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Europe » Spain » Catalonia » Tarragona
August 3rd 2008
Published: January 2nd 2009
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We began our second sightseeing trip with a visit to the beautiful cathedral. The Cathedral’s construction began in the 12th century, when the old Romanesque Cathedral was begun. The five original naves were reduced to three during the Gothic redesign while in the 14th century the central sculptures of the facade, depicting the apostles and the madonna, were added. The statues were all completed in Jaume Cascalls’ studio in 1375. Outside the cathedral was a second hand sale - many of the locals had spread blankets on the ground and were selling everything from beautiful antiques to genuine junk. We continued our walk through the 14th century gothic arches near the cathedral to the old 12th-14th century hospital which is now the county council building. We headed back towards our hostel, past the city hall and down las Ramblas to the city forum. We sat on a bench in the shade before entering the forum, which proved to be quite a suntrap. I found the forum to be a very peaceful place - the ruins standing in silent defiance of the modern flats and roads surrounding it. From the end of the 3rd century BCE and throughtout the 2nd century Tarraco was a federated Roman city as well as being a very important winter camp for the legions. Under Julius Caesar it became the Colonia lulia Urbs Triumphalis Tarraco and at this time the construction of the political and administrative structures needed for a Roman colony began. The main building of the local forum, the judicial basilica, was built in the time of Augustus or Tiberius and remains very well preserved. Some of the columns that would have seperated the main nave from the side naves still stands and there are many small rooms that would probably have been the offices of the judicial administration.
We walked across the small bridge over Soler Street and explored the ruins of what is possibly a second basilica, the remains of the colony's main temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, and a section of Roman housing set along a paved street.
Although the Romans have long since left Tarraco the forum appears to still be an important gathering place... for the local cats. We couldn't believe how many cats we saw. They were all over the forum, sunbathing on the old stone walls, resting under bushes, playing in the foundations of ruined houses. I suppose it is simply a quiet, safe place away from the roads and busy streets, and if they live in the surrounding flats maybe they've reached a truce and named the forum shared territory!
We returned to our hostel as the sun got too hot and then went to find lunch in a nearby cafe... which also had air conditioning so we took our time eating our sandwiches.
Eventually we picked up our sightseeing tour with a stroll along Las Ramblas, which is nowhere near as big or busy as the one in Barcelona which as far as I am concerned is a nice change! We saw a statue depicting a 'castell' or human tower. The Catalan tradition of human towers, known as ‘castells,’ - the Catalan word for castles - dates back to the end of the 18th century in Valls, Tarragona province, and is now an integral part of Catalan culture. They are believed to have originated from human towers which were built by dance groups at the end of 17th and 18th century.
The intricate process of constructing the towers is carried out by the ‘castellers,’ who belong to groups known as ‘colles.’ The teams train to compete against other colles at the local festival, where precise techniques are used to build the highest and most complex castle. The motto of the castellers is strength, balance, courage and reason (although I'm not sure I can see the reason for building towers of people... it all looks a bit dangerous to me). There are three main parts to a castell: first, is the ´pinya,’ or base of the tower, which forms the bulk of the structure, taking most of the weight and acting as a shock absorber for anyone who may fall. Each casteller in all parts of the castell has his own specific function, and a name for his position. Then comes the tronc, or the trunk, which can be made up of a number of levels, with a certain number of people on each storey, depending on the type of castle being built. The last section is the top three levels known as the ‘pom de dalt,’ and at the very tip, the ‘anxaneta,’ the young child who climbs the tower and salutes the public from the top. Each part of the process is accompanied by its own particular music to mark the stage of construction. The statue shows a complete tower, including the surrounding musicians.
We walked to the end of Las Ramblas to the promenade where we had a lovely view of the beach. From there we walked on to Canals House which was built in around the 18th century on the site of a much older property. The house is built in the typical style for noble houses of the period, with an entrance for carriages and a second main entrance with a courtyard and staircase leading to the main floor where the family would live and an upper floor for the domestic staff.
The Canals were a noble family, originally from Reus, who are first mentioned as the owners of the house in 1802 when renovation work was carried out on the property and other houses in the street in order to accomodate King Charles IV, and his wife Maria Luisa with their entourage, when they came for the inauguration of the port of Tarragona. In 1852 Joaquim Canals married Maria Antonia de Castellarnau and most of the furniture now displayed in the house dates from this period. We explored the rockery garden, which unusually was built on the main floor rather than at street level, and viewed the art exhibitions in the second floor rooms.
The Canals family lived within the house until the late 20th century. the property was bought by the Catalan Autonomous Government in 1992 and ceded to the Tarragona City Council who opened it to the public in 2006.
After visiting the house we decided we had enough time to visit the Roman museum. We paid for our tickets as unfortunately it wasn't part of our overall sightseeing ticket and explored the exhibits. The Tarragona Archaeological Museum was founded in the first half of the 19th century although some of the exhibits which make up the present day museum were discovered as early as the 16th century, making it the oldest in Catalonia witin its speciality. Virtually all the exhibits come from in and around Tarraco and has an extensive collection of statues, mosaics and murals. We also visited AudioVisual room which was really cool.
After the museum we walked along to the Necropolis, which though included in our ticket was unfortunately closed. We walked through a park, which after the beautiful parks in Barcelona was something of a let-down, being nothing more than a few palm trees and a small childrens play park in a large area of dehydrated grass. We wandered around a nearby shopping centre which apparently had Roman ruins in the middle of it but the access to the ruins was blocked and all the shops were shut. We continued our walk back towards the sea and explored the port before walking back up to the promenade and finally back to the hostel.
We ended our time in Tarragona by getting our evening meal at a Chinese restaurant and then wandering along the promenade under the stars.

It's hard to believe my entire trip to Spain is over, especially now my course is finished and I'm really beginning to enjoy seeing more of the country. Tomorrow I'll be heading for home, but I will definitely be back one day... hopefully not in the too distant furture!!


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2nd January 2009

Cat and history
Well what can I say. A good mixture of history with a collection of cats just makes it a perfect day.

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