Roman Ruins of Tarragona

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August 2nd 2008
Published: December 31st 2008
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We arrived in Tarragona today, the ancient Roman city on the coast. We checked into our hostel which was quite fun. The downstairs is a (very smoky) bar and the lift to the rooms upstairs starts on the first floor so we had to squeeze up the first flight of narrow steps with our suitcases. Our room we discovered at the end of a long narrow corridor that was literally only wide enough for one person at a time - the only way to pass people coming in the other direction is to all flatten yourselves against the wall and walk along sideways. Still the room proved to be clean and comfortable with a small balcony overlooking the main square and giving a direct view to the town hall.
We soon set off for sightseeing and went first to the Roman Circus-Praetorium and bought a two day ticket that included pretty much every historical site we wanted to see. Pleased with our bargain we explored the circus ruins.
Tarragona was known as Tarraco to the Romans and was the capital of Hispania Citerior in the Republican era. The Provincial Forum was the meeting place for Hispania Citerior's dignitaries and also the seat of the province's law courts. The large central square was surrounded by porticoes and a building of several stories constructed with barrel vaults - the 'Praetorium' of today is the last surviving corner of the original building. During the Middle Ages it was a feudal castle and later a King's castle. It has been used as a barracks and a prison and most recently a tourist destination. It is also known locally as 'Pilate's Tower' as, according to 19th century tradition, Pontius Pilate lived there. The Circus is one of the best preserved thanks to the medieval and modern buildings built over it. However, it also means that much of the Circus has to be viewed by going in local shops and restaurants that are built over it!
We walked through the barrel tunnels and then climbed up to the roof of the Praetorium where we had fantastic views across the city.
The next place on our list was the Castellarnau House. We set of in search of it and found ourselves stumbling across roman remains throughout the city. My favourite sight had to be a random piece of Roman wall left standing just outside a small cafe - the terrace built around it and tables and chairs set up beside it. We reached Castellarnau House, showed our tickets and told the girl at reception where we were from. She seemed to find it amusing that we were a dual language pair of tourists, but very helpfully found us leaflets in English and Catalan and pointed us to the first room. The Castellarnau House is one of the noble residences in Cavallers Street and dates from at least the early 15th Century when it was the residence of lu Terre, a member of the city council. In 1542 major renovation works was carried out in order to transform the property and the neighbouring house into a temporary residence for Charles V during his stay in Tarragona. The house was eventually bought by Carles de Castellarnau in 1764 and turned into a mansion home for himself and his wife, Magrina. In 1954 the house became municipal property and in 1977 it was opened as a Romantic period museum.
Undoubtedly my favourite room in the house is the magnificent main room of the second floor which is covered with ceiling painting depicting scenes from classical mythology.
After the Castellarnau House we walked to a large public room beside the city walls which houses a model of the entire city as it was in Roman times. From there we followed the walkway around the city walls which is now only about a kilometre long. The walls originally enclosed a much larger area and the construction lasted from the late 3rd century BCE to the early 2nd century BCE. We walked past the 16th century Black Fort, exchanged greetings with the Statue of Augustus and went to the guardhouse to view the exhibition portraying the evolution of the Black Fort.
We exited the city walls walk by the main street and walked to the amphitheatre by the beach. The amphitheatre of tarraco was constructed beyond the city walls by the sea in approximately the late 1st century CE and early 2nd century CE. The stands were divided into social classes - the imma cavea, the media cavea and the summa cavea. On the western side the seats are carved out of rock, on the eastern side nearest the sea they are constructed on vaults of opus caementicium (Roman concrete) while the rest are built on large caissons filed with earth.
There were two large gates at the longitudinal ends and on the side nearest the sea there was a platform where the authorities would preside over the games. The podium had an inscription which was believed to be the longest in the empire, that commemorated the renovation ordered by the emperor Heliogabalus in 221 CE. The underground passageways now visable from above would originally have been covered by wooden platforms that would allow for the movement of scenery and props.
The amphitheatre was typically used for gladiatorial combats, wild animal hunts and executions. During a period of persecution the bishop of tarraco, Fructuosus, and his deacons, Augurius and Eulogius, were executed in the amphitheatre on 21st January 259. In the late antiquity the Tarraconense martyrs were highly venerated across Hispania and in the 6th century a basilica was built from re-used stone blocks from the amphitheatre to commemorate them.
The amphitheatre was the last thing we visited. We carefully marked our map in order to continue our tourist trail in the morning and then found a supermarket where we bought a feast to have in our hotel room - we even managed to find picnic plates and cups!

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2nd January 2009

what a wonderful blog ... informative ... thank you for taking the time to share ... signed up to receive your letter ... enjoy your adventure ... Peace to you and yours ... again, thanks.

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