Understanding history helps us better understand the present too. This is the philosophy behind Tarraco Viva , Tarragona’s annual historical re-enactment festival, which this year sees its 22nd edition. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a change of dates this year, so the festival is being concentrated in a single week from 11 to 18 October with a total of 184 events, all with limited capacity, and many also being streamed on the website and social media.
In spite of all the changes and restrictions, however, the festival remains the perfect excuse to get to know a Tarragona where the customs, politics and other day-to-day aspects from two thousand years ago come back to life, with good scientific intent all the while and staying true to history. And what better way to round off your visit than with a culinary offering inspired by the past as well, plus a visit to the heritage sites that serve as the backdrop for Tarraco Viva.
A festival with resilience and pandemics at its core
With the aim of bringing history closer to our own time than ever before, the core theme of Tarraco Viva will be resilience and solidarity in Ancient Rome, focusing especially on those networks that allowed ordinary people to survive in the face of crises, among which pandemics feature prominently just like in 2020.
This is the main topic of the opening debate (on 11 October), but a glance at the nearly 200 scheduled events shows that one of the most repeated topics is epidemics and plagues in antiquity: you’ll find historical re-enactments about the Plague of Justinian (11 and 17 October), the Plagues of Egypt (11 and 17 October) and how the general population, rulers and doctors of the Roman era experienced regular epidemics (17 October).
But it’s not all epidemic diseases at the Tarraco Viva festival, where despite restricted capacity and safety measures that will be strictly adhered to at each and every event, the themes also include old favourites such as the life of gladiators, legions, and arts and beliefs from antiquity. There will also be a new wider range of character monologues, workshops and discussions or debates with a large online presence, plus visits and tours to see the heritage sites and also the modern city from another perspective.
The current public health situation has not only affected the festival’s themes, but also how it is organised. This means that although all events are free this year, it is essential to book in advance, via the festival website.
Roman cuisine spiced up by modern gastronomy
If the limited capacity prevents you from filling your entire visit with Tarraco Viva activities, don’t worry! Tarragona has much more to offer while the festival is on so that you can experience history from a new perspective. One thing you shouldn’t miss is the food. After all, who has never been curious about the tastes and smells of Roman cuisine?
Seven of the city’s restaurants, members of the restaurateur association Tàrraco a Taula, are once again offering menus based on research into De re coquinaria by Apicius, one of the best preserved recipe collections from Roman times, all spiced up with the attention to detail of modern cuisine. As a result, the Tàrraco a Taula gastronomy days are being held this year for the 23rd time, during which special set menus are being offered for 29 euros until 18 October, allowing you to travel back in time through your stomach!
All meals are also accompanied by wines that have been made with minimal human intervention, so as to resemble even more closely those consumed at Roman banquets, as well as a craft beer, SUBURBIA, made especially for the occasion by La Sitgetana. This offer for all five senses to enjoy is available in the following participating restaurants: Ares Restaurant, Cócula, Merceria 34, El Llagut, La Xarxa, Lola Bistró and El Cortijo. The latter two are also offering individual servings and tasters throughout the event. You can see everything that’s on offer via this link.
A unique opportunity to discover our World Heritage Site
If we feel like we’ve opened a window directly onto the city of two thousand years ago during the many events of Tarraco Viva week, what better context in which to tour all of the Roman heritage still preserved in Tarragona! By following the Roman route , which you’ll find on the Tarragona Tourism website, you can visit Tarraco’s best-preserved monuments on your own, without missing a single detail. We recommend that you start by visiting the model in the Antiga Audiència, which gives an easily understood overview of the transformation of Roman Tarragona into the city of today.
Plus, of course, don’t forget to round off your discovery by visiting the objects preserved and exhibited both in the City History Museum and the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona, which has been moved temporarily to Tinglado 4, Moll de la Costa in the harbour, where you’ll find such iconic objects as the famous ivory doll.