Visigothic and Romanesque churches inside the Roman Amphitheatre
According to tradition Bishop Fructuous and his deacons Augurius and Eulogius were executed in the year 259 in the amphitheatre. A church was built in the late VIth or VIIth century on the site of their martyrdom. It was a small building with an apse. In that same period the arena was turned into a burial ground. In the XIIth century a larger Romanesque church was built in the same location. Its nave incorporated the foundations of the earlier church. The existence of the two churches was discovered in 1953 and the walls of the Romanesque church were partially reconstructed.
In 1923 evidence of a large necropolis was found during the construction of a tobacco factory at the western end of the town. It is dated IIIrd-Vth centuries because archaeologists found both Pagan and Christian tombs, although the latter were in greater number.
Christian necropolis: (left) sarcophagi; (right) roof tiles
Most of the dead were placed in roughly cut sarcophagi or their burial site was marked by roof tiles. The way the burial sites were arranged does not seem to follow a plan and in most cases they appear to be for individuals rather than for a family. You may wish to see a Early Christian funerary basilica at Salona in Dalmatia or at Tipasa in Algeria.
A detached section of the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona houses a number of sarcophagi, gravestones and other materials which were found in the Necropolis or which illustrate the history of Early Christian Tarragona. The two sarcophagi shown above demonstrate the continuity in the design of sarcophagi between the Late Pagan and the Early Christian periods. The main decorative pattern is based on the double curves of strigils; in the Pagan sarcophagus the couple of dead are portrayed at the corners of the long side of the box and are holding the tabulae nuptiales, the formal act of marriage, in the Christian one they are replaced by Sts. Peter and Paul who also hold a scroll (notice the curtains behind them which appear also in mosaics at S. Apollinare in Classe at Ravenna). In both sarcophagi the centre of the box is occupied by a relief. The Christian one shows a Wreath of Victory and the Four Rivers which flowed out of the Garden of Eden; perhaps the wreath surrounded an inscription and a Christogram (as at Merida).
The wealthiest Christians of Tarragone (as well as those of other large cities of Roman Spain e.g. Cordoba) commissioned sarcophagi with reliefs depicting scenes from the New and the Old Testament. They were most likely made in Rome, where many similar sarcophagi have been found.
Not all the inhabitants of Tarragona could afford an expensive sarcophagus. The father of Aper utilized a gravestone with an epitaph to a Roman army veteran and his wife to add a poem in which he mourned the death of his son.
Covered by these mounds lies a young man here
Aper, the coppersmith, whose youth, while still alive, was praised. You lived as a poor man, you were attached to your friends. You lived 30 years, two months, and 8 days.
Oh pain, oh tears, where do I seek you now, my son? Wretched, I, your father, abandoned, shed these tears for you - behold! My eyesight vanishes, my limbs succumb to my pain. It would have been more appropriate, had you prepared such burial for me! If the gods of the underworld have any reason, take me, the wretched father, away as well. I have already lost my livelihood, when I lost you, my son.
Whether you continue your way, traveller, or you pass by or rest a little and read the inscription on the stone, carved with iron, which, I, the father had made for my sweetest, dutiful son, then the inscription will contrive that, in this mound, the bones will rest in peace.
Farewell forever and in perpetuity, my sweetest son.
Translation by Peter Kruschwitz.
The stone was reused in the Visigothic church in the amphitheatre. It is dated late IInd/early IIIrd century AD, a period of uncertainty in religious matters and Aper's father made only a generic reference to the gods of the underworld.
The use of mosaics to decorate tombs was not frequent in Spain, but it was so in Roman Africa with which Tarragona had trade links (see some mosaics at the Museum of Bardo in Tunis and at that of Enfida). Similar to what can be noticed in sarcophagi, Christian symbols incorporated Pagan ones; in this mosaic the kantharos, a jar with a grapevine growing from it which was a symbol of Dionysus/Bacchus became a symbol of Eternal Life with flowers or apples replacing the grapevine, as at Sufetula.
Museum of the Christian Necropolis: funerary mosaic of Optimus
The mosaic is dated from the IVth to the VIth centuries. It depicts a man wearing a toga, the garment of Roman senators and magistrates which was no longer in use when the mosaic was made, but was a symbol of authority. Optimus, the name of the dead could be instead an adjective as it means "best" and it was used in Deo Optimo Maximo, the traditional Pagan dedication. The man portrayed in the mosaic is often referred to as Bishop Optimus because of the position of his right hand fingers which are shown in the act of blessing (you can see it better in a mosaic at Cefal¨ in Sicily).
The image used as background for this page shows a dove in another Christian funerary mosaic.
Museum of the Christian Necropolis: (left) head of Attis, high priest of Cybele; (centre) ivory doll found in a tomb (IIIrd or IVth century - see a similar one in Rome); (right) gravestone of M. Aurelius Lucilius (late IInd or early IIIrd century); he was an army veteran who served in five legions for a total of 40 years ("stipendiorum XXXX")
The Cathedral seen from the top of the Praetorium
The cathedral church is at present the only building
which can fix attention.
Alexandre de Laborde - A View of Spain - translated into English for Longman, Hurst, etc. 1809
Tarragona lords it over its fertile campo, seated on a rock-built eminence, with tiers of wall and bastion rising one above another, while the cathedral seems the donjon-keep of the imposing outline.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
The Cathedral is outside the scope of this page, but it deserves a few words and images.
Cathedral: (left) fašade; (right) bell tower
The approach to the Cathedral as is usual in Catalonia (..) ascends (..) from the busy market-place de la Coles. The effect has been well calculated; as the high altar in Spain is raised by steps above the level on which the congregation kneel, so this temple rises above the town: thus everything tends to elevate the priest above the people; they look up to him and his dwelling, until the transition from a material superiority soon passes to one moral and spiritual. According to local annalists the original cathedral was built by Santiago (St. James the Apostle), and in it St. Paul preached (neither of whom ever were in Spain); meantime the fašade of the present edifice rises to a triangle, with a truncated point; the superb rose window was commenced in 1131 by San Oldegar, aided by Robert Burdet, who went especially into Normandy for his garrison and architects. Thus, as in Sicily, where his contemporary and countryman Roger employed Norman and Saracenic workmen, a fusion of style is produced, which is also to be traced here in the round low arches, the billet and zigzag ornaments in the cloisters, and the circular machicolated end of the cathedral, and its style of towers. The Normans were bitter foes to the Moslems, first, because both were of the same trade, invaders, and secondly, because they had clashed in Sicily and Spain. Ford
(above) Detail of the main portal; (below) the dramatic relief showing the condemned being dragged by demons towards the entrance to Hell which is depicted as the gaping mouth of a huge monster
Tarragona is the See of one of the most ancient
archbishoprics of Spain; it existed under king Wamba (672-680); and
was reestablished in 1118, by Raymond Berenger, count of
Barcelona, after having expelled the Moors from it. Laborde
The metropolitan dignity was restored to the disgust of Toledo, who disputes the primacy. (..) The large deeply- recessed pointed Gothic porch, with the apostles on the sides under Gothic niches, is the work of Cascales, 1375; the fašade is earlier, and was finished in 1280 by Archbp. Olivella. The doorway is divided by a figure of the Virgin and Child, and above is the Saviour, with popes and emperors praying. Ford
The principal altar is almost entirely formed by the
union of several slabs of very fine white marble in demi-relief,
representing divers events of the life and death of St. Tecle;
the figures being too numerous produce confusion, but there
are some parts in detail very pleasing. Laborde
The Gran Retablo was constructed of Catalonian marbles, by Pedro Juan and Guillen de Mota, in 1426-34. The Gothic pinnacles were once painted and gilt; the principal subjects of the basso-relievos are from the martyrdom of Santa Tecla, the tutelar of Tarragona; her grand and picturesque festival is celebrated on the 23rd of September, with sky-rockets, dances, etc., on the plaza; she was converted by St. Paul, to whom she consecrated her virginity; thereupon Thamiro, to whom she was to have been married, brought an action for this breach of promise; the Spanish judges ordered her to be burnt alive, but as she came unhurt from the furnace, she was then cast to lions, who only licked her feet; she was next exposed to the rage of bulls, and lastly to the lust of soldiers, who resisted a temptation difficult to their habits. (..) Thence Santa Tecla was justly reckoned by the chapter the first of female martyrs, and her aid is prayed for under all difficulties; but she failed in the case of Suchet's (a French general) siege in 1811. Ford
Thecla (the name means God's Fame) is believed to have died at Seleucia ad Calicadnus (today's Silifke in southern Turkey), but Tarragona is not the only place claiming to be her hometown or the site of her martyrdom (see a page on Maaloula in Syria). Her life is very similar to that of Saint Agnes of Rome.
Capilla de Santa Tecla: (left) main altar; (right) Temperance, one of the Four Cardinal Virtues
cathedral, dedicated to Saint Thecla, is
ugly, but the new chapel of that tutelar saint
is beautiful. The inside is faced with yellow
and brown marbles, dug up in the very centre of the town, and ornamented with white
foliages and bafs-reliefs. The architecture
is accounted heavy, but I confess I did
not think that fault very glaring. The
whole together has a very pleasing effect.
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated
The chapels are worth inspection; that of St. Tecle for its form and decorations all in marble. Laborde
Her chapel, which was modernised in 1778, is very rich in red marbles, Corinthian pillars, and poor sculptured relievos of her history by one Carlos Salas. Ford
The use of coloured marbles in the design of the chapel was greatly influenced by Roman patterns.
Cloister of the Cathedral
We go from the church into a great square cloister
which has six large arcades on every side, each of which is
divided into three smaller arches; the latter are supported by
Doric columns of white marble. Laborde
The exquisite cloister is a museum of antiquity and architecture. Ascend the terrace of a canon's house to obtain a view of the truncated towers of the cathedral, their strange windows and the machicolations of the circular end. Ford
The bossage stones in the bell tower and walls of the cathedral prove
that they once belonged to former
edifices. (..) Observe also a Moorish
arch of a Mihrab or oratory; the cuphic
inscription states that it was made by
Jafar for the prince Abdal Abdu-r-
Rahman, "the servant of God - the
compassionate" in the year of the
Hegira 349, a.d. 960. Ford
Some remains of a Temple to Augustus have been found under the cloister. It is possible that a mosque existed on the site where the Romanesque cathedral was erected, but the only evidence of Islamic art at Tarragona comes from Medina Azahara, a countryside residence of the Caliphs of Cordoba. The site was pillaged when the Caliphate collapsed in the early XIth century and perhaps the mihrab decoration was brought to Tarragona by one of the Christian knights who took part in the pillage.
Styles in the Cloister of the Cathedral: (left) Gothic; (right) mixed
In the cloisters below, the pointed windows are divided by smaller round-headed Norman arches, while in the space above are circular openings with Moorish ornaments, which were much defaced by Suchet's troops. Observe the cornice of chequer and billet mouldings, with a fringe of engrailed arches resting on corbels or crockets of heads. Ford
Cloister of the Cathedral: capitals, that on the right depicts Noah's Ark (see some similar reliefs in the cloister of the Cathedral of Cefalu)
The capitals are ornamented
with bass-reliefs of great delicacy, representing different things,
such as foliage, branches of trees, birds, other animals, figures of infants, of men, and other devices. Laborde
Observe the romanesque capitals and fantastic carvings, among them a rat and cat funeral. Ford
Cloister of the Cathedral: funeral of the rat: (above) the whole scene; (below) funeral of the rat
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|