A stroll around Tarragona can be a very entertaining undertaking, almost without having to move from one neighbourhood to another. In a city where many buildings are more than two thousand years old, and where you often come across archaeological remains that help to reconstruct its ancient history, there is also room for modern street art. For the last few years, a number of artists have been filling the walls of abandoned buildings and the windows and façades of demolished houses with colour, painting joy onto more functional or industrial spaces that once went unnoticed by visitors. The Polígon Cultural organization has now catalogued more than 100 of these artworks in Shikuarat, the urban art archive.
This article proposes a visual tour of the eleven most popular examples of street art displayed in the city of Tarragona.
Part Alta (old town)
Plaça dels Sedassos
From Carrer Rera Sant Domènec, often referred to as the “street behind Plaça de la Font”, you come to Plaça dels Sedassos, where there are still some remains of the Roman Circus. It is difficult not to stop here. The façade of the central building on the square sports a mural created by Tarragonan painter Carles Arola in 1995. Its trompe-l’oeil style gives an optical illusion that the figures and objects are real, using the resources of chiaroscuro, perspective and foreshortening.
In this case, the muralist has reproduced the traditional features of Tarragona building façades towards the end of the nineteenth century. You can see the festive elements typical of popular Tarragona culture such as the Nanos(big heads), which represent figures from the nobility at that time; and the open balconies, like all Mediterranean cities that live facing out to the street, festooned in flowers to evoke springtime…
As it is now 24 years since the mural was painted, this façade has become the most-photographed sight by tourists and travel guides on the city, which recommend it as a must-see sight.
Carrer del Comte
Some 15 years ago, Carrer del Comte was a street in the Part Alta that was practically unknown to most visitors, until one day the Tarragona Town Council decided to install some pilons (metal posts) to stop cars parking along it and help improve pedestrian access in the neighbourhood. It was the local residents who took the initiative to paint them; initially, just a few of them clandestinely by night, but as time went on it has become an annual event, a local and international festival: the Trobada de Sant Agapito Bis, or the International Pilons Parade. Every year, on the first Saturday of July, organizations, groups and individuals sign up to the initiative to paint the 47 posts on the street, and now even prizes are given out.
This is now a real tourist attraction, and is known as Pilon’s Street, as you can see on a plaque on the wall.
Carrer d’en Mediona and Carrer Cavallers
Very close by, on a street running parallel to Carrer Comte, Carrer d’en Mediona, and its adjacent street, Carrer dels Cavallers, the walls and bricked-in doors of some of the building façades portray ancient games in a mural by the Tarragonan painter Màrius Masip, the aim being to show present-day children how people used to play when they were their age, about fifty years ago, in the streets and squares of the Part Alta district.
On the walls of Carrer Cavallers and, further on, Carrer de la Nau, you can still find some examples of urban art that have faded with the passing years.
This also draws the attention of visitors passing along these streets.
Plaça de l’Oli
In 2011, Tarragona held a Forum of Ideas and an urban art festival, Ciutats Creactives, which generated a number of murals by local artists that have changed public spaces. These murals, which still exist in the Part Alta, can be seen in Plaça de l’Oli, in an old plot that the artists Lluc Queralt, Megan, Fátima and Sr. Tartera regenerated with their mural interventions, using the techniques of freehand spray painting and poster art.
Passeig de Sant Antoni
Another of the large murals that never goes unremarked on a visit to the city is the one on the wall of a house on Passeig de Sant Antoni, on the corner with Carrer Portella and one of the entrances to Plaça del Rei, featuring a number of little figures clambering up different walls.
This is one of the most popular photo stops with visitors.
Espai Jove Kesse
In the city centre, just behind Plaça Imperial Tàrraco, you can see a huge mural covering more than 400 m². This was created by Cachetejack, a collective of Valencian designers with an acclaimed international track record, notably Núria Bellver and Raquel Fanjul, on the interior façade of the Espai Jove Kesse, a municipal building that organizes activities for young people in the city as well as an information and support facility. The artist Foham Fonez also collaborated in this mural.
With its message of the empowerment of young women, the mural shows a girl climbing up to overcome challenges and fight against stereotypes and gender violence. The mural can be seen in its entirety from Plaça Imperial Tàrraco.
The artists’ association Polígon Cultural and the Department of Youth at Tarragona City Council selected these artists to take part in the artistic intervention programme known as Murs que Parlen (Walls that Speak).
If you’ve ever had to take an interurban bus, you’ve almost certainly found yourself admiring a mural that occupies an area of around 200 m2 on the wall of the upper platform at Tarragona Bus Station. This piece of art is entitled “Art and entropy, a song to life and creation”, and was created by Tarragonan artist Nil Bartolozzi.
The mural, painted using aerosol and acrylic paints and Posca-type felt pens, aims to express the origin of the subject of art as the natural creative energy of order and disorder. To express this concept, he encouraged the participation of users of the bus station and people were invited to throw paint pellets against the platform wall. He was also inspired by the constant transit of people and buses, and the light and the atmosphere of the bus station.
This is the twelfth piece in the Estació Creativa municipal programme of artistic interventions and the third large-scale mural.
Although a secondary school is not generally a tourist attraction in itself, this particular centre is the exception. The façade of the Pons d’Icart school has stood out, since 2018, thanks to this large artistic mural in memory of the War of Independence against the French, an armed conflict that Tarragona resisted right up to the last moment.
The street artist Megan was responsible for creating the mural and several students from the school also collaborated in it.
The initiative, which was the idea of its creator and the Pons d’Icart secondary school, was undertaken with the support of Repsol, the Ministry of Education of the Government of Catalonia, and Tarragona City Council. The intervention formed part of the activities in the “Education for Peace” project that the school organizes each year.
Part Baixa/El Serrallo
In Tarragona, the neighbourhoods of the Part Alta, the centre and the Part Baixa (lower city) are linked by a main road that slopes down through the city and forms one of its pivotal thoroughfares: Carrer Unió. Going down this street you come to Plaça de la Mitja Lluna and then continue along Carrer Apodaca, the first of the streets that leads to the Part Baixa and the El Serrallo district, other neighbourhoods where you can see examples of street art. Two are particularly worth mentioning: the mural on Carrer del Vapor and the one by the Petxina Bridge in El Serrallo.
Next to the Petxina Bridge in El Serrallo
The residents of El Serrallo have the privilege of having a main gateway to the neighbourhood, painted blue, which tells visitors they are now in the land of fishermen. This is the Petxina Bridge, a spot where a Tarragona photographer used to display photos of singular people from the neighbourhood just under the bridge in a kind of pop-up art exhibition.
Just to the right-hand side of the bridge you will find a huge art intervention by 15 graffiti artists, illustrators and muralists that is just over one year old, having been created in August 2018. This is not the first time that graffiti has been painted here: the artist involved in the previous one decided to make way for new interventions in a tribute to the adjective commonly used for this type of art: ephemeral.
This collective exhibition of muralist art, known as ‘Color Zone’, was promoted by the association La Imaginada.
Carrer del Vapor
Since 2014, the grey wall of the escalators on Carrer del Vapor has been more cheerful and picturesque. It now reflects the childhood of a resident of the Port district, Juan Carlos, who, when he was small, used to go to El Serrallo to help the fishermen. His story, which was published in the Diari de Tarragona newspaper in 1984, inspired a young artist from Reus, Aureol Sanz, to portray it in a mural.
This mural is part of the Walls that Speak street art project, an initiative of the Department of Youth of Tarragona City Council and the Tarragona Art Centre, then known as Teler de Llum, with the coordination and direction of the Polígon Cultural organization.
Next to the church of El Serrallo
Since 2002, right next to the church of Sant Pere del Serrallo, people have been able to admire a mural dedicated to the patron saint of the fishermen’s neighbourhood of El Serrallo, Our Lady of Carmen.
The work, commissioned by Tarragona City Council, was designed by Ramon Grau and executed by artists Sánchez Abelló and Ruben Aguilar, and represents an everyday scene in the neighbourhood.
We invite you to discover the more than 100 examples of street art in the city of Tarragona from the street art archive, Shikuarat, by the Polígon Cultural organization.
Have you ever wondered how the Port and the Serrallo neighbourhood came into being? The maritime district of Tarragona, right next to one of the biggest seaports in the Mediterranean, is a hive of gastronomic, cultural, associative and economic activities which have mainly revolved around fishing and the sea since time immemorial. This article gives you some tips for having an authentically maritime experience in the fishing district of Tarragona.
A little history: the origins of Serrallo and the Port
It is widely known that Tarragona has a long-standing fishing tradition that has been documented since the thirteenth century. In the fourteenth century, the first references appeared to the botigues de mar (‘the wooden shacks where the fishermen lived, which they also used for storage’) on Miracle Beach and, later on, near the mouth of the River Francolí. During the eighteenth century, most of the people who worked in the fishing sector lived in the city, in the Part Alta. The poorest among them, however, still lived in shacks in the area known at that time as Platja Llatzeret, in front of Carrer del Mar.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Port’s Works Committee planned the construction of the Marina district in the Part Baixa (lower part) of the city. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century, however, that we can point to the beginning of Tarragona’s fishermen’s district: El Serrallo. The construction of the Tarragona-Reus-Montblanc-Lleida railway line and the expansion of the Port of Tarragona made it imperative to move the fishermen’s houses from Carrer del Mar to the neighbourhood’s current location, between the Port, the railway line and the area around the River Francolí.
When the neighbourhood first arose during the second half of the nineteenth century, it started to be known as El Serrallo, which means harem in Spanish. This comes from the Italian word serraglio (‘closed, harem’), which, in turn, stems from the Latin serrare (‘to close’) and reached us, via Turkish, from the Persian word sarai (‘palace’).
However, the true origin of the name has always been unknown. Historians ascribe it directly to the Hispano-Moroccan War (1859 – 1860). Below are four hypotheses taken from the essay by Vicenç M. Garcia on the origin of the name Serrallo:
- The first: It means ‘harem’. In the fishermen’s shacks, life was pretty free and easy, like in the Muslims’ harems.
- The second: It comes from “serraller”, or locksmith. A number of them used to work in the neighbourhood.
- The third: It comes from “ferralló”, a small streetlight in the port.
- The fourth: In memory of an old, ruined palace that used to belong to Moroccan nobility, El Serrallo, on the outskirts of Ceuta, which the Spanish military used as an operating base during the Hispano-Moroccan War (between Spain and Morocco) where General Echagüe, the Count of Serrallo, was wounded in the Battle of Serrallo on 25 November 1859. Several Tarragonans were involved in the battle, including residents of the maritime district, sent from the barracks in Tarragona.
Before the name El Serrallo became established, the district went by two other names: the neighbourhood of Sant Pere (on a map from 1883 by Saturnino Bellido, the director of the Port of Tarragona between 1881 and 1889) and Tarragoneta, because the population was very tiny, or perhaps because of its similarities with the district of Barceloneta in Barcelona. Neither of these names caught on.
Gastronomic traditions next to the sea
The maritime neighbourhood of Tarragona, El Serrallo, has become a big attraction thanks to its seafood restaurants and privileged location right by the sea. The district’s commercial activities have been well-established for many, many years. The fathers, sons and grandsons of fishermen have continued the professional trade of their ancestors to maintain the seafaring essence of El Serrallo in its restaurants and businesses.
Historians verify that Tarragona has had a Fish Market since 1928, although documents have been found that point to it being much older. This is where you will find the most prized species of fish such as red prawns (native to Tarragona), tiny cuttlefish, Norway lobster (known as “gadegang” in Tarragona), blue whiting, hake, monkfish, mantis shrimp, deep-water pink shrimp, octopus and squid… as well as oily fish, most notably sardines, anchovies and mackerel. The fishermen also fish for line-caught hake, sole, octopus, bluefin tuna and swordfish, when in season.
A rich stew of moixina (blackmouth catshark) with potatoes and garlic mayonnaise sauce, or a romescada redolent with Romesco sauce… these are some of the most typical dishes from the district’s traditional cuisine, whose most important feature is the flavour and aroma of the sea. The number one sauce is Romesco, made from scalded dried peppers, roasted tomatoes and garlic, toasted almonds and hazelnuts, olive oil and a splash of vinegar. The restaurateurs have inherited this seafaring culinary legacy which you can savour in most of the restaurants in the neighbourhood.
Check out the list of restaurants in El Serrallo for a fantastic gourmet experience.
The Moll de Costa: a sea of culture
Getting to the Costa Wharf today is much quicker and easier. The Port Walkway, which was opened in 2018, stretches for 300 metres and connects the city centre with the sea (Miracle Beach, the Miracle Beach Promenade, the Marina and the recreational and cultural area of the Port de Tarragona) in just seven minutes, doing away with the decades-old barrier of the train tracks to get there.
You will also find two elevators plus an access ramp towards the railway station in the area of Passeig d’Espanya.
Once you have gone along the promenade on Miracle Beach, you will come to the Tinglados (sheds) on the Costa Wharf. These are the old sheds that used to be used for storage by the fish workers (former warehouses for storing merchandise) and since 1988 they have been used to host cultural, social and recreational activities. The former warehouses are now being used as refuges.
In Tinglado 2 you can view exhibitions with a very defined conceptual line that showcase contemporary art.
In Refuge 2, the Port Museum has been set up. Here you can take a journey through the history of the Port from when the Romans first disembarked through to the present day. On guided tours and family-oriented educational activities you can learn about all the aspects of the Port’s activities and its vessels. Outside the Museum, you can go on the Port of Tarragona Heritage Route, which follows a series of panels that highlight around a dozen heritage features of the port on a four-kilometre walk from the Port Museum to the Banya Lighthouse, at the end of the Llevant Wharf. You can either do the route on foot or by bicycle.
In Tinglado 4 there is a temporary exhibition covering the history of Roman Tàrraco featuring some of the most representative pieces from the National Archaeological Museum in Plaça del Rei, currently closed for refurbishment. Here you can see the Ivory Doll, the Head of the Medusa, Antinous, Emperor Lucius Verus, and much more.
Another space worth bearing in mind is the Serrallo Theatre. Housed in the former Fishermen’s Depot building and managed by the City Port Department of the Port of Tarragona, this facility hosts the cultural, social, educational and institutional events associated with the district and, indeed, the rest of the city of Tarragona. Here you can watch concerts (as part of the Ja Veus Festival or independent concerts featuring all kinds of music), go to indie film screenings (as part of the REC, Tarragona’s International Film Festival), attend conventions and conferences, enjoy swing parties with musicians and dancers, and much more.
Unique architecture to round off your visit
No sooner do you enter the neighbourhood than you come to Carrer Trafalgar, the most emblematic avenue of the Serrallo district, now remodelled and full of terrace bars and cafés where you can sit and have a midday vermouth, lunch, an afternoon snack or even end up dining. In 2007, the year the avenue was renovated and reopened, an outstanding sculptural artwork by the acclaimed sculptor Béatrice Bizot was also unveiled: a series of fountains that transform into a visual spectacle of light, colour and water as night falls.
At the heart of the neighbourhood, you should make a point of stopping at the Church of Sant Pere Apòstol of Tarragona, the church of the Serrallo district. This Neo-Gothic style building is dedicated to St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. It was inaugurated for the festivities of All Saints Day in 1880 and has been a hub of religious activity ever since.
If you head across the terraced area of the emblematic Carrer Trafalgar, walk through the Tinglados zone and reach the very end, towards the lighthouses, you will come across a Modernist style clock, the Port Clock, which was installed on the Llevant Wharf in the Port of Tarragona in 1922. Engineer Francisco García de Membrillera was responsible for the clock’s design while jeweller and clockmaker Josep Rigau designed the gazebo and the clock’s workings. This emplacement was quite deliberate, as Carrer d’Apodaca was taken as a reference so that people could tell the time from as far as away as Plaça dels Carros. The clock replaced the trumpet blasts that used to mark the beginning and end of each working day.
At the end of the Llevant Wharf you can see the Banya Lighthouse, which was originally built in the Ebro Delta to a design by Lucio del Valle in 1860. It is a unique example of the metal lighthouses that were installed at the estuary of the River Ebro. The lighthouse, which also served as the lighthouse keeper’s home, went into operation in 1864 and was still active until 1978, when a new concrete one was built. In 1984 it was transferred to the Port of Tarragona to save it from being demolished and then to restore it, and in 2003 it was turned into the Lighthouse Museum as an extension of the Port Museum of Tarragona. It is currently open for pre-arranged visits.
Guided tours: 977 259 434 / firstname.lastname@example.org
With more than two thousand years of history, the city of Tarragona has borne witness to countless lives and events, but in the last few years the city has been showing a brand new facet to the world as the backdrop to some very different events: advertising campaigns. Several brands and producers haven chosen areas of Tarragona as the scenario for their ads, attracted by the city’s wealth of heritage monuments, or in search of an original setting in the narrow streets of the Part Alta, an idyllic beach scene or even a unique urban facility. With the support of the Tarragona Film Office, all these narratives have been transformed into reality, offering yet another means of discovering and admiring some of the sights of Tarragona. This article offers a tour of some of the ad locations that will make you fall in love with Tarragona from a different perspective.
Modern-day gladiators in the Amphitheatre
The unbeatable combination of the Mediterranean Sea and the spectacular amphitheatre of ancient Tarraco, built in the second century, has attracted numerous filmmakers for whom it provides the perfect backdrop. The monument was the climatic image of an Estrella Damm campaign in 2014, but one of the most memorable of all the shoots in the amphitheatre was the one by Dolce & Gabbana. To promote its contemporary men’s fragrance The One Sport, the brand revisited the amphitheatre’s ancient activity with a new model of the modern gladiator. Offering one of the most beautiful panoramas in the city, the interior of the amphitheatre can still be visited today and you can even watch modern gladiatorial combats on warm August evenings with Amfiteatrvm.
The moving story of the Cathedral’s bell-tower
The snack brand Lays tugged on our heartstrings with its Christmas tale about the head of the bell-ringing team at Tarragona Cathedral, Cristòbal Conesa, and his annual pealing of the bells for peace. This very personal story, which brings a lump to your throat, takes place in the stunning setting of the Part Alta, featuring the inside of the Cathedral and the very top of its bell-tower which offers a unique and almost magical view over the city. You can experience the feeling of being a bell-ringer for a short while on the guided tour offered by the Cathedral, which includes an ascent to the highest point to admire the city from the same perspective as the star of the ad.
The idyllic beach of Capellans
Tarragona boasts more than ten kilometres of beaches from which to choose, and this part of the coastline is home to numerous little coves which, as the locals well know, are fragments of paradise on earth. The people behind the Fanta campaign of summer 2018 also knew this very well, as they chose the beach of Capellans to shoot part of their ad that takes place on an idyllic beach. And that was not the only location, as they also transformed Tarragona’s trade fair into a discotheque. Fanta is not the only brand to be attracted by the appeal of this beach, as Estrella Damm also chose it as one of their locations for their 2017 campaign, shot in Tarragona, which featured the Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage. Located between the beaches of Arrabassada and La Llarga, Capellans beach is one of those coves on the Tarragona coastline that we recommend you visit as part of a walk along the pathway that hugs the city’s coast.
The streets of the Part Alta
One of the neighbourhoods of Tarragona that offers a wealth of atmospheric streets, nooks and crannies in the shelter of its Roman walls is the Part Alta. Among the many brands that have been captivated by its charms is the insurance company Axa, which chose the narrow street of Escales de l’Arboç to shoot part of its ad campaign in 2018. Still partly flanked by Roman walls, the Part Alta neighbourhood boasts the highest concentration of Roman and medieval monuments in the city, a labyrinthine network of streets and a fantastic array of restaurants, not to mention a truly inspiring atmosphere.
A very special conference centre
Although it’s not a place that is generally open for tours, if you come to Tarragona for business reasons or to attend a congress or convention, the Tarragona Conference Centre is one of the locations that you almost certainly know about. Its unique architecture, with its wall of preserved natural stone on every level that offers an unparalleled backdrop for events, was the inspiration for the German lighting brand Occhio, which filmed its entire ad campaign for 2018 here, known as The Charm. The ad starred two big names from the film world, Mads Mikkelsen and Sofia Boutella.
The perfect racetrack
The automotive industry is another prolific user of Tarragona as a backdrop for their advertising shoots, whether it’s the labyrinthine nature of the narrow streets of the Part Alta to present the new Toyota model or promote the Volkswagen Polo to a Japanese audience, or performing spectacular manoeuvres in the middle of Rambla Nova for the Korean campaign by Hyundai, or chilling out to the incomparable backdrop of Miracle Beach, as chosen by the Seat directors for the new Ateca ad. And Opel took us on a tour of the whole of Tarragona, from the port up to the Part Alta, not forgetting the beaches, in its ad shot in 2013 to present its new model, the Mokka.
If you’d like to know more about the locations in Tarragona that have provided a backdrop for film shoots, of if you’re interested in finding out about the other locations available through the Tarragona Film Office, as well as our range of associated support services for audio-visual productions, we recommend you visit our website.
History is an intrinsic part of Tarragona, not just because of the huge tourist attraction of the archaeological legacy of the Roman city of Tarraco, but also because of its traditions. This is borne out by written documents such as those that show that Easter Week has been celebrated since the Middle Ages, in the mid-sixteenth century, thanks to the efforts of local associations and brotherhoods.
Today, almost five centuries later, Tarragona continues to enthusiastically relive the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ thanks to the dedication of the Agrupació d’Associacions de Setmana Santa de Tarragona (Group of Holy Week Associations of Tarragona) which was set up in 1928 and comprises twelve entities, including brotherhoods, fraternities, associations and guilds. The Group’s tireless work has been a major factor in the declaration of Easter Week in Tarragona as a Festival of Tourist Interest by the Government of Catalonia in 2019, and it attracts the biggest crowds of all the Easter Week celebrations held in Catalonia.
There are a number of events during the lead-up to the main Easter holy days, such as the processions of the Gremi de Marejants, an ancient maritime guild, on 6 April, which takes place in the Serrallo, Tarragona’s maritime district; and the procession on Friday 12 April, Friday of Sorrows, of the Farmers’ Association, which leaves from the church of Sant Llorenç, the only entirely Gothic church still intact in Tarragona, which has a pas, or replica, of the Holy Sepulchre, whose urn and plinth were designed by the renowned Modernist architect from Tarragona, Josep Maria Jujol.
The first of the main Easter days is Palm Sunday on 14 April which features the traditional blessing of palms and olive branches on Carrer de les Coques, followed by a procession. The Cathedral will then hold a pontifical mass, while the church of Natzaret is the gathering place for the Way of the Cross procession that runs through the Part Alta (Old Town) and the Archaeological Walk.
On Maundy Thursday, 18 April, the maritime district of Serrallo plays a leading role again, specifically the church of Sant Pere, which will be the epicentre of the Procession of Light and the Changing of the Guard. Maundy Thursday will be rounded off with the Way of the Cross procession of the Brotherhood of Sant Ecce-Homo, which runs from Avinguda de Maria Cristina to the chapel of Llorito.
The Holy Burial Procession – the high point of Easter Week
There is absolutely no doubt that the most hotly-anticipated event of Easter Week in Tarragona falls on Good Friday, 19 April, with the Procession of the Holy Burial, in which more than 5,000 confreres parade before the transfixed eyes of some 30,000 visitors, leading this event to be declared a Traditional Festival of National Interest in 2000 by the Government of Catalonia.
The day begins at dawn with the Sermon of the Passion, also known as La Bufetada, in the Cathedral, followed by the Sermon of the Seven Words in the chapel of Sant Magí. In the afternoon, the Armats de la Sang (Guardians of the Blood) go to escort the twenty passos of the twelve brotherhoods, fraternities, associations and guilds that take part in the procession. The procession starts at 7.30 pm from the church of Natzaret and the route, lined with crowds of fervent supporters, passes along the main streets and squares of the Part Alta of Tarragona, finishing at midnight back at the church in the Plaça del Rei.
During Easter weekend, Holy Saturday marks the turn of the procession of the Mare de Déu de la Soledat association, and the Easter Vigil in the Cathedral, rounded off with the traditional singing of caramelles (traditional Easter songs) in the Canons’ Hall. Finally, at 11.00 am on Sunday 21 April, the Cathedral will host the Easter Mass of Resurrection.
A new year, new things to look forward to and – why not? – new travel plans. The year 2019 could be the year in which you finally discover Tarragona. Lying at the heart of the Costa Daurada and just over an hour by car from Barcelona, the city offers an array of different experiences every month of the year. Heritage, ancient traditions, beaches, fine food and a unique chance to experience the city’s history at first hand are just some of the reasons why Tarragona could be your perfect trip in the coming year, offering a calendar packed with exciting options all year round.
January: discover Roman Tarraco
The jewel of the monumental complex that is Tarragona and one of the features that local residents take the most pride in. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000, Roman Tarraco is still a living site that coexists harmoniously with contemporary Tarragona in every corner. You will find stunning monuments such as the soaring aqueduct of Les Ferreres or the beautifully-positioned amphitheatre; exceptional remains such as the best-preserved circus of the Roman Empire in the Western world, a Paleochristian necropolis, and more than one kilometre of preserved Roman walls. This Roman heritage can easily fill a stay of several days, including visits to the collections in the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona (MNAT) and the History Museum, plus trips out to the Roman remains in nearby towns such as Altafulla, Constantí and Roda de Berà.
February: savour our regional gastronomy
Tarragona embraces the convergence between the traditions of Mediterranean seafood cuisine, a key feature of the fishing district of El Serrallo and the village of Tamarit, and the culinary proposals, both traditional and avant-garde, offered by the restaurants of the Part Alta of Tarragona. Whether you opt for prized local produce such as prawns and anchovies or unique local specialities such as Romesco, or enjoy gastronomic celebrations such as ‘La Part Alta Somriu a la Crisi/The Part Alta shrugs off the crisis’ (which takes place in February), the cuisine of Tarragona will delight all five senses during your visit. And even more so if you accompany it with one of the wines from the wineries of the Tarragona Designation of Origin, a real guarantee of quality. The Mediterranean Diet, which has also been recognised by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage, has a very special flavour in Tarragona.
March: let your hair down at the Carnival
The Carnival of Tarragona is one of the most participative carnivals in Catalonia, with around 2,000 people forming part of its biggest event: the Rúa de la Artesanía parade of floats held on Carnival Saturday. If this weren’t reason enough, the comparsas (carnival troupes) of Tarragona are particularly proud of the designs and choreography they come up with every year, constantly surpassing themselves in originality and competing for the coveted prize of assuming the roles of King and Concubine throughout the days during which the city submits to uncontained revelry! The gala event of the Disfressa d’Or (Golden Costume), which this year was brought forward to Sunday 24 February, is bound to amaze you and make you an unconditional fan of one of the best-loved traditions of the people of Tarragona.
April: the spirituality of Holy Week
While the Part Alta of Tarragona exudes charm no matter what time of year it is, during Holy Week it becomes an almost magical scenario of worship in which the darkness, the hypnotic sound of the Armats (armed soldiers) and the beauty of the pasos (episodes from the Passion of Christ, some of which were created by such outstanding artists as Josep Maria Jujol) are simply mesmerizing, whatever your religious beliefs may be. The spirituality of Holy Week culminates on the evening of Good Friday with the procession of the Holy Burial, documented since 1550, in which nineteen pasos take part. Before the departure, the Armats go from church to church to collect each of the pasos in one of the most traditional events of a festival that has been declared a Traditional Festival of National Interest by the Government of Catalonia.
May: a journey back in time with Tarraco Viva
Tarragona not only offers the chance to marvel at the monumental legacy of Roman history; it also offers the opportunity to experience that history for yourself, feeling its very essence and thus getting a better understanding than ever. This is the aim of the annual historical reconstruction festival known as Tarraco Viva, which for a fortnight in May revives the ancient inhabitants of Tarraco to offer a portrait of life during Roman times, with the utmost accuracy, endorsed by historical documentation, as its leitmotif. During this very special period, gladiators return to fight in the amphitheatre once again, life as it was two thousand years ago reawakens beneath the vaults of the Circus, and the area around the Roman walls is transformed into a military encampment.
June: thrill to the spectacle of the Castells (human towers)
Few emotions can touch that of experiencing a diada castellera (human tower-building event). In Tarragona, the four local collas (teams) start their season every year on St George’s Day (Sant Jordi) in April, but it is from June onwards that the most intensive period really starts with their yearning to reach higher and higher, uniting the efforts of hundreds of castellers. Tarragona Turisme will help you to get a really hands-on, authentic experience of this event, which has been declared as Intangible Cultural Heritage, with the City of Human Towers programme on which you can enjoy some special performances, take part in the rehearsals and marvel at some of the most outstanding displays on the casteller calendar.
July: discover Tarragona’s amazing beaches and surroundings
With ten kilometres of coastline, the range of beaches in Tarragona is both varied and irresistible, and not just during the summer months. Much of the city’s natural wealth can be found alongside the Mediterranean Sea as part of its Green Ring, including such glorious spots as the beaches Platja Llarga and Punta de la Móra. The hiking path that runs along the coast offers the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in a unique protected natural space, the Bosc de la Marquesa, which is also the gateway to some of the city’s most beautiful coves. And let’s not forget the happy association between medieval heritage and the Mediterranean Sea that is the castle of Tamarit and its surrounding beaches. Plus, if you’re visiting Tarragona in early July, our most urban beach, Platja del Miracle, makes the ideal setting for enjoying the brilliant lights and colours of the International Firework Competition.
August: the unique experience of Amfiteatrvm
Tarragona’s amphitheatre is a very special venue when night falls, especially in August. The past is more present than ever with the evening performance of Amfiteatrvm, which combines historical recreation, sound and visual effects, exciting history, and projections on giant screens and over the sand of this exceptional monument. All of this will immerse you in the history of Roman Tarraco as never before, and offers an unforgettable memory of your stay in Tarragona.
September: experience Santa Tecla like a Tarragona native
Tarragona takes to the streets during the second half of September to take part in the festivities that local residents look forward to the whole year: Santa Tecla. Documented since the fourteenth century, the event has been designated a Festival of Tourist Interest by both the Spanish and Catalan governments and represents a truly participative outpouring of Tarragona society. Its spectacular Seguici Popular (popular retinue), the massed crowds of the Baixada de l’Àliga (Descent of the Eagle), the cultural programme and the festival’s high point of the entrance of the reliquary to the Cathedral are just some of the events taking place. Nobody should relinquish the chance to experience the Santa Tecla festival in Tarragona, even if only once in their lives.
October: a stroll around Modernism
The mild Tarragona autumn provides the perfect backdrop for a stroll around the centre of Tarragona to discover what is possibly the city’s least-known heritage: Modernism. On Rambla Nova there are still a number of façades featuring this popular style by architects such as Ramon Salas and Josep Maria Pujol de Barberà, yet the rest of the city also houses many other Modernist gems, including several of the works of leading Modernist architect Josep Maria Jujol (such as the original Metropol Theatre), the Central Market which is back to its proud best following the renovation of its wrought iron work and the trencadís (ceramic tile mosaics) of its original style, and even the first documented work by Antoni Gaudí.
November: fall in love with medieval Tarragona
It’s easy for the stunning Cathedral of Tarragona, which presides over the Part Alta from its upper terrace, to eclipse the rest of the city’s medieval legacy. The old quarter of the city, enclosed by its Roman walls, is full of references to the Middle Ages, from the Gothic mansions in the Cathedral Square to Romanesque gems such as the chapel of San Pablo, and buildings constructed from Roman remains such as the Praetorium and the Tower of the Nuns. And, of course, the Cathedral, its cloister and the Diocesan Museum, which are bound to steal your heart.
December: enjoy the Christmas lights
The Tarragona of eternal spring, of that limpid Mediterranean light, is not immune to the charms of the Christmas festivities. The loss of daylight hours is offset by the stunning evening illuminations that turn streets such as Rambla Nova into an enchanted walk, accompanied by the traditional Christmas Craft Fair which is held every December without fail. The Home dels Nassos (Man of the Noses) offers an amusing counterpart to a New Year’s Day on which hundreds of locals insist, year after year, on plunging into the frigid waters of the Mediterranean, while the icing on the cake is provided by the magical Procession of the Three Kings that has taken place for more than a hundred years.
It’s said that if you really want to know what a city and the people who live in it are like, you’ll find the clues in its markets. Coming up to its 103rd anniversary, Tarragona’s Central Market is a worthy representative of the Mediterranean spirit of Tarragona, and more dynamic than ever since its renovation was completed in 2017, which has also imbued new life into its Modernist features. In this new stage of its life, the historical essence of the market is still very much to the fore, but now coexists alongside the ambition and dynamism typical of the twenty-first century.
The real treasure of every market is, of course, inside it: its people, products and stories. But the outer shell of Tarragona’s Central Market cannot be underestimated and the features of this stunning building alone would justify a visit. The Central Market was designed by one of the most prolific architects of Catalan Modernism in Tarragona, Josep Maria Pujol de Barberà. He was charged with satisfying a historic demand that the city had been craving since the nineteenth century: the creation of a large covered market that would unite all the different open-air stalls whose hygiene and comfort conditions left a lot to be desired. He chose for the project the huge esplanade which is now known as Plaça Corsini, and in the early twentieth century was little more than wasteland where football games used to be staged.
Curiously enough, the place where the Central Market was raised is just a few metres from the heart of the Roman city of Tarraco: the local Forum, where a number of ruins still stand that can be visited today. Thus very close to the spot where, two thousand years ago, the Romans used to buy and sell goods, Pujol de Barberà planned a large rectangular building with three naves, built with a material which at that time was very innovative for Tarragona: reinforced concrete or cement. The building was inaugurated with a big formal ceremony in December 1915 and caused such an impact on the local residents in the early twentieth century that it was even mentioned in many popular songs, reflecting their fascination with the new edifice.
The success of the design of the Central Market is partly explained by its modernity. The three-nave structure and the use of wrought iron pillars bear similarities with the Born Market in Barcelona, while its four symmetrical façades are reminiscent of the Viennese Secession style, especially the Otto Wagner pavilion in Karlsplatz. The roof was covered with glazed ceramic tiles, a feature that was lost during successive reforms and the impact of bombing during the Spanish Civil War, but which the most recent renovation has revived.
But it’s not all about aesthetics. Pujol de Barberà had planned a functional market with space for more than 300 stalls and dim lighting that would avoid spoiling the produce by overheating it. However, the Central Market has evolved a great deal since the days when market stall concessions were granted for one month, or the vendors could only have a single 80-watt bulb to showcase their wares. The updated market, which now includes a new semi-underground level for local stores, a hypermarket and a new car park, encompasses a space where people not only go to shop but also to taste, learn and absorb the buzz of the city.
Today, the heart of the Central Market is formed by around forty stalls that specialize in different food products: meat, vegetables, fruit, fish, dried fruit and nuts, spices, patisserie, bread, etc. This is all high quality, local and always seasonal produce, endorsed by the knowledge of the stallholders, many of whom have been preceded by generations of their families. Yet you can do much more than simply fill your fridge or cupboards at the market stalls: many of them offer samples of their products to taste, from freshly-squeezed fruit juices through to a full menu, and even specialities such as freshly-made sushi. In the Central Market you will also find a spacious area to sit down with a coffee, a glass of wine or a tasty meal surrounded by the beauty of its Modernist architecture.
Life in Plaça Corsini also offers a wealth of possibilities for spending an enjoyable day. At the unusual stall of La Teca i la Meca you’ll often find tempting gastronomic ideas, wine and food pairing suggestions, and even crafts and handiwork that will delight young and old alike. Cookery courses, decoration workshops, tasting sessions, shows, face-painting… The Central Market never fails to reveal a new facet to surprise its visitors. And in addition to all this there are plenty of local stores and restaurants in the area, as it stands in one of the main shopping areas of Tarragona.
And we shouldn’t forget to mention the latest incorporation into this twenty-first century market. No visit could be complete without watching the Central Market’s new Carillon Clock in action. Every day, seven figures from the seguici popular (popular retinue) of Santa Tecla dance to the sounds of the pasodoble Amparito Roca (the anthem of Tarragona’s Santa Tecla festival) on the main façade of the market. They perform at 12 noon and 6.00 pm every day, all year around, with a third outing at 8.00 pm in the summer. This is yet another ingredient in a culinary and cultural offering that is bound to put a smile on your face during your visit!
With more than 500 events over eleven days of celebrations, navigating the Santa Tecla programme can be a challenging task for those who are new to the festive universe of Tarragona. That’s why we’re offering a brief guide to the ten essential experiences for enjoying Santa Tecla to the full, plus ten alternative options for those looking for something a little different, or who simply want to escape the crowds.
The festival of Santa Tecla, which has been declared of National Tourist Interest by Spain and a Heritage Festival of National Interest by the Government of Catalonia, has been held in Tarragona since the fourteenth century and offers a unique opportunity to get to know the city and, above all, its people. Get your festival T-shirt ready, put on some comfy shoes, pop a hat on your head to protect you from the sun and the sparks from the fires, and let’s go!
- Eat like a real Santa Tecla aficionado
A true follower of Santa Tecla (teclero) can be identified by what they eat as well! The quintessential dish is espineta amb cargolins (tuna stew with snails), which is the breakfast of choice for tecleros on the morning of 23 September. And for dessert? Obviously, Braç de Santa Tecla (Santa Tecla’s Arm), but in the form of a cake. This popular treat is made to order by many of the city’s bakeries on the afternoon of 20 September.
Don’t fancy the look of the espineta? Don’t worry, during Santa Tecla you’ll find as many gastronomic options as there are different tastes. Days such as the first Saturday of the festivities are full of tasting sessions which will take your taste-buds on a fascinating journey, and the Tecla Tapa is great quick dinner option during the festivities.
- Thrill to the Tableau of Santa Tecla
The best way of appreciating the figure of the patron saint of Tarragona is through the Tableau of Santa Tecla, which is performed every 20 September by the Esbart de Santa Tecla theatre group inside the Cathedral. With the audience facing away from the altar, through gestures and music they portray the most important scenes in the life, martyrdom and death of Tecla.
If you fancy something different, the programme features numerous guided tours of the Cathedral which give a closer insight into the figure of Santa Tecla and the temple that was raised in her honour. The festivities offer the perfect opportunity to rediscover Tarragona’s medieval heritage from another perspective.
- Enjoy the full procession of the Seguici Popular
A great part of the participative heart and soul of Santa Tecla can be found in the Seguici Popular (popular retinue), a long street procession comprising fire-runners, fantastical creatures, ‘spoken dances’, giants, allegorical dances, etc. The Seguici does three full processions during the two main days of the festival: on the afternoon of 22 September, the Anada i Tornada a Ofici (Round Trip) on the morning of 23 September, and another procession on the afternoon of 23 September. There can be no more traditional spot to enjoy the procession than on the steps of Plaça de les Cols, but make sure you set aside at least two hours to watch the full procession.
Are you short of time, or perhaps you don’t like crowds? The procession route offers many less crowded options and some where you have the chance to watch it from a different perspective or catch a one-off dance being performed or other off-programme events. If you don’t mind getting up early, the Anada a Ofici procession on 23 September is the perfect time to see the Seguici away from the crowds and offers some great photo opportunities.
- Experience the Baixada de l’Àliga (Descent of the Eagle)
On the night of 21 September, a number of fantastical creatures and giants perform a double descent from the Cathedral to Plaça del Rei and as far as Plaça de la Font. To really experience it to the utmost you need to join the descent crew of a particular element and wait your turn to enjoy the unique opportunity to carry them. If you’re interested, the best thing is to ask the advice of an experienced local resident to help you get fully involved, but be sure to always respect the elements and their bearers.
Is the madness of the Baixada a little too much for you? You can enjoy it from a safe distance at points such as Plaça del Fòrum or, even better, during the second Baixada from Plaça del Rei to Plaça de la Font. Or if you’d rather watch the processional characters in daylight hours, the fifteen minutes before each departure are preceded by a short performance in Plaça de la Font.
- Be amazed by the castells (human towers)
A city with such a long-standing human tower building tradition as Tarragona can hardly ignore its colles castelleres (tower-building teams) during its most important annual festivity. For this reason, Santa Tecla features two of the most important casteller sessions of the year: the first Sunday of the festivities (with two guest colles from outside the city), and on the day of Santa Tecla itself, featuring four local colles. Your Santa Tecla experience will not be complete until you have marvelled at a human tower building session in Plaça de la Font, perhaps with a local aperitif in your hand!
Are you looking for a more intimate experience of human tower building? During the festivities, all the colles offer open rehearsals at their headquarters, free of charge and with no need to book in advance, so you can appreciate how they get ready for this red letter day in their diaries.
- Laugh at the annual Dames i Vells revue
Satire is an indispensable ingredient of Santa Tecla and its ‘spoken dances’ are responsible for keeping it alive year after year. The must-see revue is one of the performances by the Dames i Vells (Ladies and Old Men) on 22, 23 and 24 September, a searing review of current affairs that puts more than one person in their place!
The popularity of Dames i Vells means that it is sometimes difficult to get a good place from which to see them. Don’t worry, though, as the sardonic fun permeates the rest of the city, and on 22 and 23 September you can laugh along with the satirical utterances at the Ball de Diables (Devils’ Dance), Ball d’en Serrallonga (Serrallonga Dance), Ball de Gitanes (Gypsies’ Dance) and Ball de Pastorets (Shepherds’ Dance). They may be less well known, but they’re equally caustic and unabashed.
- Dance until sunrise on the nights of 22 and 23 September
Forget about sleeping on the Eve of Santa Tecla and choose from a number of different nightlife options around the city during what are possibly the liveliest hours of the year in Tarragona. When the sun begins to rise, the sound of the gralles (a native Catalan double-reed wind instrument) playing the matinades (matins) will keep you company. And if you really want to do it all, round off the experience with the early-morning departure of the Seguici procession on 23 September and a hearty Tarragona-style breakfast.
If you’re not willing to give up a good night’s sleep, no problem. The Santa Tecla programme offers numerous musical events at more sleep-friendly times so you can fully experience Santa Tecla by night.
- Thrill to the climax of the Entrada del Braç
This is the climax of the festivities and the one that arouses the strongest emotions in the people of Tarragona. The afternoon procession of 23 September culminates with the entrance of the Saint’s arm relic to the Cathedral, with the Pla de la Seu packed with all the characters in the Seguici who unite in a dance and an outburst of fireworks. The feeling of pandemonium and euphoria will raises goose-bumps on the skin of even the most insensitive individual!
Experiencing the Entrada del Braç has its downside: hours of waiting, crowds of people, and the risk of getting singed or deafened by the fireworks and cacophony of the Seguici. If you want to experience it from a more prudent distance, we recommend that you stay in Plaça de les Cols and reserve yourself a spot to experience one of the most well-loved moments of the Seguici: the descent of the staircase after the Entrada. If you’d rather watch the Entrada during the day, you’ll need to get up very early and head there on the morning of 23 September to watch the processional entry of the city’s coat of arms.
- Follow the ‘walking pillars’ of La Mercè
On 24 September, the four local colles raise a pillar, or human tower, of four castellers which ascend and descend the Cathedral steps and then go down the steep Carrer Major to the City Hall balcony. You can enjoy the whole show from Plaça de les Cols, accompanying (at a safe distance) one of the pillars to the end of its route.
With so much festive fun going on, how can you resist another human tower building session? In Plaça de la Font, at midday on 24 September, you can enjoy a delicious glass of vermouth while waiting for the arrival of the four walking pillars. We promise that the climb of each enxaneta (the little child who tops the human towers) to the City Hall balcony is a scene you will never forget.
- Run the fire route
At midnight on 24 September, Tarragona gets ready to say goodbye to Santa Tecla as only Tarragona knows how: in an orgy of fire, with the traditional correfoc (fire run) and the final icing on the cake: the route that runs along Rambla Nova to the Balcony of the Mediterranean. The full fire run starts with an explosive burst at the Statue of Els Despullats and heads up the Rambla to the cacophony of fire-spitting devils and dragons.
Would you rather keep the devils at a distance? Once the correfoc has passed by, find a spot close to the Balcony of the Mediterranean and wait for the final spectacular firework display and the lighting of the Visca Santa Tecla message. And if you feel a momentary sadness as Santa Tecla draws to a close, don’t worry; there is less than a year left for everything to start all over again!
Get ready for your Santa Tecla 2019 experience by checking out the comprehensive festival programme.
The Cathedral cloister of Tarragona is perhaps one of the most beautiful corners of the city, and an essential stop on any route around medieval Tarragona. Its architecture and decoration also tell stories that will take you back in time, from Roman Tarraco through to the fables and legends of the Tarragonans of the Middle Ages and the leading protagonists of the Old and New Testaments. This article offers a brief guide to help you make the most of your visit, whether this is the first time you’re discovering the cloister or if you already know it.
Before entering, it’s important that you realise that we present-day visitors are very privileged to be able to enter the area of the cloister. Originally, this space built at the side of the Cathedral was conceived purely for canonical use: in other words, the members of the Cathedral’s management and governing body. Consequently, hardy anyone outside this domain set foot in the cloister, which makes a visit here even more special.
Tarraco, a constant presence
According to the way visits to the Cathedral of Tarragona are currently organized, you enter the cloister from inside the Cathedral. At this point, it is very important not to let yourself be distracted by the view of the garden and the galleries, but rather turn around to look at the door through which you have entered. This is one of the most notable features of the whole complex, but due to its position it tends to go unnoticed.
The door to the cloister, which represents the Apocalypse, is made from marble, a material that was very rarely used in other medieval cathedrals. Nevertheless, marble is very much a feature of the Cathedral of Tarragona, and the reason for this can be found in the city’s Roman history. The remains of Roman Tarraco provided a considerable supply of marble to the builders of the cathedral, who took great advantage of it at points such as this one.
The legacy of Tarraco is still very much present in the Cathedral cloister, apart from the door. Two of the four walls of this space match those of the walls which, in Roman times, surrounded the Roman temple of Augustus (known as temenos). The cloister is also one of the best places to see the remains of this sacred wall that is over two thousand years old. You will find it in the Exedra Romana room, whose entrance is in one of the corners of the cloister.
Capitals that tell a story
There is no unanimous agreement about the chronology of the construction of Tarragona’s Cathedral, but dates for the cloister are usually put at between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The work is medieval Romanesque in style, and is particularly notable for its dimensions. With an area of almost 46 x 46 metres, it is considered to be the second largest Romanesque cloister in the Iberian Peninsula.
Walking around the galleries that surround the garden, you will find a total of 295 capitals, all decorated with carefully-rendered sculptural features. You should be able to distinguish four different themes. The most prolific theme is based on vegetation, but you will also be able to find other capitals featuring fantastical creatures and monsters, something very typical of the medieval imagination and very commonly found in these kinds of structures.
A third very popular type of capitals are those that depict popular fables, a theme in which you will find what is probably one of the most famous capitals in the whole cloister: the capital of the rats. This relief, which you can see to the side of the entrance door to the garden, explains the history of a very intelligent cat which helped a noble family of Tarragona to get rid of a plague of rats. To do so, the cat pretended to be dead, and when the rats got ready to bury it, it pounced on them all and ate them.
A story of redemption
However, historians’ interest tends to concentrate on the so-called narrative capitals: those that refer to stories from the Old and New Testaments as well as stories about the Saints and the Virgin Mary. There are 28 capitals of this kind in the cloister of Tarragona, situated at very precise positions. You will find them to the side of the door going into the inner garden, on the wall opposite this door, and at the corner of the Exedra Romana room.
This distribution was not a random one. The idea was that people walking around the cloister would make a sequential reading of the stories while moving from room to room, with the aim of transmitting a very clear message: that of redemption. This becomes clear, for example, if we look at the way the stories of the Old and New Testament are arranged. Thus to the side of the garden door you will find the story of the Original Sin of Adam and Eve; while the opposite wall shows the death of Jesus, which in Christian eyes represents the redemption of this sin.
On the cloister’s capitals you will find stories from the Old Testament, such as the Sacrifice of Isaac, and also from the New Testament, such as the Doubt of St Thomas. One of the most unusual portrayals is that of St Nicholas, who you will see as the protagonist of several scenes. Tarragona is the only example of Catalan Romanesque in which this saint appears, something that has been associated with the Normans, who took part in the Conquest of Tarragona against the Muslims and felt a particular veneration for St Nicolas.
The cloister of Tarragona Cathedral thus offers a wealth of stories for discovery which will surprise you at every turn and help you to even better imagine its original atmosphere during medieval times. By clicking on this link you will find all the information you need to prepare your visit.