Kind Experience
Overlooking a postcard-worthy stretch of Mediterranean beach on the Gulf of Roses lies Empuries. This archeological site is the only one of its kind in the region where both Greek and Roman settlements can be explored and compared side-by-side.
Allow 90 minutes to 2 hours — longer if you like — to wander through the two sets of ruins and the small museum. A map of the site, as well as audio guides in an impressive number of languages, is included in the 6-euro admission fee.
2. The Greek City
Greek traders came ashore on the Iberian Peninsula in the sixth century B.C. and founded a commercial settlement.
Looking at the remains of the town’s defensive walls, it seems remarkable that they symbolized the town’s security as far back as the first century B.C.
Among the remnants of the civilization that once thrived there, you will recognize a temple, the public square and market, and a second-century B.C. drainage system.
Walk down to the beach to see the remains of the ancient port jetty. Then fast-forward over 2,000 years, and picture the arrival of the Olympic flame on Spanish soil on its way to Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympics.
3. The Roman City
The larger and more heavily excavated of the two sections of Empuries is the Roman city, which dates from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D.
The town has a typical Roman look and feel to it: rectangular in shape, laid out in a grid, and walled. You will find Roman baths, the amphitheater, the forum, and some of the city’s shops. It’s easy to imagine this city teeming with life and activity: chariots rolling down the streets, citizens going about their daily lives, and Roman soldiers everywhere.
4. Stunning Mosaics
In the Roman section of Empuries stands what once was the home of a wealthy citizen. The large 2,000-year-old house is remarkable in its own right, but the mosaics take center stage.
In this and other Roman houses, mosaic treasures have been painstakingly excavated and restored. Geometric designs, as well as depictions of nature and mythological scenes, can be admired onsite and in the museum.
5. Archeology Museum Of Catalonia At Empuries
The Archeology Museum of Catalonia at Empuries, located between the two city sites, houses exhibits that offer a glimpse of life in the ancient Greek and Roman cities. You can view artifacts uncovered during the excavations, as well as videos telling the story of life in Empuries in an informative and entertaining style.
The museum contains a fascinating selection of ancient objects to stir the imagination: coins, household items, utensils, jewelry, children’s toys, mosaics, and paintings. The exhibits add additional form and dimension to the story told by the ruins outside.
Access to the museum for people with reduced mobility is currently limited.
6. Empuries Is Family And Dog Friendly
A visit to Empuries is an ideal multi-generational family outing. Children will be fascinated by the exhibits in the museum, the ruins, and the story behind them. However, they need to understand that climbing on the ancient structures is a definite no-no for safety and site preservation.
The 6-euro admission charge is a bargain, but there are reduced rates for seniors, teachers, and other groups. Also, children under 16 and people with disabilities, along with their companions, are admitted free, making Empuries affordable for families.
Paved walkways make navigating the ruins easy, and well-placed signage in English and Spanish describes how each structure was used.
Some parts of the Roman city are not accessible for people in wheelchairs or who have difficulty walking. Some of the terrain is uneven and involves stairs. A clearly marked designated route is available for visitors in wheelchairs or with reduced mobility.
There is no onsite parking, but nearby facilities are affordable and sometimes — depending on the time of year — free. Onsite parking is available for people with reduced mobility at the Visitor Reception Center.
Dogs are welcome at the archeological site as long as they are on a leash. However, you can’t bring Fido — unless he is a service dog — into the museum.
7. Empuries Is A Living Archeological Site
By the third century A.D., Empuries had been completely abandoned. Over time, all traces of the once-great cities slowly surrendered to the sand.
In 1908, archeologists discovered the ruins at Empuries and began to unearth its long-hidden treasures. To date, 25 percent of the site has been uncovered.
Excavations and research are ongoing. Each time you return, you will see the most recent discoveries. Many enthusiasts from Spain and other European countries make an annual visit to Empuries to see the newest archeological finds.
If the weather is fine, make sure to bring along your swimwear and a towel. Then go for a walk. You will find quiet, natural beaches and coves where you can indulge yourself in the soft, warm sands and sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean. Consider doing some snorkeling near the ancient jetty.
Getting a little too hot? Take some off-the-beach time to cool off and picnic in the pine forest that lies between the medieval town of Sant Martí de Empuries and the jetty. You can relax while the kids play in the park.
9. The Village Of Sant Marti D’Empuries
The ruins of the original sixth-century B.C. Greek settlement lie under the village of Sant Marti d’Empuries. This 10th-century village makes a perfect ending to a day of time travel and beaching.
The village center has been tastefully restored, and the late gothic church is also worth a visit for one final history fix.
In Sant Marti d’Empuries, you’ll find a variety of restaurants serving traditional Catalonian specialties as well as some innovative dishes making the most of the area’s glorious bounty.
Spring and fall are ideal seasons to visit Empuries. You’ll miss the summer heat and crowds, as well as the unpredictable winter weather. Also, no matter what time of year you visit, there is no shade to be found among the ruins, so be sure to bring a hat and copious amounts of sunscreen.