According to legend, the Roman god Jupiter abandoned his mortal wife and fell in love with the city of Tarragona. Thanks to history, we know that over two thousand years ago it was the residence of Caesar Augustus and the capital of the Roman Empire. From this time of splendour we preserve a rich monumental heritage, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
Years later, during the medieval period, Tarragona was an important ecclesiastical centre. Examples of religious and stately art dating from this period include the cathedral and the Jewish Quarter. And from its Modernist period, the city offers the visitor architectural works such as Gaudí, Jujol, and Doménech i Muntaner.
Publius Cornelius Scipio, known as “Africanus”, saw this rich piece of land as the perfect place to set up his camp during the conquest of Hispania in 217 BC.
And there the Romans, assisted by the Iberian settlement of Kese, raised the walls of the future city, the most ancient outside Italy.
Tarraco soon became a strategic point, a communication link, and a very important base for the conquest of the Peninsula which lasted over 200 years. Such was its importance that, in 27 BC, the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, resided there for two years during his official trip to control the campaign.
The town grew. Its port, trade, the passage of the invincible Roman legions along Via Augusta, the spectacular gladiatorial games, chariot races in the circus, worship of the gods, its wine, its people, and the wealth of the empire was all reflected in Roman Tarraco.
Oozing with history, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, that is still alive and well today thanks to the protection of this rich heritage. Roman Tarraco, with secrets hidden in its stone, its streets and city walls, will live forever between progress and the marvellous history of glorious Rome.
After the glorious Roman period, Tarragona also played an important role in the old Medieval Europe. Preserving part of the urban heritage of the Romans, the city became a consolidated and powerful population centre.
The Arabs occupied it in 711 and the city remained occupied until its final reconquest in 1116 by Ramón Berenguer III.
A few years later, the city became the Principality of Tarragona, ruled by the Normans by means of a vassalage pact controlled by the Archbishop of Barcelona.
The ancient Roman tower of Pretorio served as a fortress for Robert Bordet and from there began a new phase for the city.
The importance of the city can be seen in the construction of the great cathedral in 1711, which occupies the upper part of the city and is today one of the most visited monuments not belonging to Roman Tarraco.
Tarragona survived centuries after the European plague reduced the population of the town, and also the various military conflicts, and particularly the Catalan civil war in the 15th century.
The conflicts continued between the 16th and 18th centuries, including the Reapers’ War, between the Catalans and French, and later the War of Succession and the occupation of the city by King Philip V.
Attacks by pirates were also frequent between the 16th and 17th centuries and the city defended itself with watchtowers such as Torre de la Mora.
19th century Tarragona
On 28 June 1811 Tarragona was stormed by the French army and the city was occupied for two long years, one of the most tragic episodes in memory. This memory is kept alive in the monument to the heroes of the French War, which occupies a privileged place on the Rambla Nova.
But the economic and social recovery of Tarragona arrived, and with it free trade with America, and urban extension beyond the city walls in 1896. New streets were developed, which now make up the main artery of trade and leisure in Tarragona, such as Las Ramblas, Calle Unió and new areas like the Parte Baja or Marina which later became a major economic force open to the sea.
It was at this time that the vestiges of Roman Tarraco began to be preserved and which served as the basis for the construction of the Archaeological Museum, now a must-see for visitors to the city.
The years after the war and the Franco regime were difficult for Tarragona, torn between rationing and the black market.
A period of recovery began in the 50s with the arrival of the first chemical companies to the city, and new neighbourhoods were developed such as Sant Pere i Sant Pau, Sant Salvador, Torreforta, Camp Clar, etc.
The port became a strategic enclave for the new industrial Tarragona and a driving force for today’s economy.
In Tarragona today, industrial growth and the economic expansion of recent decades coexist with leisure, culture and especially the preservation and appreciation of its rich architectural and historical heritage. The beauty of its coastline, its beaches, with the economic buzz of its port, and traditional shops in the streets where patricians would go to the Roman Forum. It’s a city infused with a history and a culture that continues to advance through its short history.