Travel Tales

Spain - Tarragona: A City of History

Travel Tale No. 2 - Vol. 5


I love sea food, but I doubt I will ever eat squid again in my life! When we first arrived at El Prato Llobregat Airport, in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, I ate squid in a local restaurant and became very ill. Luckily, John did not taste it because he refuses to eat "biology specimens." We were on our way to Malaga, but I told my husband to find the first hotel he came upon so that I could fall into a nice, soft bed and die! If you have ever had food poisoning you will understand the feeling. We drove as far as Tarragona, where we serendipitously found a quiet hotel near the ocean where I could recuperate.

We stayed in this ancient city for one week, not only because I had wobbly legs, but we were killing some time waiting for our ship to take us on our Mediterranean cruise. We found Tarragona to be very enchanting as a city awash in light and color full of history. The mild climate and Mediterranean character, the charm of the old cobbled-stone streets, and the warmth of the people make it an ideal spot for outdoor leisure and cultural pursuits. It is also synonymous with festivities and Catalan regional holidays and various year-long celebrations in this sea-side resort.

Roman Amphitheatre, Tarragona SpainDespite the fact that this city originated as a Roman military encampment, there existed an indigenous settlement populated in the 5th Century B. C. As part of the Second Punic War; in 218 B.C., Scipio landed in Tarragona, and set up a garrison that became the main military base in Hispania. Over the next 200 years, the entire Iberian Peninsula was conquered from this "Tarraco" base and Roman civilization penetrated all Hispania. Under Julius Caesar it went from a free city to a Roman colony. Before he became "Augustus," Octavius followed the footsteps of Caesar in his campaign in Hispania against Pompey. During this period he came into contact with Tarraco when he disembarked here in the year 45 B.C., at a time of great political upheaval.

Roman Ruins at modern Tarragona SpainI thought my Castellan Spanish, taught to me by the nuns in Buenos Aires, would serve me well in Spain, but I was quite surprised to hear them speaking dialects and Catalan. We enjoyed touring all the archaeological sites and the Roman Circus. As I sat on the cold stone, I envisioned the chariot races, despite the fact that much of the structure remains hidden under a series of 19th Century buildings. The amphitheatre, built in the 2nd Century A.D., was used for entertainment, including fights between wild beasts and gladiators, and the site of hundreds of public executions. It was also the place of the martyrdom of Saint Fructuosus and his deacons in 259 A.D. Later, a medieval Church of Santa Maria del Milagro, was established on the spot of their executions.

We wandered about all afternoon in the National Archaeological Museum housing invaluable collections of Roman ruins, sculptures, mosaics, pottery and inscriptions. Some 15 kilometers from Tarraco are two long aqueducts built by the Romans to supply the city with water, feeding deposits and ponds. A series of distribution towers channeled the water to lead pipes that took it to public fountains, thermal baths and private houses.

A Mansion Belonging To The Canals FamilyThe first was fed by the Gaia River, and the second was fed by the Francoli River. It was built from large ashlars stacked without mortar to form two tiers of arches. It is popularly known as the Pont del Diable.

Tarragona is a city with beautiful mansions with tennis courts and swimming pools facing the sea. Its climate and friendly people make it a festive cultural gathering place, replete with its own casino and tourist attractions.

Most of Tarragona's wealthy families chose Cavallers Street in which to build their mansions. Casa Canals, is truly a fantastic display of opulence with its enormous gilded Elizabethan mirrors, red carpet, blue silk wallpaper, ostentatious Louise XV furniture, and huge crystal chandeliers.

A Noble's House, Tarragona SpainCasa Castellarnau is equally beautiful with its Gothic-style columns and arches, billiard room, parquet-floored ballroom, private chapel, wine cellar, living quarters for many servants, dozens of bedrooms decorated with floral motifs in neoclassical style, with each bed raised so that the occupants could wake up seeing the ocean, and a lovely rose and herb garden.

The Archbishop's palace, The Circus, The Roman Amphitheatre, The Town Hall (Ajuntament,) The Rambla Nova, The Port of Tarragona, The Metropol Theatre, The Bullring, The Chartreuse Factory, The Central Market, The Cathedral of Santa Tecla and Santa Maria, and the walls of the city, were but a few sites we had time to visit. One week was not enough to enjoy this magnificent city: truly an historian's delight we found quite by accident.

If you are driving around the Costa Brava and the Cataluña Region, you owe it to yourself to visit Tarragona.

 Alinka Zyrmont


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