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Nowadays we use the GPS in our cell phones, apps that give us the better route and take us to our destination. Not long ago there used to be guides and maps and we kept them inside the glove compartment of our cars. But, what was used before that and before before that? How did a Roman citizen travel such a vast Empire without taking the wrong turn? How could the travel be planned in advance?

We find some truth in what we know as the Vicarello Cups. They received the name of the place where they were found, at the riverbanks of Sabatini (or Bracciano) lake, North from Rome (Vicarello), in the ruins of medicinal baths known as Aquae Apolinares (they are also known as Apollinares Cups). These waters blessed by Apollo were back then considered a holy source to cure illness and people would travel from all parts of the Empire just to drink from this fountain; nowadays we found similar cases of holy fountains in the waters of Lourdes or Fatima. 

The discovery happened by mere chance in January of 1852 while restoring the old hot water tank. During the works some interesting objects of great archaeological interest were found; archaeologists were particularly drawn to a few gold and silver cups.

The original idea must have come from a certain businessman who thought it useful to engrave a cup with the entire route, almost journey by journey, from Gades (Cádiz) to Rome, thus, creating one of the first road guides in History. The true genius idea was engraving it in  a cup for it was an item of utter need and use when traveling.

The itinerary, stop by stop, depicted in the Vicarello Cups. The gray and green areas represent Spanish towns. 

These four cups are nowadays kept safe in Rome, at the National Roman Museum. Another interesting feature of the Vicarello Cups is that they also tell the distances of the roads. Hence, their cylindrical walls are engraved with the name and distances (in Roman numbers) of the journey, from Gades to Rome through the Via Augusta, the Via Domitia, the Via Julia and the Via Aurelia. A journey that would have taken us to Córdoba (Corduba), Lezuza (Libisosa), Játiva (Saetabi), Valencia (Valentia), Tarragona (Tarracone), Gerona (Gerunda) and then crossing the Pyrenees through La Junquera (Iuncaria) and entering Gaul and finally Italy with a total of 1.841 Roman miles (1.480 kilometers). The four cups vary very little one from the other, they all had the same itinerary.

The itinerary through Andalucía started in Cádiz, followed by Ad Portus (Puerto de Santa María), Asta Regia (Mesas de Asta), Ugia (Utrera), Orippo (Dos Hermanas), Hispalis (Sevilla), Carmo (Carmona), Obucla u Obúlcula (La Monclova), Astigi (Écija), Adaras (La Carlota), Corduba (Córdoba), Obulco (Porcuna), Iliturgi (Mengíbar), Isturgi (Andújar) where the Baetis river was crossed (Guadalquivir river) and one reached  Castulo (Linares) to carry on the journey into the rest of country (then Roman provinces).

NOTE: the National Archaeological Museum (MAN) exhibits perfect replicas of the Vicarello Cups, made in 1952 symbolizing the importance that this cups have for Spain.


 

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