The Pillars of Hercules are two famous landmarks with a long and complicated relationship to the ancient world – and to Rome in particular. Although the two pillars don’t even exist anymore, they’re at the centre of a long-standing mystery that continues to fascinate the public.
The two medieval stone monuments situated on the edge of the Strait of Gibraltar are one of the few surviving ancient world monuments. The pillars were built by the Phoenicians and engraved with their trading symbol of ‘the two hands’. Today, they are also associated with the legendary Greek Titan Heracles, known for his strength, who was said to have defended the strait with his two great stone pillars.
The pillars were first constructed in 1296 BC and quickly became the most important trading route between the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The Romans, who eventually conquered much of the Mediterranean, thought of the pillars as the gateway to the known world and called them the Pillars of Hercules.
The historical sources are sparse. However, they often allude to the Pillars of Hercules being located in the former Roman province of Lusitania. The full extent of ancient Roman territory today encompasses central and southern Portugal, almost all of Spain and parts of Morocco. Indeed, many Roman coins have been unearthed in Lusitania which bear the image of the pillars.
The enduring mystery of where exactly the Pillars of Hercules stand has been further complicated by the lack of archaeological evidence. Many historians and archaeologists now believe the pillars were part of an ancient Roman temple complex. However, these assertions are all based on circumstantial evidence and much of this evidence is based on speculation.
The location of the Pillars of Hercules remains controversial, with some arguing they stand in Lusitania and some believing they are in Morocco. Although scholars still dispute the exact location, both sides agree that the pillars were of great importance to the Roman Empire. They opened up far-reaching trade routes that allowed the empire to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the ancient world.
The Pillars of Hercules are a symbol of Rome’s global power and its lasting legacy, and it’s easy to see why the mystery of their location still captivates explorers and historians today.
The Pillars of Hercules are a paradoxical mystery – as incredibly important to the ancient world as they are lost in our modern one. This ‘gateway to the world’ for the people of the ancient Roman Empire was a symbol of their triumph over the then-unknown Atlantic Ocean. The Pillars of Hercules were thus considered to mark the boundaries of the world of the known and the yet-to-be-comprehended. The fame of the pillars and their mythical strength meant they were often referenced in classical literature, novels and poems.
Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the pillars continued to be an invaluable port of passage between the Mediterranean and Atlantic, as well as a strategic visual landmark. However, they are now mainly regarded as a breathtaking historical legacy.
The stoic elegance of the Pillars of Hercules is a symbol of the grandeur of the Roman Empire and its ambition for global domination. The pillars’ powerful presence in the Mediterranean area, even in their ruined state, invokes an undeniable aura of admiration – admiration that continues to spark the curiosity of archaeologists and historians alike.
The debate over the true location of the Pillars of Hercules is as strong today as it was when scholars first started to indicate the whereabouts over 2000 years ago. Some maintain that the pillars exist in Lusitania and others cite Morocco as their true location, a result of the subsequent merging of the roman and Moorish cultures. Others believe the pillars are a myth, an interpretation of ancient tales with no real origin.
In any case, the discrepancy has caused antagonism between the two nations, both of which are convinced they are the rightful home of the Pillars of Hercules. For this reason, each has strived to promote their claim, undertaking publicity campaigns to draw attention to their version of the truth, as well as lobbying governments to further their cause.
The controversy certainly spices up the notion of the Pillars of Hercules being an enigmatic relic of the ancient world, spurring the imaginations of travellers, historians and archaeologists all the more when considering the unsolved mystery of where the pillars are.
The search for the exact location of the Pillars of Hercules has been complemented by several preservation projects focused on the monuments themselves. In 1889, the Spanish government started a project to rescue the columns from total dilapidation. The construction of a large barrier, followed by a several-year-long restoration, stopped any further degradation and returned the columns to their fragmentary glory.
Today, a series of archaeological excavations and conservation efforts by groups such as the Pillars of Hercules Heritage Initiative are attempting to unearth the truth behind the two magnificent pillars. Unfortunately, however, the conservation to date has mainly focused on maintaining the pillars in their current state and there has been very limited progress in terms of uncovering the hidden vignettes of history.
While the current conservationists have limited success in uncovering the actual origin of the pillars, they have been successful in preventing any further deterioration, in order to protect the mysterious legacy and beauty of the monuments.
Although the exact location of the Pillars of Hercules is debatable and the source material about them is sparse, the monument and its history have captivated experts and the public alike for the past several centuries. The monument and its location remain an enduring and intriguing mystery, a puzzle that may never be solved due to its enigmatic past. Nevertheless, it is a symbol of both Rome’s history and the power of the Mediterranean Sea, and its preservation efforts support its continued prestige.