• 2021.08.03
  • An Aqueduct, Suckling Pig, and Wine
The Roman Empire, the foundation of Western civilization, spanned not only Europe, but also the regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea from the Middle East to North Africa, and in its golden age ruled over a vast area of about 6.5 million square kilometers, about 1.5 times the total area of all current EU member countries. It is said that the total population of the Empire was about 60 million, and the total distance of the stone-paved roads reaching every corner of the Empire was 300,000 kilometers (equivalent to 50 round trips from Kagoshima to Wakkanai, Hokkaido). The emperor who governed the Empire during its peak period was Trajan, one of the Five Good Emperors and the first emperor born outside the Italian peninsula, in Italica in the outskirts of Seville in present-day Spain.

It is also said that the name of the Triana district in downtown Seville, where Carmen and Don Jose had their date at the fried-food restaurant I mentioned in my article "Andalusian Deep-Fried Foods" published on June 21, came from the Roman Emperor Trajan (Trajano), who was from that area.

This was a time when a prominent figure from this area flourished, so the Iberian Peninsula is now full of paved roads, amphitheaters, bridges, aqueducts, triumphal arches, city walls, and other World Heritage-standard monuments. The most popular of the World Heritage sites would be none other than the Roman Aqueduct of Segovia, located 80 km northwest of Madrid. Construction began at the beginning of the second century, near the end of the reign of the aforementioned Emperor Trajan and was carried on into the reign of the next Emperor, Hadrian. There is a theory that Hadrian was also born in Spain, and he is also counted among the Five Good Emperors.

The water supply was built to bring water down to the town from the foothills of the Guadarrama Mountains (Sierra de Guadarrama), about 16 km south of Segovia, using the difference in elevation of about 800 meters. Over the 14-km stretch before reaching Segovia, the water traveled through an underground water channel and several “water houses” for sedimentation separation, where debris and sediment were removed, then at 2 km before its destination, Segovia, it emerged at ground level and an aqueduct was built to take the water across the valley. The total number of granite blocks used was 20,400, and the water supply was about 20 to 30 liters per second.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 1 shows where the water first emerged, and the bridge starts. Then, as you can see in photos 2 and 3, as the slope of the ground gets steeper, the bridge gradually gets higher, or rather the ground gets lower, and is 28 meters high just before reaching Segovia.

Photo 4

Photo 5

Here are photos 4 and 5 showing daytime and nighttime views of the aqueduct from the hotel room where I stayed. If I may borrow Napoleon’s words on his expedition to Egypt, perhaps this was “a room looking down on 2,000 years of history.”

Photo 6

This is just one example, and as I mentioned previously, you can see traces of the regions ruled by the Roman Empire everywhere. Even in Madrid, described as a capital with no medieval period, you can still see stone-paved Roman roads (calzada romana) and the remains of Roman villas (Villa Romana) in Villaverde Bajo. Photo 6 shows Knowledge Capital’s Spain correspondent (me) interacting with a local donkey, and a Roman bridge in the background in Gimonde, a poor village in northern Portugal with a population of less than 400.

Following on from Salamanca in my article before the last one, Segovia is a World Heritage city only one stop out of Madrid, about the same distance as Shin-Osaka to Nishi-Akashi, a 20- to 25-minute ride on the Spanish bullet train, and the one-way fare is a reasonable 10 euros. It is one of the destinations I can definitely recommend that you visit once the pandemic is over and you come to Madrid.

Something else you mustn’t miss here is a local specialty dish, Cochinillo asado al estilo segoviano, in Spanish (Segovian style roast suckling pig). It is a bold yet delicate specialty where a piglet, called “suckling pig” in English, less than 3-month old and weighing about 4-5 kg, is butterflied, salted, laid out flat on a board, placed on an oval earthenware dish with water in it, then slowly roasted in a wood-fired oven at about 200 degrees Celsius for two hours with the open side up. It is then turned over and the upward-facing skin is brushed with extra virgin olive oil or lard, a little water is again added to the dish, and it is roasted for another hour. When Spaniards hear the word “Segovia,” the first things that come into their minds would probably be “aqueduct” and “suckling pig.” For Osaka, I guess it might be “castle” and “takoyaki” (“octopus balls”)?

To us Japanese, the sight of a fish with the head and tail on is quite natural and acceptable, but the sight of a whole roast piglet with the head on might prompt a strong reaction, so I recommend that only people who are interested watch this video. It is the recipe from a long-established restaurant in Segovia.Receta cochinillo asado Restaurante José María Segovia - YouTube
The finished suckling pig is cut into pieces with the edge of a ceramic plate, the idea being to show how tender the roast pig is. It ends with an obligatory performance: throwing the plate on the floor to break it and therefore emphasize to diners that it is not made of metal.
The American Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway was a great lover of all things Spanish and in the closing scene of his novel, The Sun Also Rises, the literary work with which he made his name, he depicts the main characters, a man and a woman, enjoying that whole roast suckling pig with three bottles of Rioja Alta red wine at Casa Botín* the world's oldest and best restaurant, which is still operating in Madrid. Being a bon vivant and a glutton, or in nicer terms, an epicurean and a gourmand, the scene is probably based on his own experiences.
“We lunched upstairs at Botin’s, it is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.”
The Sun Also Rises / Fiesta, Ernest Miller Hemingway, 1926

*The restaurant has been certified by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest restaurant that has been in business continuously for more than 300 years since opening in 1725 under the same name and without changing location.

According to news from Japan, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has declared its fourth state of emergency, and liquor in particular is being singled out. In Spain too, they imposed strong measures, ordering that restaurants close or shorten their hours, not requesting it, but a ban on alcohol was not considered at all.
But in Tokyo, the government has taken some very bold regulatory measures, such as cutting off financial support for restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages and asking financial institutions to inform on liquor business operators.

When it comes to liquor, Hemingway is at heart a heavy drinker, and in The Sun Also Rises there is this conversation in a bar:
“‘This is a good place,’ he said.
‘There’s a lot of liquor,’ I agreed.”
The Sun Also Rises / Fiesta, Ernest Miller Hemingway, 1926

If this were a bar in Tokyo now, it might be a bar that has submitted a Notification of Operation of a Restaurant Serving Liquor in the Late Night but doesn’t comply with the request for shortened hours or the advice to stop serving liquor and is open even after midnight and mainly serves alcohol.

And in Death in the Afternoon, a book in which Hemingway writes about Spain’s bullfighting, he virtually puts liquor on a par with world heritage:
“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world…”
Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Miller Hemingway, 1932


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

View a list of Susumu Yamada's

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