January 259 AD. Fructuosus, Bishop of Tarraco, and deacons Augurius and Eulogius are burned alive on a stake in the Amphitheatre. Roman Emperor, Valerian, has promulgated laws that allow for Christians to be persecuted, and the execution of their spiritual leaders is a true catastrophe for the community existing in Tarragona. However, the martyrdom of Fructuosus and other Christian significances of the same period will make this religion, which will soon officially embrace the whole Empire, rapidly spread. On top of the very same ground Fructuosus earned his Saint name would stand, in the 6th century, a martyrdom basilica that would gather pilgrims from all over Europe.
Tarragona, the city that, according to tradition, turned Saul of Tarsus into Paul the Apostle in the 1st century AD, was led to crisis little after the martyrdom of Fructuosus. Franks, a barbarian tribe, used the misrule of Rome to loot Tarraco just one year after. So much misfortune didn’t seem to weaken the faith of local Christians though. On the contrary; the importance of a number of archaeological findings, such as the extensive area of burials and early-Christian basilicas found nearby the river Francolí –added to the existence of historic news that highlight the key role of the Bishop of Tarraco against the rest of prelates of the Peninsula– leads us into thinking that “Tarragona was once the early Christian’s landmark in Hispania”, according to the archaeologist and biblical scholar Andreu Muñoz, president of the Associació Cultural Sant Fructuós.
Records of the martyrdom of Saint Fructuosus, which tell us everything from the moment the clerks were arrested until the moment of their glorification, became very popular in the 4th and 5th centuries. One of the fathers of the Church, Saint Augustine, wrote a sermon after them. And the poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, contemporary of Saint Augustine, mentions this very document in one of his poems. At the same time, Christian community and the new ecclesiastic power of Tarragona got bigger, while transforming the entire city. Some public buildings were abandoned, such as the Circus and the Theatre, and outside the walls the new great sepulchral and religious complex was taking shape, the same that in 1927, during the construction of a tobacco factory, exposed “the most important late-Roman epigraphic collection in the peninsula”, says Muñoz.
Both the Associació and Muñoz, who is an archaeologist at the Archbishopric and directs the Museu Bíblic Tarraconense, are also behind the route of the early Christians of Tarraco. This itinerary, focused on cultural and religious tourism, includes 7 monuments that refer to the progressive implementation of Christianity in the late-Roman society: Capella de Sant Pau, Cathedral and Museu Diocesà, Museu Bíblic, Amphitheatre, Fòrum de la Colònia, Basílica del Parc Central, Necròpolis Paleocristiana and Conjunt de Centcelles. There’s a brand new ticket available this year, and the target in the midterm is to create a Catalan route together with other cities with similar heritage and purposes, such as Terrassa, Barcelona, Lleida, Girona and Empúries.
“The idea is to work in order design joint actions that allow us to boost the early-Christian patrimony all around Catalonia. We intend to establish a patrimony map so that we can then offer it as a tourist and educational product with the support of Generalitat de Catalunya, and the various municipalities that are part of this patrimonial collection using Tarragona as the starting point”, says Muñoz. The project is supported by the universities of Barcelona, Rovira i Virgili and Girona.
“Catalonia doesn’t start in the Middle Ages. Tarragona has an exceptional late-Roman patrimony, a privileged duality set where classical and religious heritage meet. Early Christians were not sectarian people; they were Roman Christians. Their Roman way of living explains what we are now in part, but it has often been relegated to dissemination purposes due to laicism prejudices”. The route of the Early Christians pretends to mend the existing lack of knowledge. In a context where new generations have lost the ability to understand religious symbolism and iconography, “we’re obliged to spread the word of Early Christian heritage, not with catechesis purposes, but rather trying to answer a cultural need”, states Muñoz.
Someone that decisively contributed to renew the discourse of the Museu Bíblic (Biblical Museum) and added relics of great importance to it, such as a number of stretches of the wall of the administrative square of the old Tarraco –not that long ago, under a few layers of plaster–, became conscious of the importance of enlightening people by working as a teacher for 17 years in Lestonnac school. Muñoz is also a true supporter of the collaboration between institutions that are related to patrimony and archaeology as the only way of allowing knowledge to move forward.
His name is present in recent investigations about ancient patrimony that would not have been possible without his vision, generosity and teamwork capacity with a number of partners. This is the case with the probing and digging of the Cathedral’s central nave, which uncovered, just a few years ago, evidences of the historical temple dedicated to the cult of Augustus; or the most recent excavation in the tomb of Saint Fructuosus, which successfully combined the efforts of both the local government, the Archbishopric and the Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica.
“Luckily, we’ve left behind the time when ancient and old were considered to be the same thing. The future of archaeology implies the sum of acquired knowledge and the capacity to spread the results by using a sort of language that can actually reach society. Science needs of great humility, open-minded people and the sum of talents from various disciplines. And only by applying this new mentality will we ever manage to submit Tarragona’s heritage to a constant reinterpretation”, finishes Muñoz.
Doctor Katsuyuki Takenaka, professor of Human Geography at the Department of Foreign Studies at Aichi University, has flown over 13.000km in order to get from Japan to Tarragona and study the interaction model existing between citizens and historical heritage set by Tarraco Viva. Takenaka, who is undertaking an academic research paper, found “universal values represented in a very creative way” in the historical dissemination festival of Tarragona and was surprised about, not just the high level of commitment towards scientific rigour taken by the organisation, but also towards seduction and public engagement. “This is a model that should be taken into consideration in other parts of the world that have ever thought about revitalizing patrimony as collective memory and identity spaces”, says Takenaka.
Katsuyuki, Katsu among his friends, got his specialization by doing some research about the interaction existing between citizens and the physical environment they inhabit. Some years ago, he undertook a study in the Japanese embassy about interior migration in Spain, and it was then that he got to discover Catalonia, a territory he has visited a number of times ever since, specially the Tarragona area, to which he got hooked seven years ago. Experiences and lessons learnt on his trips, he says, have improved his scientific knowledge and allowed him to provide other cultural perspectives rather than the Japanese.
Katsu is not the typical Japanese tourist paying tribute to Gaudi’s brilliance as part of a group. He carries a camera, yes, but he travels alone, learns by himself, and speaks a faultless Catalan, consolidated by sticking his nose in Geography books in Japan and perfected during a stay in Vilafranca. This is not his first time in Tarragona and, if Tarraco Viva wasn’t held during university’s busiest time of the year, he’d manage to come back in future editions. “Tarragona is a city open to contrasts, a node with high capacity of integration. It was built throughout the centuries thanks to cultural fusion, with the harbour as a leverage effect in trade, and working as a meeting point for people from all over the Mediterranean area. Even today, there are many people that were born abroad, but still, the level of cohabitation and social balance is very high”, he states.
He is currently working on a study that will arise different action proposals to restore the use and citizen appreciation of Nagoya’s city canal, which was built a hundred years ago as an industrial transport of goods, but was closed some decades ago.
Katsuyuki got many new ideas in Tarragona. “I incorporate ideas about how people see their city, and how the different patrimonial spaces interact, not just with the personality of every individual, but also with how these end up creating a common identity”, explains. According to this academician, whose research project is sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of Japan, “the only way to get an economic advantage from heritage is by making it valuable to those that live around it. Not doing it would lead to trivialisation and loss of interest”.
By means of historical dissemination –by publicly reinterpreting the events and lifestyle of the Romans in emblematic locations of the city– Tarraco Viva intends Heritage to become a driver for social wealth and cultural industry. The target is to complete a large virtuous circle: to generate new resources with this event, so that they can then be allocated to preserve monuments and promote Historical research and dissemination. “Catalan and Japanese people resemble in a way: we both love a job well done; and Tarraco Viva proves that point”, he ends.
They spend most of their time with relics, busts and temples, and even a mummy but, behind their artistic concept, there’s the vision of someone who presents culture with a depth charge: invocation to essences in order to provide an answer to fundamental questions for our period. This project by Jesús Mendiola and Emma Zahonero is known as MV Arte, a workshop specialized in preserving and restoring works of art, responsible in the last few years of spectacular creations for the Tarraco Viva, the Roman history re-enactment festival of Tarragona.
Jesús and Emma’s speciality is a meticulous use of visual arts techniques usually used back in the Antiquity, high-level artistic and pedagogic demonstrations that are much more than what we can see, and that provide the festival with content. Two years ago, MV Arte really made a difference when bringing the original colours back to the Augusto de Prima Porta, thanks to an intense previous work. In 2016, the workshop is back again with a number of pieces that will help users experience a cultural fusion that took place in Egypt 2,000 years ago, under the rule of Rome.
Cultural fusion is the antithesis of imposition, the trend that is furthest to seduction, which is the history dissemination process adopted by the festival, and that has allowed it to be known to the public. “Tarragona is a city with an enviable legacy, not just from the Roman period, and its patrimony has proved that it could become a trademark with a capacity to generate resources. And that’s thanks to the Tarraco Viva, which created a new way of explaining history, with narrations of incredibly varied subjects, and gathered experts from different disciplines all at once”, explains Emma. Over 100.000 spectators per year prove this project is a true success.
Zahonero and Mendiola met while taking part in their degree in Fine Arts, in Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and it was when living in Cantabria, in the early 00s, that they found out about Tarraco Viva. “During a Roman plastics workshop in Julióbriga, Cantabria, we were told to visit the history re-enactment festival of Tarragona. Even back then, it was considered the best one of its characteristics in Europe”, explains Zahonero. This very first contact was a true revelation for the couple. MV Arte settled in the Tarragona area in 2007, and has collaborated with the festival since 2008.
The workshop’s duty is to create facsimile editions of ancient artworks for museums and, most of all, to preserve the originals; most of them, historical objects property of the Tarragona Archbishopric. Besides, MV Arte got involved in the most recent restoration stage of the Tarragona Cathedral, and led, among others, the works that allowed the recovery of both the disposition and original colours of the outstanding gothic altarpiece located in the Capella dels Sastres (14th century), one of the Temple’s main attractions. According to Jesús Mendiola though, good part of the most valuable heritage in Tarragona is still hidden from public for no good reason.
“Many cities really make the most of what they have. An earthquake left the town of Lorca with no archaeological museum, for instance; they have now rebuilt it and designed a new town project, which has involved the whole town’s population. Tarragona has great potential; they should learn from them. I find it very weird that the vast collection of tapestries of the Cathedral can’t be seen, or that some palaces in the city are closed. We believe Tarraco Viva is a seed with the capacity to shake the city, build a story, a management experience, and develop its potential. Above all though, we should not forget to water this seed”, says Mendiola.
Materials Jesús and Emma have been working on for the last months will certainly stand out in the 8th edition of Tarraco Viva. The workshop takes part directly in three new shows: “Mòmia. El viatge al més enllà” (“Mummy. A journey to the hereafter”, designed in collaboration with Argos, Serveis Culturals), about the mummification process of corpses in the ancient Egypt; “Sopant a les portes de Duat” (“Having dinner in the edge of Duat”) about the Egyptian funerary banquet, and “Mirades d’eternitat. Els retrats del Faium” (“Eternity gazes. Faium’s portraits”, together with Argos and Projecte Phoenix), about a number of funerary portraits that represent a meeting point between both the Egyptian and Roman culture.
Juanan Fernández travels over 3,000 miles a year on foot, which is, more or less, a return trip to Oslo. Passionate, tireless for running, Catalonia half marathon champion for some years, Juanan moves fast and always ahead. During the daybreak of recession, he quit a key position in a certificate sector multinational company and made running become his personal vital and business project. Today, Running Solutions, the firm behind some local sport events, is in the top 10 of its kind. His project became larger and larger just as urban athletics gathered more users. In the last 10 years, the number of enthusiasts doubled and it’s now over 4 million in Spain.
Running makes it now to everyone and generates, just in Spain, over €3,000 Million a year. It’s been some years now that Juanan, a restless talent, has been analysing the various indicators in the business. Competitions gather thousands of people and the impact of an event such as the Marató de Tarragona, organised by Running Solutions, is no slouch. There’s no other competition that is more successful in January, and it draws over 2,000 people, counting those taking part plus their companions. Two hotels in the city get absolutely packed during the event, which generates over €350,000. Visitors –mainly Spanish, in the case of Tarragona– are youngsters and middle-age users that travel with their families and do much more that just running when visiting the city.
Other than direct profit though –all the business activity that takes part in a January weekend–, it’s the global effect over the city’s trademark that Juanan gives more importance to. Once the last edition of the Marató de Tarragona was finished, users could enter their numbers on a website and find themselves in a number of professional photographs. Over 1,700 people downloaded their pictures and shared them on their social networks, which then produced over 90,000 reactions among their contacts. The 20% of the 2,000 non-local participants spent more that 1 night in the city.
“Running is a number of experiences shared by a lot of people, and for many, occasional visitors, this is an access door to Tarragona”, explains Fernández. Their memories and experiences are the raw material of the new tourism. “If we could manage to build a new experience combined with activities other that the actual race, we would get so much more profit. Tarragona is not Barcelona nor Madrid; but it has a climate, food and patrimony that are pretty much unknown for many people, despite having a great potential to get to top level”, he says. The average age of the Spanish runner is 30, way over that in other disciplines. This fact is usually related to higher purchase power.
The Mecca for local runners is the 10,5-mile return way between Arrabassada beach and the Lighthouse, with stunning seaside views and no junctions. The profile is not even, which is something other routes with a higher international potential have, such as Valencia or Seville, and that is more likeable to record-breaking enthusiasts. However, according to Fernández, the visibility the 2017 Mediterranean Games will provide could add to the city’s global positioning in the running map. Among all the Spanish cities, it is Valencia that is pushing harder on generating businesses as part of this phenomenon. With the help of the Local Government, the Fundació Trinidad Alfonso –led by Juan Roig, Mercadona manager–, they’ve invested €2 million to turn the capital city of Túria into an international reference in the sector.
“We are past, we are present, we are future…“. From the very harrow of the amphitheatre, David Trueba dreamy contemplates the starlings’ flight that covers the sky. It’s a generation’s claim, which rises from the trench and asserts the memories of the city.
Trueba, a versatile creator, visits Tarragona to present his very last novel, ‘Blitz’ (Anagrama, 2015), a brief and vibrant account where time is transcendental. The action takes place in Munic, a city, which values the history and where the previous symbolism is part of the daily basis of the people. Before presenting the book, the author stops in front of the amphitheatre and watches the grandstands and, at the foreground, the sea. He is accompanied by Tarragona Tourism and Tarragona Film Office people in charge, an office created by the Mayor House to promote the setting and audio-visual products.
The roman building, an antique theatre, which represents the public life in Tarraco, inspires the most visionary part of David Trueba. It flourishes the conscious sensitivity that the Madrid-born author brings in his work, and with which he has obtained recognition both in the cinema as in his novels. “The intense relationship between the Antiquity and the modernity perceived in Tarragona is the perfect expression of how human experience is built in by layers, one on another. Sometimes the present time succeeds in standing out but, with perspective, we would find plenty of generations as ours who have lived their moment and have actually found the light“, he reflects.
David Trueba doesn’t know Tarraco Viva, even though his way of interpreting what happens worldwide agrees with the Roman festival of Tarragona’s postulates: to know the past to analyse the present. What this director does not overlook are the presentations offered by the city as a cinema set. On 2002, the youngest of the Trueba siblings already filmed in the port a scene of the “Salamina’s Soldiers“, a film which would end chosen as the Spanish representation for the Oscars Awards.
The hours of sunshine as well as the particular light of Tarragona have attracted many film teams for the last years. However, on that April Saturday in which Trueba came to work in the city, the sky was not only covered, but it was also raining. His memories about that day are precise, as his talent to connect with the public while narrating stories full of humanity. “Emilio Ruiz del Río made a ship mock-up and we filmed while it was setting sail from the port, which represented that of Barcelona. Everyone was complaining about the rain but me, since it was what I wanted” he remembers.
His last projects have had unanimous critics and sells, but it is clear that what Trueba is interested in isn’t what common people do. The director turns down the crowd, and he enjoys the beach mostly in winter. Since he was a child he has subscribed clever pleasures, such as listening to music, going to the cinema or reading a lot, hobbies that have actually awakened this intellectual curiosity and enriched his creative and nonconformist spirit.
He has a sundry of projects and barely has time to get some holidays, but every year he enjoys some days of relax with his family, in Cantabria. In fact, many of his original stories, which appear as his stamp in scripts and novels, are inspired in stories that he has eventually lived or that have been tricked by his inner circle. The guy who escapes from the house in the so awarded “Living is easy with the eyes shut” (awarded with a Goya prize in 2013 for the best original script, best film and best director) is indeed inspired in the struggle which one of his siblings had, who also escaped from home to avoid getting his hair cut.
Trueba monitors the Part Alta. He steps on the history, as he says, and he focuses on the way of living of Tarragona’s inhabitants; he has the opportunity to enter the Palau de la Cambreria’s patio, the magnificent gothic building attached to the Cathedral. “You live in a beautiful city and I love the fact that you defend it proudly. I will come to film someday“, he states, afterwards, to the large public attracted by the presentation of his book.
Where most people can only see a lonely road, he glimpses the car of our dreams. The photographer Aleix Marín has a sixth sense for composition and advertisements. He works as a commercial location scout for catalogues, posters… and has been a few times in Tarragona recently. The appeal of the Laboral, harbour, Amphitheatre, Bank of Spain, Plaça de la Seu or Llarga beach have turned the city into a set for audiovisual productions. “You look at this city with special fondness. It provides advertising industry with a lot of possibilities”, explains Marín, who has been able to bring big names such as Porsche, Mercedes and BMW to the city for their advertising productions.
Six o’clock in the evening, last dose of sunlight at the Port’s breakwater. Aleix and his mates are packing up after a long day at work. They’ve been taking pictures of the surroundings for a new ad of a BMW sports car. The team, of about ten people, gathers motoring photograph specialists specifically arrived from Germany. Aleix is a key element. He’s acquainted with the location and managed to persuade the client. A team of men from the advertising agency and the audiovisual studio have flown to Tarragona. Not a single detail is left to chance. They’re even taking pictures that will then be reflected onto the body of the car.
Those really attentive, might even recognise Tarragona once the ad is launched. Advertising however, it’s not about creating postcards, but selling. This can only be achieved by positioning the product in an appealing scenery, not singular, but rather a more generic one, so that customers can feel it as theirs. Nothing should disrupt the selling product’s prominence. Tarragona has loads of these sceneries, says Marín. “At the harbour is where we found all the client’s specifications; there’s natural light, it’s an open space, it has a clear long road and an endless horizon”, explains. He uses a compass hanging from his neck to point at the North, and know the sun’s orientation and exact position, which is fundamental for photography.
“I’ve had the time of my life scouting, like the time I was in the beaches of the north of Spain. When you’re on your own, you can see a specific location as many times as you like. You work with feelings, and what that location evokes. Once you’re with your team, in situ, this can be a really stressing job. Everything must be the way it was planned, and there’s a lot of people that can actually do their jobs or not depending in very small details”, says Marín. Part of his duty is paperwork, and asking for the necessary authorisations in order to take photographs to a public location.
Madrid, Málaga and Barcelona are “top” locations for commercial photography in Spain. “Customers guides us where they want to go to, and Barcelona really has a lot to say”, claims Aleix. There are about thirty freelance photographers in Catalonia that, just like him, are working on commercial location scouting. Within a 2-hour drive, you get “a large variety on landscapes, high almost Alps-like mountains and large cities, industry or beach”, he states. There is, however, yet another more determining factor: “International agencies like to work with Catalans. They say we’re more reliable, more responsible”, says Aleix, who has been through a lot after ten years working as a freelance.
The same consideration also works for Tarragona, where professionals like Aleix have the logistical support and permit management of the Tarragona Film Office, created in 2010. “Tarragona can play a complimentary role with Barcelona, and has a lot to offer in this sense. Location, however, is not everything. We find local collaboration in here, people want us back; and this is why we are back”, explains Aleix Marín. 200 municipalities in Catalonia are part of the Catalunya Film Comission. Tarragona is the third city in Catalonia with the highest number of shoots and photo sessions, after Barcelona and l’Hospitalet de Llobregat. Every year, almost 100 film productions take place in this city, with the resulting positive impact towards Tarragona and its trademark.
It was when eating calçots. Sitting around a table, with a dirty face and sticky fingers, Mireia Esplugas realised that that group of colleagues of her, French specialist doctors, would always remember that moment, and that Tarragona could and should become the venue for the next Congrés de la Societat Espanyola de Cirurgia de la Mà (Hand Surgery Spanish Association Congress). Before the summer, Esplugas supported the candidacy before major rivals such as Barcelona and Las Palmas, but succeeded in the end: the Palau de Congressos de Tarragona (Tarragona Conference Centre) will become the venue for the meeting due in 2019. The city will gather around five hundred hand surgery specialists for three days, an unbiased public that can appreciate the experiences gained on a professional trip.
“Tarragona is a human-friendly city, well communicated, with a unique character and nice weather. We live in a top-notch area, with great potential, but we lack the pride other regions can apply when selling the destination… I am fully convinced that the world moves on thanks to tiny little pushes, and that everyone, each person in relation to their own possibilities can do positive things that have a wider impact”. When talking to Mireia Esplugas, we soon realise that being an ambassador seems a bit understated.
Being a very active woman, Esplugas makes use of her five senses at all times. The same passion she feels on her love towards Tarragona, the city she moved 13 years ago, makes sense of everything that makes her feel fulfilled, which is a lot. Outside her hand surgery consultation, specialization on which she is a true national referent and on which she spends many hours, she undertakes scientific research, she does running, sings on a gospel group, and still has some energy for her family and picking mushrooms, among others. Doctor Esplugas performs a lot of stunts in her life, and this is not figurative, since she is part of the group Falcons de Castellcir, a discipline that combines sports and gymnastics to create human structures, a sort of horizontal castells (human towers).
The figures the Falcons perform demand balance and precision, just like the hands of a surgeon; just like hers, and the five surgery specialists that live in Tarragona and that have decided to be part of the organisation of the congress, when there’s still four years to come. “Things need to be done properly. That’s why we’re on it. My implication is professional, but also personal. There’s a lot of people I know coming, also from an international level. This will be a meeting point for several generations in the same field, and I’d like those attending the congress to find it worth it, not just from a professional point of view, but also in terms of personal and positive experiences. By working towards excellence in the congress, we tell people about the quality of the region that homes it”, she says.
Doctor Esplugas has attended, for twenty years now, a dozen of speciality congresses in both sides of the Atlantic. “I’ve got an open file where I note down things, and I know exactly what I like and what I don’t. The scientific programme must always be of high quality. It’s the question of the organisation, logistics and scheduled activities that make a difference. In Tarragona, we’ve got the resources to enrich out visitors: we have the environment, the history and castells. Our colleagues should leave willing to tell their people about this”, she explains.
Tarragona Convention Bureau, department in charge of promoting the city as an events destination, provides the organisation with technical support. Congress tourism, very profitable for the venue cities, went through a spectacular boom last decade, but has now experienced a strong drop during the recession. In Spain, there are over 90 conference centres with these purposes in mind, mostly built about 10 and 15 years ago, and the number goes way past the demand of events these days. Despite the fall, signing new congresses is a strategic target on which the local government is willing to involve the professional collectives. “We can’t expect the institutions to do all the promotion, we need to be proactive. The projection of the city is in our hands”, she states.
Collaborator for years in the radio programme “El món s’acaba…” by Xavier Grasset in Catalunya Ràdio, Antoni Mas become famous for choosing and explaining an endless selection of anecdotes, ironic stories from the past decade about the villages’ daily nature. Between the late 90s and the beginning of the new millennium, the Mas family drove mile after mile so that Antoni, who has an extraordinary ability to talk to people, could store all sort of stories.
However, one of the anecdotes that made a more lasting impression on Antoni’s life was not very far from his home, as it actually went to visit him in his blacksmith workshop, located in Vila-seca. In 1983, a group of teenagers attended his house with an idea that would provide Santa Tecla, Tarragona major festivity, with a decisive push.
“They wanted to found a group of Ball de Diables and needed me to build some ceptrots (fireworks metal support) for both Llucifer and the Diablessa”, remembers. Three years later “they came back with an even more difficult project: they wanted the Àliga (eagle) back”, the legendary Àliga once property of the blacksmiths and that represented the city in the parade until its final appearance, in the 19th century.
This task got onto the best possible hands. Mas works on the “forging, tooling and deep drawing”; that is, the typically blacksmith’s duties. Actually, Antoni is still taming steel in the same way his ancestors did in the very same workshop. Among all his old tools hanging from the walls, he says, we can find some once used by prisoners digging the cliff at Balcó del Mediterrani, in the 19th century. It was with those stones that the port was built.
In fact, all Tarragona –not just the Balcó and port– was built thanks to many people’s effort and sweat. And there’s also a lot of effort, although more symbolic and figurate, in the recovery of Santa Tecla’s festivity. This very old ritual –almost killed by the lack of institutional interest– is today a massive success in local engagement and contribution; a true festive meeting that depicts Tarragona. All this, thanks to the commitment, farsightedness and hyperbolic will of a group of people that started as a small core, but that soon grew with their ideas.
“Not even when I got the task to build the Àliga, period on which the local festivity was getting some of that prestige, would I have never thought everything was actually going to catch on. Sometimes, when I see all those people in the street, desperately taking part in the so-called Processó del Braç or the Baixada de l’Àliga, I think it’s all a sort of collective madness. People lost their faith in many ways, but party has the ability to actually generate loads of devotion”, says Mas.
The process of creating the Àliga in itself was a little effort miracle. Antoni, trained in the “Escola d’Art i Disseny de la Diputació”, got inspiration from Girona’s Àliga and created a structure of steel dressed up with geometrical brass pieces. The result: the heaviest 80kg ever to come out of his workshop. “It was a very hard process. My eyes were watering as we assembled it. I would have never been so nervous at work. Besides, we had to really rush in order to have it ready for the local festivity of 1986, as it had already been announced”, says Mas.
“With the Àliga, we forged a symbol of Tarragona”. Antoni feels proud of being the father of such elegant, funny and symbolica creature, rounded off with a jewellery crown made by Blázquez. Mas himself has now taken part in the Àliga’s restoration, spoiled by years of festivities, which will soon get its best look ready for the upcoming Santa Tecla festivity, on the occasion of the 30th birthday of this celebration’s recovery. Concerts, meetings and varied parties will spice up an anniversary that will find its climax the night of 21 September, with the legendary “Baixada de l’Àliga” and the other members up from the Plaça de les Cols.
While the festivity is getting ready, Mas revises his pencil sketches, the first tests with feathers and the remaining steel pieces that were left in his workshop. “It was a really tough task, one that really challenged me as a blacksmith”, he explains. As seen throughout the years, contribution made by this master craftsman to the “Seguici de Tarragona” have become key in order to forge the legend. Diables, Àliga, Cucafera, Àliga petita, Cucafera petita, and the most recent Griu… they have all been born from the hands of Antoni Mas to gain the city’s everlasting love.
Victories inside the arena turned the courageous Tetraites into such a celebrity that his achievements were spread across the entire Roman Empire, from Pompey to Gaul, and even up to Britannia. His modern colleague Darius from Bergomum (Bergamo) might not be that famous, but he’s been studying, training and fighting the way gladiators did for the last 20 years. Thousands of people have attended the “experimental archaeology” demonstrations by Ars Dimicandi, a mix of competition, rituality and emotion that brings the munera (offering to gladiators) closer to the audience, and so they get to understand why that became the favourite entertainment for the Romans.
With or without a sword, Darius (Dario Battaglia) is a true fighter for historical disclosure. The way he identifies himself with the gladiator’s lifestyle goes way beyond the mere experimentation. Since the beginning of the 90s, when he got deeper in the study of the singularity of professional fighters –mostly slaves willing to buy their freedom, but also Roman citizens in search for glory and money–, Dario has become a pioneer in practical disclosure. He founded a school in Italy and over 80 gladiators train twice a week in order to improve their abilities.
“No fearsome person could ever become a gladiator. One needs a lot of both physical and technical, but also mental training, depending on each person’s speciality. You can’t just throw in the towel, as in other modern fighting disciplines. We should be at the service of the people, and when we hit each other, being friends as we are, we leave more scars in our brain that in our skin”, says Darius. The public of Tarragona’s Amphitheatre –a place absolutely worshiped by Darius, almost as his second home– know it very well, as it’s now fifteen years since Ars Dimicandi started performing there due to the Tarraco Viva festival.
The gladiator’s discipline represents the victory of willpower. Unlike what is considered common in many aspects in life, the only thing keeping these arena fighters away from the public trial is their bravery and courage. “This is not like military exercise, where everything is allowed in order to defeat the enemy. It is not just about winning, but about seducing the audience in the first place: suffering, becoming heroes whether we lose or win, and making people engage with us, since they are the final judges”, says Battaglia.
It is not that the 21st century spectators will decide whether the loser should live or die depending on his honour, but it is true that these fights, which involve no sharp weapons, do really excite the crowd. And, in fact, the number of admirers gathering in Tarragona to admire the Ars Dimicandi getting their weapons ready is always very large. “Gladiator combats were one of the shows preferred by the Romans, and because of their heroism, many became very famous and desired. The Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo of the Roman period would clash swords to death”, explains Battaglia.
Rigour and entertainment are not always the same thing, but Ars Dimicandi always stress that they should not be incompatible. Hollywood’s glamour helped to develop a popular very clear image of Rome, despite being not very precise. As a disseminator, Dario Battaglia contributes to correct this kind of stereotypes by advising big shows. This is the case with the famous TV series Rome (HBO, 2005-2007), or the remake of Ben-Hur, a blockbuster worth €120M produced by Paramount and Metro Goldwin Meyer that should be ready by 2016.
Born in the Lombardy area, Dario sees himself as a bit of a Catalan in his way of thinking and acting, and doesn’t miss the chance to spend some holidays, enjoying Tarraco’s gastronomy and beach, together with his wife and son. He speaks only words of wonder about Tarragona, the city he visits every year and the place where he met some very good friends; and especially about the Tarraco Viva Festival, a project he admires and that, to his opinion, is “the most important festival of historical disclosure in the world”. “It created its own original and demanding model, which has been crucial for us to grow as a team: it has pushed us to investigate, always improving, in order to provide spectators with new contents. In Italy, on the other hand, there’s a very profound preconception against the Roman Period. The level of knowledge and potential to disseminate it is huge, but is related to Mussolini’s fascism, as he used it for his own good, and so it is not very popular”, he says.