You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Tarragona in 1563 in a drawing by Anthonie van den Wyngaerde (emphasized contrast)
As we descended the hill of Bara to the beach, Tarragona presented itself to
our view, like a ruined fortress, on a round
point projecting into the sea. A little further on we turned off the road into a wood of pines and shrubs to visit a monument which tradition has named the tomb of the Scipios. (..) From the heavy sands of the sea-shore,
where a great many fishermen were hauling
in their nets, we ascended the naked rock
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated
Tarragona rising above the sea, on a limestone rock some 760 feet high, was selected by the Phoenicians as a maritime settlement, and called Tarcaon, which Bochart interprets, a "citadel"; and such ever has been, and still is, the appearance and character of this "Arce potens Tarraco". Conveniently situated for communication with Rome, this strong point was made the winter residence of the Praetor.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
Simplified plan of the Upper Roman Town: A) Walls; B) Temple to Augustus/Cathedral; C) Provincial Forum; D) Circus. In the left lower corner there is a relief portraying Jupiter Ammon, a small scale copy of one at the Archaeological Museum of Tarragona and below the full Latin name of the town: (COLO)NIA etc. as indicated in the pedestal of a statue of the early IInd century AD
Tarraco is remarkable for its singular conception within Roman planning: the town plan was adapted to the configuration of the land by means of a series of artificial terraces, which can be seen around the provincial forum as well as in the residential area of the Roman city. The distribution reveals an upper part, which dominates the whole city and is devoted to representation, part provincial officialdom and part recreational. Meanwhile, following the natural contours of the ground, the residential city with its colony forum stretches out to the sea and the port. (..) This large group of buildings determined the layout of the existing old town, where most of the architectural elements survive. It was a large complex spread over three terraces used for high-level political purposes and to bring the communities of Hispania Citerior into the Roman Empire, as shown by the iconography of sculptural and decorative finds.
From the criteria endorsing the 2000 inclusion of the Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Torre del Cabiscol o del Seminario and a "cyclopean" gate on the promenade along the walls
The defensive system of walls of Tarraco is one of the earliest examples of Roman military engineering on the Iberian Peninsula and the most important symbol of the town, defining its form from antiquity until the 19th century. UNESCO
The upper town is girdled with ramparts and outworks. (..) The walk round the lofty ramparts is striking. (..) Part of the bases of the enormous Cyclopean walls have been thought to be anterior to the Romans. Ford
(left) Torre de la Minerva; (right) relief depicting the goddess, but the medallion on her shield looks like the head of a wolf rather than that of Medusa which decorated it in Greek statues (and in a painting by Caravaggio - it opens in another window)
Even the ruins of the walls speak Latin and bear
the impress of Caesar; what a sermon in
these stones, which preach the fallen
pride of imperial Rome! (..)
The brothers, Publius and Cneius
Scipio (the father and the uncle of Publius Cornelius Scipio), first occupied Tarragona, which
Augustus raised to be the capital, having wintered here (26 B.C.), after his
Cantabrian campaign. Ford
Tarraco must have been a considerable place before the Romans invaded Spain. (..) The Scipios, Octavius Augustus, and Adrian, made some stay here; its antique walls built by Scipio, were repaired by Adrian (who perhaps stayed at a villa along the coast).
Alexandre de Laborde - A View of Spain - translated into English for Longman, Hurst, etc. 1809
(left) Torre del Arzobispo; (right) two reliefs portraying heads near Torre de la Minerva
Its power first
declined under the Goths; Euric their king
took it in 467, and his soldiers, in revenge of
its resistance, destroyed it. It was again sacked by the Moors, who besieged it in 714, and
put all the inhabitants to the sword. Louis
d'Aquitaine drove out the Moors in the year
805, but they recovered it. Raymond Berenger Count of Barcelona
took it from them in 1117, and repeopled it the
year following. Laborde
Tarragona, or rather the site, in 1118 was granted by San Oldegar, of Barcelona, to Robert Burdet, a Norman chief, a warrior. His wife, Sibylla, during her husband's absence, kept armed watch on the walls, and beat back the Moors, after which the city grew to be a frontier fortress, and nothing more; for Christian commerce centred at Barcelona, while Moorish traffic preferred Valencia. Ford
(left) Torre de las Monjas (Nuns), a medieval tower named after a nearby nunnery of the Poor Clares, and the "Muralleta" walls; (right) 1887 bronze monument by Feliu Ferrer Galzeran to Roger of Lauria, admiral of the Aragonese fleet in the wars for the possession of Sicily in 1282-1289
A new section of the city wall known as Muralleta (small wall) was built during the second half of the XIVth century. It utilized a part of the structures of the Roman circus. Three octagonal towers were built to strengthen the new defensive line but only one is left. The new wall shows the expansion of the medieval town which benefitted from the political and military successes of the Kings of Aragon (and Counts of Barcelona) in Sicily and Sardinia.
Tarragona had a
mint, and temples to every god, goddess, and tutelar; nay, the servile
citizens erected one to the emperor,
"Divo Augusto" thus making him a
god while yet alive. This temple was
afterwards repaired by Adrian, and
some fragments in the cloisters of the
cathedral are said to have belonged to it. Ford
Permission to build a temple of Augustus in the colony of Tarraco was granted to the Spaniards, and a precedent set for all the provinces.
Tacitus - Annales - Life of Emperor Tiberius - Loeb Edition
The permission was granted after the death of Augustus. The temples to Augustus often had a double dedication, i.e. to Rome and Augustus as at Athens and Ancyra (Ankara).
Tarragona became, under the dominion of Rome, the capital of the
Tarragonese province, or, in other words Citerior
Spain. The town of Tarragona was the residence
of the Consuls and the Pretors. Laborde
At the end of the Second Punic War Rome controlled all the coast of Spain along the Mediterranean Sea and that immediately beyond the Strait of Gibraltar. The Romans called Hispania Citerior (closer to Rome) the coastal territories from the Pyrenees to Nova Cartago (today's Cartagena), a port south of Sagunto, and Hispania Ulterior (farther) those from Nova Cartago to Gades (Cadiz) on the Atlantic Ocean. In the following two centuries Rome extended its power to the inland regions and eventually Emperor Augustus achieved control over the whole peninsula. He reorganized the Roman administration by dividing Hispania Ulterior into Baetica with capital Cordoba and Lusitania with capital Merida, whereas Hispania Citerior became known as Hispania Tarraconensis after the name of its capital. The temples and tribunals of the Forum in the Upper Town housed the ceremonies and the legal proceedings which were related to the Province, whereas a Forum in the Lower Town housed those concerning Tarragona as a town (also Merida and Cordoba had two fora).
(left) Volta del Pallol (Granary); (right) its Roman structure which was part of the Provincial Forum
The ancient Tarraco is now contracted
to a very trifling city, that covers only a
small portion of the Roman enclosure. (..)
Many antiquities have been found, and are
still to be seen in the town, and almost all round the walls. Swinburne.
The Provincial Forum was built at the time of Emperor Vespasian and it had a large rectangular square surrounded by a portico. It was embellished with many statues, mainly of local magistrates or wealthy citizens who made donations for the construction of public facilities. Other statues were dedicated to the Genii (personifications) of the seven districts which made up Hispania Tarraconensis; the image used as background for this page shows a pedestal with the inscription "Genio Cluniens", Clunia being the capital of a district which included most of Old/Northern Castile.
The site of the Provincial Forum is that where the XIIth century town developed. It was built making use of the stones of the Forum and occasionally parts of the ancient structures were incorporated into the new ones. The overall layout of the medieval town is based on the rectangular shape of the Forum.
Roman inscriptions in the streets of the former Jewish quarter in the Upper Town
inscriptions imbedded here and elsewhere are so numerous that the walls
are said to speak Latin. Observe the singular Hebrew-like inscriptions. There are Latin inscriptions also in the
courtyard of the archbishop's modern
palace and in the cathedral cloister. Ford
The Latin inscriptions in the centre of the town were mainly pedestals of statues in the Provincial Forum.
Tarragona consists of an upper and under
town; the under is protected by a range
of bastions (..) while an inner line of works protects the rise to the upper
The Temple to Augustus, the Provincial Forum and the Circus occupied almost all of the area of the Upper Town; the houses which existed there at the end of the Ist century BC were pulled down to make room for these large monuments to the greatness of Rome and their inhabitants moved to the Lower Town.
In the 1920s the XVIth century fortifications which divided the Lower from the Upper Town were demolished to facilitate the development of modern Tarragona. This event led to unearthing another Roman Forum; it is called Colonial because Tarragona was a Colonia, the highest status of a Roman city.
Foro Colonial (lower square): Capitolium (Ist century BC)
The Colonial Forum housed a Capitolium, a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the deities who were worshipped in a great temple on the Capitol Hill of Rome and were regarded as a symbol of the city. Similar temples have been found in many Roman towns throughout the Empire (see the Capitolium of Thugga and that of Ostia). Ceremonies celebrating events of the history of Rome or of the life of the emperors were held at these temples.
Foro Colonial: (left) street; (right) adjoining buildings
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Andalusia||Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa|
|Castile||Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda|
|Catalonia||Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona|