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The Roman Ruins of Tarragona Spain

Mary and her husband work on international projects and have travelled to many places in Spain.

The Roman City of Tarraco

Back in the day, Rome and Carthage were at it, hammer and tong, for mastery of the two empires. Tarraco was a key port for moving food from the Spanish breadbasket to the city of Rome.

The Scipio brothers, General Gnaeus and Publius, took it to make Tarraco, later Tarragona, strongly defensible and a first-class deepwater port. The evidence of their effort remains today. The fortifications, especially on the seaward side, are imposing and impressive, and Hannibal would have had a terrible time reducing the wheat supply going to Rome.

Tarraco: The Roman City by the Sea

Roman city of Tarraco

Roman city of Tarraco

Tarraco, A Roman Stronghold in Spain

Tarraco became the first critical Roman stronghold in Spain. Commemorating his victories, Julius Caesar called it Colonia Julia Victrix Triumphalis. Emperor Augustus made Tarraco the capital of Hispania and built a temple in his honour there, and the Castle of Pilate made his Palace.

During the Roman Imperial rule, Tarraco flourished even more. Its flax trade, fertile plain and sunny shores, and wine, praised by Pliny the Elder in one of his writings, made it one of the Roman Empire's wealthiest seaports.

The City of Tarragona Today



Tarragona, A Great Port City in the Mediterranean

The Roman Ruins of Tarraco

Tarraco, a Roman city and capital of the Roman province, Hispania, became much more than just a port or a legionary camp. Because of its wheat, wine and olive oil, merchants and traders came and, in a short time, a city grows that boasts a Forum, Theatre and Temples, and a Circus. We are the happy inheritors of the Scipio brothers' efforts, and as you walk through the ruins, it is impossible not to be impressed by the scale of their vision.

Later centuries would build Christian churches on top of Roman temples. They spirited away some of what remained to become part of homes and buildings as history unfolded and the city grew.

The remnant is a bit of a scramble of Roman, Visigoth and Islamic architecture. Still, as a testimony to the shift in civilization and each empire's contribution, Tarragona is challenging to beat. UNESCO has declared these ruins a World Heritage Site.
Most of the ruins are highly accessible, beautifully presented and well protected. It's almost a relief to come to the city and see back over two thousand years of its history spread like a table cloth in front of you.

The Roman Amphitheatre Park

The Amfiteatre

The Amfiteatre

Amfiteatre de Tarraco

As cities vied with each other for pre-eminence during the Roman Imperial period, amphitheatres became symbols of the city's wealth.

Given its wealth as a Roman colony, Tarraco has an enormous amphitheatre (109.5 metres by 86.5 metres) outside of Rome at that time. Estimates claimed that this Amfiteatre de Tarraco could hold a crowd of around 14,000. Built overlooking the Mediterranean, I am sure it was one of the most beautiful.

Amphitheatres were open-air venues where the Romans had gladiator games, plays, athletic competitions, fights with wild beasts and executions of those given death sentences. It was also a venue to Romanize the colonies' people and for the flamen (priest) to promote the cult of Emperor worship.

Amphitheatres differ from other open-air venues like circuses, hippodromes or theatres in that they are circular. Thus, the term amphitheatre, which means theatre all around. This term is to distinguish it from the theatres, which are semicircular. Today, though, the words have been used interchangeably. There are still around 230 amphitheatres all over the Roman Empire's former parts.

Today in Tarragona, you can still see an almost complete representation of a Roman amphitheatre with the seats arranged according to classes. In some cases, they marked the seats for families and magistrates. There is, of course, the place for those standing only and the other elements of a theatre.

The Via Augusta passed through here, and in the first century, they constructed on each side of the road the Necropolis and funerary remains.

To visit the place, here's some info for you:

The Roman Amphitheatre Park, 43003 Tarragona

Phone: 977 24 25 79; 977 24 22 20; Website: http://museu.

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Entrance Fee: 3 Euros

Going Down into the Amfiteatre

Going Down into the Amfiteatre

Going Down into the Amfiteatre

The Visigoths and the Roman Ruins

When the Visigoths took over Tarragona, there was no fight. The Romans were by then receding. The Visigoths, then, used whatever was there to build a Christian centre for themselves. The Amphitheatre moved from being the centre of Roman activities to becoming the centre of Christianity.

Church construction ensued on top of the temples. This first construction got destroyed during the martyrdom of Bishop Fructuosus and his deacons, Augurio and Eulogio. To honour these martyrs, they built another Visigothic basilica, but this, too, was destroyed. Then, they made The Basilica of Our Lady Mary of the Miracle in medieval times. We only see ruins today of this various construction.

The Visigoths Church and Cemeteries

Visigoths Church and Cemeteries

Visigoths Church and Cemeteries

Remains of a Visigoth Basilica

Remains of a Visigoth Basilica

Remains of a Visigoth Basilica

More Things Uncovered Among the Ruins

In 1952, they found a mural painting of the Greek goddess Nemesis (Invidia in Roman), and they surmised that the gladiators might have prayed to this goddess before the games. Nemesis is the goddess who enacted retribution against those who succumb to hubris (arrogance before the gods). A winged goddess, she personified resentment aroused in men by those who committed crimes with apparent impunity or had inordinate good fortune.

As we've learned, archaeology as a layer-upon-layer business has new skills and layers uncovered, but the knowledge drawn from existing layers expands and expands.

Nemesis Shrine

Nemesis Shrine

Nemesis Shrine

The Roman Fortifications of Tarraco

To the Romans, it was easy to spot Tarragona as a military stronghold. So, in 218 BC, during the Second Punic War, the Romans established their base here. The Romans knew how to make walls. They had built an Empire tearing down the walls and fortifications of every tribe or nation in Europe and the Middle East, so when it was their turn to build a wall, they took all the knowledge of others' failures and built it into their structures.

These structures used huge blocks with smooth surfaces on the outside and wall covering of broken rock behind. Nothing was ever impregnable, but Roman walls were the worst nightmare you could face, and Tarragona represented Rome's best.

Made of megaliths reinforced by towers and a second body of free stones, the Wall in Tarragona was 6 meters high and 4 meters wide. Inside were the troops' living quarters and the artillery. Eventually, settlements of troops' families and traders grew, demanding expansion. When this expansion finished, they said it stretched five kilometres long, extending to the port and surrounding the Roman city.

Subsequently, the walls and fortifications have seen many battles, and with more modern weaponry, they could not withstand. In 1884, this fortification became a Historic and Artistic Monument.

For those interested, you can read more on the website of the Fortification Centre.

Pictures of the Fortifications

The Fortification of Tarraco

The Fortification of Tarraco

Tarraco Fortification

The Tarraco Fortification

The Tarraco Fortification

The Fortifications Today

Today, you can go around the Fortifications and see the well-presented displays of the remnants. Then, go up to the top floor where you can get a good view of the city.

Marker, A Part of a Column in the Fortification

Marker, A Part of the Column in Tarraco Fortification

Marker, A Part of the Column in Tarraco Fortification

The Ferreres Aqueduct and Pont del Diable

Said to have been constructed during Augustus's time, this Aqueduct took water from the Francoli River about 15 kilometres north of the city. It supplied this to the residents of the ancient city of Tarraco. It is 27 meters high and 249 meters long.

The bridge is part of the Aqueduct, and this complex is about 4 kilometres north of Tarragona.

Below is a video by Jaume Vila of the bridge and the Aqueduct.

Tarragona Today

Tarragona is not really on the radar screen of many tourists in Spain. With so many Spanish cities competing to attract tourists, Tarragona often disappears from view, so we were surprised when we read about its Roman ruins, one of the best in the country. So, avoiding the cold north, we decided to drive to Tarragona and what a surprise we had.

The Roman ruins exceeded our expectations. Anyone visiting Barcelona must take a day tour here. You can easily travel there as it is only about an hour from Barcelona and it is easy to get to using public transportation, the bus or the train.

A Visit to Tarragona

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Mary Norton


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 04, 2020:

Since virtual traveling via the Internet is now the safest way to travel until the pandemic ends, I decided to pay another visit to this well-illustrated and descriptive article of yours. This would be a lovely place to spend some time.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 03, 2019:

It's worth it. The Roman ruins there really impressed us.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 03, 2019:

Wow! Tarragona looks amazing. I like the place but have not visited I can see why you do and would visit someday.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 23, 2019:

It was a pleasant surprise for us. We were driving to Madrid from Barcelona and it was a convenient stop but we were truly impressed.

Barcelona Day Tours from Barcelona on October 23, 2019:

Tarragona is One of our favourite places. Thanks for sharing.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 09, 2019:

Denise, it surprised us, too. We were looking for a place to rest before moving to another hectic schedule and we found Tarragona. We were amazed at how much we saw.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 09, 2019:

What a shame I missed this. I got to see Barcelona many years ago but never heard of Tarragona and I would have loved to see it if I'd known about it. Thanks for the view into something I missed.



Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on June 25, 2019:

Thank you Zia. I t was a pleasant surprise to us.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on June 25, 2019:

Thank you so much Asad. We loved the place when we visited.

Zia Uddin from UK on June 25, 2019:

Great article and a great place to visit someday. The ruins of Tarragona is wonderful.

Asad Dillz Khan from United Kingdom on June 21, 2019:

Excellent article! It looks amazing Mary! Nicely done! Very good job!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 05, 2019:

My husband and I are both history majors so we search out places such as these but with younger members of the family, we often have to let go, too.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 05, 2019:

I have learned a lot about Tarragona from the article. We ended up there by mistake when taking the wrong bus from Port Aventura theme park many years ago. With three teenage daughters, unfortunately Roman ruins were not high on their agenda. After stopping for food and drink and glimpsing the Roman amphitheatre in the distance we went in search of transport back to Salou. Maybe one day we will return.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 13, 2018:

Thank you. Yes, a visit to Tarragona is really worth it.

koyier from nairobi on April 13, 2018:

Interesting read!,I should make a visit ,great article!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 16, 2018:

We were just talking about how well those Roman buildings did - thousands of years ago and we still see much of it. Thank you.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on January 16, 2018:

Amazing to picture the Gladiators competing here, perhaps the Christians vs the lions. What an important slice of history preserved here to help us learn from the past. The architecture was well advanced to survive this many years.

Nell Rose from England on January 11, 2018:

Wow! I love this sort of archaeology! I remember when I went to Cyprus and found myself in the old ampitheatres, I loved it! great article!

Ced Yong from Asia on January 10, 2018:

Very good write-up about a less popular Spanish destination. I'm fascinated by the part about Nemesis.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 09, 2018:

I especially love the view of Tarragona and would love to be there now. Thanks for sharing the history and views of these historical sites.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 08, 2018:

What an experience that must have been to be there for the Olympic events. You can come again and see the other places. Seville would be great.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 08, 2018:

Those are impressive ruins! Spain is so interesting from the little we have gotten to see of it. We have only spent 3 days in Madrid and one of those days was the tour to Toledo. Then we spent 7 days on the Island of Mallorca and several of those days we were flown back and forth to Madrid for Olympic events and sightseeing. I would definitely like to see more of Spain someday! Thanks for this tour of Tarragona.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 08, 2018:

Wonderful information and photos. I know nothing about Tarragona so this was intriguing and made me want to add Spain to my growing bucket list of places to visit.

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on January 08, 2018:

Some great images and neat explanations. My son spent a year in Tarragona teaching English and loved the mix of old and modern. You are quite right when you say that many tourists are not aware of or do not care for the exceptionally well preserved Roman ruins and architecture. They're missing out. I especially enjoyed the amphitheatre, an atmospheric space for sure. And the mild weather helps to keep them in good condition

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 07, 2018:

Thanks for sharing the interesting photos and the information, Mary. Like Heidi, I'd love to see Tarragona in real life.

Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on January 07, 2018:

It looks amazing!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on January 07, 2018:

Awesome photos! Would love to see this for real someday. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us!

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