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Tarragona is the first large seaside town south of Barcelona. The town also offers a number of historical sites including churches from several different periods and a well preserved Roman colosseum. The town itself has the usual Spanish assortment of plazas sprinkled with cafes and tapas bars. Tarragona is a good choice if you only have a day or two to get out of Barcelona, otherwise the beaches further south or the remoter seaside villages to the north of Barcelona offer a more unique experience.
The Roman ruins of Tarraco have been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Part of the bases of large Cyclopean walls near the Cuartel de Pilatos are thought to pre-date the Romans. The building just mentioned, a prison in the 19th century, is said to have been the palace of Augustus. The second century Tarragona Amphitheatre near the seashore was extensively used as a quarry after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and but few vestiges of it now remain. A circus c. 450 metres (1,480 ft) long, was built over in the area now called Plaça de la Font, though portions of it are still to be traced. Throughout the town Latin, and even apparently Phoenician, inscriptions on the stones of the houses mark the material used for buildings in the town.
Two ancient monuments, at some little distance from the town, have, however, fared rather better. The first of these is Les Ferreres Aqueduct, which spans a valley about 4 kilometres (2 miles) north of the city. It is 217 m (712 ft) in length, and the loftiest arches, of which there are two tiers, are 26 m (85 ft) high. There is a monument about 6 km (4 mi) along the coast road east of the city, commonly called the "Tower of the Scipios"; but there is no authority for assuming that they were buried here.
Other Roman buildings include:
- The Roman walls
- The capitol, or citadel
- The Amphitheatre
- The Roman circus
- The Pretorium - Tower
- The Provincial and Colonial fora
- The Necropolis
- The palace of Augustus, called the house of Pilate
- The so-called tower, or sepulchre, of the Scipios
- Arch of Sura, or of Bara
- The Aurelian Way.
The city is also home to the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona.
- The Tarragona Cathedral, dating to the 12th-13th centuries, combining Romanesque and Gothic architectural elements.
- The convent of the Poor Clares, near the walls
- The convent of Santa Teresa
- The church of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, the parish church of the port
- The former convent of Sant Francesc
- The Jesuit college was turned into barracks; their church, however, has been restored to them
- The convent of the Dominican Order, now the town hall
- The archiepiscopal palace, situated on the site of the ancient capitol, one tower of which still remains. It was rebuilt in the 19th century.
- Near the sea, in the Roman amphitheatre, are the remains of a church called Santa Maria del Miracle (Holy Mary of the Miracle), which belonged to the Knights Templar. It was afterwards used by the Trinitarian Order and was later converted into a penitentiary. It was demolished around 1915.
The seminary of Sant Pau and Santa Tecla was founded in 1570 by the cardinal archbishop, Gaspar Cervantes de Gaeta, and was the first to comply with the decrees of the Council of Trent. In 1858 Archbishop José Domingo Costa y Borrás built a fourth wing. Benito Villamitjana built a new seminary behind the cathedral in 1886, in the courtyard of which stands the old chapel of Sant Pau. Pope Leo XIII raised this to the rank of a pontifical university.
50 km (31.07 mi) north of the city is Poblet Monastery, founded in 1151 by Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, which was used for sepultures of the kings.
One Catalan legend holds that it was named for Tarraho, eldest son of Tubal in c. 2407 BC; another (derived from Strabo and Megasthenes) attributes the name to 'Tearcon the Ethiopian', a 7th-century BC pharaoh who supposedly campaigned in Spain. The real founding date of Tarragona is unknown.
The city may have begun as an Iberic town called Kesse or Kosse, named for the Iberic tribe of the region, the Cossetans, though the identification of Tarragona with Kesse is not certain. William Smith suggests that the city was probably founded by the Phoenicians, who called it Tarchon, which, according to Samuel Bochart, means a citadel. This name was probably derived from its situation on a high rock, between 75–90 m (250–300 ft) above the sea; whence we find it characterised as arce potens Tarraco. It was seated on the river Sulcis or Tulcis (modern Francolí), on a bay of the Mare Internum (Mediterranean), between the Pyrenees and the river Iberus (modern Ebro). Livy mentions a portus Tarraconis; and according to Eratosthenes it had a naval station or roads (Ναύσταθμον); but Artemidorus Ephesius says with more probability that it had none, and scarcely even an anchoring place; and Strabo himself calls it ἀλίμενος. This better reflects its present condition; for though a mole was constructed in the 15th century with the materials of the ancient amphitheatre, and another subsequently by an Irishman named John Smith Sinnot, it still affords but little protection for shipping.
During the Roman Republic, the city was fortified and much enlarged as a Roman colony by the brothers Publius Cornelius Scipio and Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus, who converted it into a fortress and arsenal against the Carthaginians. The city was first named Colonia Iulia Urbs Triumphalis Tarraco and was capital of the province of Hispania Citerior. Subsequently, it became the capital of the province named after it, Hispania Tarraconensis, in the Roman Empire and conventus iuridicus.
Augustus wintered at Tarraco after his Cantabrian campaign, and bestowed many marks of honour on the city, among which were its honorary titles of Colonia Victrix Togata and Colonia Julia Victrix Tarraconensis. Tarraco lies on the main road along the southeastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula.
According to Mela it was the richest town on that coast, and Strabo represents its population as equal to that of Carthago Nova (now Cartagena). Its fertile plain and sunny shores are celebrated by Martial and other poets; and its neighbourhood is described as producing good wine and flax. The city also minted coins.
An inscribed stone base for a now lost statue of Tiberius Claudius Candidus was found in Tarragona during the nineteenth century. The 24-line Latin inscription describes the Governor and Senator's career as an ally of the future Roman emperor Septimius Severus, who fought in the civil war following the assassination of Commodus in 192 AD. This important marble block was purchased by the British Museum in 1994.
From the demise of the Romans to the Union of Spain
After the demise of the Western Roman Empire, it was captured first by the Vandals and then by the Visigoths. The Visigothic Kingdom's rule of Tarracona was ended by the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in 714. It was an important border city of the Caliphate of Córdoba between 750 and 1013. After the demise of the Caliphate, it was part of the Taifa of Zaragoza between 1013 and 1110 and under the control of the Almoravid dynasty between 1110 and 1117. It was taken by the County of Barcelona in 1117. After the dynastic union of Aragon and Barcelona, it was part of the Kingdom of Aragon from 1164-1412. After dynastic union of Aragon and the Crown of Castile, it remained a part of Aragon until the foundation of the Spanish Empire in 1516.
During the Catalan Revolt, Tarragon was captured by Catalan insurgents with French support in 1641, but it was retaken by Spanish troops in 1644. It was captured by allied Portuguese, Dutch, and British troops in 1705 during the War of the Spanish Succession and remained in their hands until Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. During the war, the Catalans supported the unsuccessful claim of Archduke Charles, Duke of Teschen against the victorious Bourbon Duke of Anjou, became Philip V of Spain. He signed the Nueva Planta decrees, which abolished the Crown of Aragon and all remaining Catalan institutions and prohibited the administrative use of Catalan language on 16 January 1716.
During the Peninsular War, in the first siege of Tarragona from 5 May to 29 June 1811, Louis-Gabriel Suchet's Army of Aragon of the First French Empire laid siege to a Spanish garrison led by Lieutenant general Juan Senen de Contreras. A British naval squadron commanded by Admiral Edward Codrington harassed the French besiegers with cannon fire and transported large numbers of reinforcements into the city by sea. Nevertheless, Suchet's troops stormed into the defenses and killed or captured almost all the defenders. It became a subprefecture center in Bouches-de-l'Èbre department of French empire.
In the second siege of Tarragona (3–11 June 1813), an overwhelming Anglo-Spanish force under the command of Lieutenant general John Murray, 8th Baronet failed to wrest Tarragona from a small Franco-Italian garrison led by Brigadier general Antoine Marc Augustin Bertoletti. Murray was subsequently removed from command for his indecisive and contradictory leadership. The Anglo-Spanish forces finally captured Tarragona on 19 August.
Spanish Civil War
During the Spanish Civil War, Tarragona was in the hands of the Second Spanish Republic until captured by Franco's Nationalist troops on 15 January 1939 during the Catalonia Offensive.
The climate of Tarragona can be described as a Mediterranean climate (Köppen Csa) bordering on a humid subtropical climate (Cfa) with steppic (BS) influences, since August has more rainfall than winter months, which receive near or less than 30 mm (1.2 in). Winters are midly cool and summers are hot and sultry, while the rainiest seasons are autumn and spring.
Climate data for Tarragona
|Record high °C (°F)||20.8|
|Average high °C (°F)||12.4|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||10.0|
|Average low °C (°F)||7.5|
|Record low °C (°F)||−1.6|
|Source: Servei Meteorològic de Catalunya|
Transportation - Get In
Tarragona's main station, Tarragona, is on the main train line between Barcelona and Alicante, served by 'Euromed' and 'Alaris' trains, as well as regional trains. Talgo trains run as far as Montpellier in the north, and Lorca in the south. The 'Trenhotel' night train to Granada and the 'Estrella' night train to Madrid also call here. Note that it's best to buy train tickets a few days ahead during the high season to avoid getting stuck in one place. However, you always have the chance to take a stop-train, which is reasonable when coming from Barcelona, as it basically takes the same amount of time.
Tarragona is also close to the Camp de Tarragona AVE station, on the Madrid-Barcelona High Speed line. From Camp de Tarragona, high speed trains run to Zaragoza, Madrid, Sevilla, Malaga, Burgos, Vigo, Bilbao and San Sebastian, as well as the 'Trenhotel' night trains to Burgos, Vigo, A Coruña and Gijon. From the station, buses run regularly to Tarragona and to other towns in the Camp, and taxis are readily available.
Furthermore, Reus airport also serves the Tarragona region. Reus is mainly served by charter flights and Ryanair.
Transportation - Get Around
All of Tarragona's sites are within walking distance of the train station. Taxis and local trains can take you further.
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There are many interesting shops along the Rambla Nova and in the streets around it, as well as in the old part of the city. A lot of typical Catalan stuff can be bought there.
Tarragona has a number of small bars, restaurants, and cafes serving the usual selection of tapas, bocadillos (sandwiches), and local seafood dishes. The best area to browse for tapas and full meals is from The Plaça de la Font along the Carrer Major up to the Cathedral, with Carrer Nau and the Plaça del Rei and Plaça del Fòrum particularly worthwhile.
The Serrallo neighbourhood near the fishing harbour has some excellent fish and seafood restaurants, which are particularly popular for Sunday lunch. There is a market hall just off the Rambla Nova in the middle of town where the basics of a good picnic can be bought cheaply.
Coffe & Drink
The nicest place to spend and evening is in one of Tarragona's many plazas with a glass of beer and plate of tapas. At night if you want to have some drinks and dance you should go to "El Port" (the port), there are a lot of pubs and dance locals there.
Sights & Landmarks
- Tarraco UNESCO World Heritage Site complex of Roman ruins including colosseum.
- Universitat Rovira i Virgili
- The beaches are north of town. Avoid pollution from the town's larger shipping port (one of the biggest in Spain) by walking a ways up the beach. There is a nice walk following the shoreline, about 6-7 km long, where you will find the five main beaches and several smaller ones.
- Museum of Archeology
- Casc antic (old part of the city)
- The Roman amphitheatre, next to the sea, was built in the second century.
Things to do
There are not a lot of organized outdoor activities in Tarragona beyond strolling through the town, swimming at the beaches, and people watching in the plazas. One of the most beautiful parts of Tarragona is the old streets (Casc Antic), the ones near the cathedral, do not miss them.
There is a cultural agenda [www]
The Tarragona 'Ajuntament' ie Town Council publishes a fortnightly online 'what's on' guide called 'publics' which can be accessed via the ajuntament website.
Festivals and events
- Tarragona International Dixieland Festival. the week before Holy Week, end of March. he unique Dixieland festival in Spain and one of the most important in Europe: 25 bands and 100 concerts.
- Tarragona International Fireworks Displays Competition. first week of July. The most important fireworks contest in the Mediterranean area is held every first week of July in Tarragona, in a wonderful bay -Punta del Miracle-, a place praised by the famous architect Antoni Gaudí. The competition selects six international pyrotechnic companies every year.
- Santa Tecla Festival. between 15th and 23rd September. One of the most important Spanish traditional festival, between 15th and 23rd September. It has been celebrated since 1321 and it has been considered of national touristic interest by Spanish government. Human towers, historical parades and fireworks are some of the main activities.
- Tarragona Cultura Contemporania (TCC). October to April. Concerts, films in Original version, Theatre... L'associació cultural Anima't since 1994 produced a cultural program in Tarragona under the label of Tarragona Cultura Contemporània (TCC) together a program of music and films in original version of the October to April.
Be careful if you choose to visit the night clubs of the Puerto Deportivo alone, especially if you are a guy. Foreign visitors have been robbed there.