Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spanish Holiday - Tarragona

Friday morning, Tanya put me on the local bus to Tarragona so she could finish bailing out the Spanish economy and start packing. Tarragona is a port city of about 160,000, about 30 minutes NE of Salou by local bus.  Main industries are chemicals (BASF, Dow, etc) and tourism.   It may have been settled as long ago as 2400 years but became a winter camp for the Roman legions about 2200 years ago. Roman ruins are abundant as are medieval buildings still in use.

After getting a small tourist map I headed for the dead centre of town.  The Necropolis is a combination of Roman burials, followed by early Christian burials of the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  The early Christians adopted Roman burial rites and added Christian symbols.  Many of these burial rites are recognizable today.  About 1250 graves have been identified, often in two or more layers.

Roman sarcophagus

Paleo-Christian symbols
Much of the area has been filled in with sand to prevent continued weather degradation

Explanation of the Necropolis
As you can see from the picture on the left, people were often buried in Amphorae.  The question is how do you get the bodies into them? Dean Martin, you could just pour in.  With an enema and lipo-suction, I could be buried in an empty wine bottle but...

From here I walked clear across town to the Amphitheater.  It had a checkered past.   Romans used it for various gladiatorial games and public executions including the burning of three Christian martyrs in 259 AD.  Seating capacity was 12500 people. The Visigoths drove the Romans out in the 5th century and in the 6th century built a basilica at the one end where the martyrs had been executed.  The Moors took over from the Visigoths in the 8th century and basilicas were no longer in vogue. Another church was built on the site in the 12th century. In the 16th century it was a convent.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, a prison was build on the site.  It was abandoned and torn down to reconstruct the original so much as possible.

Scale model

Remains of basilica at one end of the amphitheater
the other end of the amphitheater 
The main entrance
Remains of the Via Augustus Roman road 

Roman Interstate 5 meters wide
 I so wanted to tell someone that the Romans abandoned the amphitheater because it was simply a poor investment - the lions ate all the prophets (the joke only works orally).  However...

Next was the archaeological museum.  Everything was well labelled in Catalan, Spanish and French, the three main languages of the area. Just outside the museum were the ruins of the residence of the Roman Praetor, governor of that part of Spain.

Praetorian residence 

Praetorian residence

Christian tombstone

Roman architecture

Large storage vessels

Amphorae for wine or oil

Roman floor mosaic of all fish found in the sea around Tarragona

In 1811 Napoleon invaded Spain (The Peninsular War).  Tarragona was besieged for several months and when it fell to the French troops, it was not pretty.  
Remembering the French siege of Tarragona in 1811
There was so much more to see but I ran out of time and energy.


  1. Living in a town that was established in the early 1800's makes me realize that here in the US we really don't have a cultural heritage.
    the Ol'Buzzard

    1. Your town was still older than most of ours which were established in the early 1900s. Cultural heritage had to come with the founders from where ever they came, I guess. First time I saw cannons in the Moscow Kremlin which had been abandoned by Napoleon, it hit me that "this stuff is real".

  2. Very interesting Al. Your travels are so varied and different from many who read your blog I presume. I have no knowledgable historical quip or question. But I do have an eating question. What's the relationship between Tarragona and the herb tarragon?

    1. Wondered the same myself, Barb. The city started out as Tarraco under the Romans, though it existed a few hundred years before under the Iberians. Tarragon, the herb according to Wiki grows wild in the northern hemisphere in many places. There may be a relationship or maybe just a coincidence.

  3. Fascinating history and pictures! And your line "With an enema and lipo-suction, I could be buried in an empty wine bottle" gave me my belly-laugh for the day! ("The lions ate the prophets" - gah! Still laughing!)

    1. Thank you. Thank you. Sometimes it is impossible to be all the time.


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