I am in love with the Roman civilization; their history, their customs, their undeniable legacy, but, most importantly, their most tangible heritage: the Roman architecture.
But why am I talking about the Romans if the title says that this post is about a city in Spain?
Well, you will not believe the extremely rich Roman influence present in the streets of Tarragona! This Catalan city was once a Roman colony named Tarraco and there is so much history and so many archeological sites in the city that it has been recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.
This being said, if you come to Spain and you have no time or money to visit Rome but you really really love Romans as much as I do, you have to visit Tarragona. I promise you that you will have a blast!!!
On the other hand, this is not the only thing to do and enjoy in Tarragona; the city has much more to offer. It is an hour from Barcelona by train or car, and only a few minutes away from Reus Airport (10 km), and was once the capital of the Roman Empire here in Spain.
Let me guide you through the most important things you should see…
Balcó del Mediterrani
I have chosen the Balcony of the Mediterranean to be the first thing you should see but really it isn’t. Since we didn’t plan anything beforehand, we didn’t know what we were going to find in this city, and we were simply letting ourselves go, everything surprised us (for good).
The very first thing we did was walk down the Rambla Nova. This street, like La Rambla of Barcelona, is the main street of the city and it houses terraces, restaurants, elegant shops, as well as the headquarters of different corporations, both private and public.
Now that you know what the Rambla is, let me tell how it relates to the actual balcony.
The Balcony of the Mediterranean is located at the end of Rambla Nova and it rises more than 130 feet above the sea. Here you can enjoy splendid views of the Mediterranean sea, the port of Tarragona, the Platja del Miracle (Miracle Beach in Catalan), and the Roman Amphitheatre.
FUN FACT: when you reach the balcony, you have to touch its wrought iron railing and you will have good luck for the rest of your life. “Tocar ferro” is a Catalan expression that translates to “touch iron”, something equivalent to “knock on wood”.
The Roman Amphitheater of Tarraco was built in the 2nd century BC close to the forum of the city. This magnificent place could hold up to 14,000 people in a space of 427 by 335 feet.
Originally, as it was the customs amongst the Romans, the amphitheater used to host fights between gladiators and against wild beasts, as well as public executions. But things started to change and in 259 during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Valerian the bishop of the city, Fructuoso and his deacons, Augurio and Eulogio, were burnt alive in the arena of the amphitheater.
During the 5th century, and as a consequence of the religious policy of the first Christian emperors, the amphitheater started to lose its original functions. Its stones were used to build a Christian church that commemorated the three saints of the Church of Tarragona.
Furthermore, after the Islamic invasion, the complex was abandoned and it wasn’t until the 12th century that a new temple was erected on the foundations of the Visigothic basilica under the name of Santa María del Milagro. This church remained standing until 1915.
Now, you can enjoy walking through the remains of this majestic amphitheater and imagine how this place looked in its times of splendor.
Built by the Romans in 30 BC, the Colony Forum of Tarragona was a complex constituted by two separate areas linked together by a metal bridge over the street. in the first area is the legal basilica, a tribune, and remains of previous houses; while in the second area there is part of the Capitol, remains of a square and an island of houses partially surrounded by streets, one of them paved.
Even though is a little further away from the old town, the Colony Forum, also known as the Local Forum, is a little piece of the legendary Roman Empire.
Mercat Central, the Central Market of Tarragona, is the heart of the city. It was built in 1915 to centralize the different sales points distributed across the city. The space chosen to house this 246- by 114-feet rectangular structure was the old Plaça del Progrés and it was designed by Architect Josep Maria Pujol i de Barberà. He wanted the interior to be made of cast iron columns and get rid of walls, thus making it lighter and more spacious.
The Market’s design is reminiscent of the Born Market in Barcelona and the Otto Wagner Pavilion Karlsplatz in Vienna and it is a must-see when you visit Tarragona as a way to get to know the locals and enjoy delicious and fresh food.
The Roman Circus of Tarragona is considered one of the best-preserved circuses in the Western world even though some parts of its original structure are still hidden under 19th-century buildings. The complex was magnificent; imagine a structure measuring (approximately) 1066 by 377 feet with an estimated capacity of 30,000 spectators!
It is located between Via Augusta and the provincial forum and it used to hold horse and chariot races. Built from 81 to 96 at the time of Emperor Domitian, the Tarraco Circus divided the city in two: the official public section in the upper district and the residential area in the lower district.
A true marvel of ancient times!
The Praetorium is a Roman-era tower that once housed the stairs that connected the lower city to the Provincial Forum. It was also connected to the Roman Circus by underground passageways that you can and should walk through when you visit the city. In the 12th century, it was transformed into a palace for the monarchs of the Crown of Aragon and it was subsequently used as a prison.
On the other hand, the Provincial Forum was built by the Romans in 73 AD by order of Emperor Vespasian and it was a monumental complex of 44 acres constituted by two large porticoed squares that housed the main administrative, religious and cultural buildings of the city of Tarraco, capital of the Roman province Hispania Citerior Tarraconensis, in present-day Spain.
One of the three squares of the complex was presided by a temple dedicated to the cult of the emperors and the Goddess Rome. Nowadays, the area of the old Roman enclosure is occupied by the Cathedral and its surrounding streets.
National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona
The National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona (MNAT) presents exhibitions summarising the eight centuries of the history of Tarraco, the first Roman foundation on the Iberian Peninsula and the capital of Hispania Citerior, the largest province in the Empire. The museum’s origins go back to the 19th century which makes it the oldest of its kind in Catalonia. The MNAT focuses its collections in Tarragona’s rich historical heritage and ancient remains and most of the discoveries exposed date from 150 years ago.
This place is essential to get to know the history of the city more in-depth so make it a must-see.
The Tarragona Cathedral is located in the upper part of the city on the same site where a Roman temple dedicated to Augustus was located and on top of a Visigothic Cathedral previously existing. On the other hand, from the Muslim era, there is little data to ensure the existence of a mosque. In the excavations carried out in the Cathedral, the walls of the temenos of the 1st century, which was the porticoed wall that surrounded the imperial cult enclosure, have come to light.
The Cathedral contains important historical memories and beautiful works of medieval art and it is also a fine example of the transitional architecture that linked the Romanesque and Gothic periods.
While you are visiting the Cathedral, you should also walk around The Diocese Museum where you can enjoy exhibitions from Tarragona and its dioceses such as altarpieces, stone sculptures carved in wood, and much more.
Portal de Sant Antoni
The Portal de Sant Antoni is the largest of the gates of the wall of Tarragona that are still preserved; it has no towers nor was it reinforced in modern times, but is characterized by the windows that the citizens of Tarragona opened in it. The portal of Sant Antoni was built in 1737 in Baroque style and it portrays the coat of arms of King Philip V of Spain, flanked by two lions; Under it, is the coat of arms of Tarragona.
As you can see in the picture, the water is crystal clear and what’s better than crystal clear water on a beach? Well, beaches with crystal clear water that also have fine, golden sand! This is why the region has received the name of “Costa Daurada” which means “Golden Coast” in Catalan.
Tarragona beaches and coves are beautiful and make up for almost 9 and a half miles of coastline. There’s a lot of options to choose from so make sure to pick one and visit the seaside paradise in Catalonia.
IMPORTANT TIP: The entrance fee to every monument/museum is 3.30 euros but you can purchase a Combined Entry to 4 monuments/museums for 7.40 euros or a Combined Entry to all monuments and museums for 11.05 euros.
I hope I have given you enough information to make you love Tarragona or to at least make you think about visiting.
As always, if you have any questions/ suggestions let me know!!Spread the love: