Tarragona, capital of southern Catalonia was our last stop in Spain.
It started out for us as sort of a whim, we thought we'd like to spend the last day
somewhere a little calmer and less hectic than Barcelona. It turned out to be a very
pleasant town and rather popular with senior citizen British tour groups. This is the
coast as seen from downtown Tarragona which sits up on a hill. The beaches are supposedly
average and it seems the most popular activity along the shore is eating at any of the
dozen or so seafood restaurants featuring just-off-the-boat fish and shellfish.
Unassuming from the front this is Tarragona's cathedral which sits on top of the hill which
is old Tarragona (although not as old as some of Tarragona). From the outside this
looks like another Spanish cathedral crammed into the old part of town. Actually,
it is, the cathedral itself is nice if not spectacular, but it's the museum inside
which is really worth seeing.
Once inside you get an idea of just how big the place really is. Some of the cloisters
can be visited for free, but that's because they're empty. The rest of the cloisters,
the main cathedral and Museu Diocesa (Diocese Museum) require an admission fee which
is well worth it.
Here's Melanie in front of one of the endless display cases of monstrances, chalices
and reliquaries (oh my). You can see more bits of Saints than you'd ever want to see,
mostly finger bones, hair, ears, blood, sometimes their clothing. Also featured are
an array of tapestries, paintings, wood carvings (nearly all of which seem to be of
the virgin Mary) and some Roman objects just for good measure.
This is ceiling of the same room as the above picture. Several rooms had wood-beamed
ceilings like this one covered in coats of arms of Tarragona and surrounding areas.
Luckily your admission includes a handy guide detailing all 250 or so objects in the museum, plus
all the tapestries, paintings and shrines in the main cathedral.
Inside the cloisters there is also a lovely landscaped garden which is useful for resting
after all those chalices and incense boxes. This section of old Tarragona is a warren
of narrow streets with the usual souvenir stores and such. Because so much of the
city is built on Roman ruins (more on that below) many of these stores and restaurants
actually have Roman walls inside them now. The tourist guide to the ruins lists all of
these which you are generally welcome to see while the shops are open.
From Tarragona it's an easy and scenic drive (once you get away from the somewhat
industrial coast) to Reial Monestir de Santa Maria de Poblet (or just Poblet) which
dates from 1151. Poblet rivals Montserrat in importance although more from a political
perspective than a spiritual one. It is still a working monastery and tours are
available although limited.
The abbey at Poblet is fortified as you can clearly see here. Despite these walls,
it was plundered in 1812 by the French and 1835 by the Carlist revolutionaries. It was
restored in the 1940s and there are no apparent signs of damage when you tour the
Among the more interesting parts of the tour are the 13th century refectory and
the gothic library. The library supposedly contains a very impressive collection
of books and manuscripts although it is off-limits to tourists. The chapterhouse
is also an impressive room containing the tombs of abbots who lived at Poblet from
1400 to 1700.
This is the well in the courtyard of the monastery. The cloisters and this well date
from the 13th century. This well, although rather decorative now is also the water
source for the monastery which is located fairly high up an isolated valley which
is primarily cultivated with grapes now. Speaking of which, the town you are almost
certain to drive through in approaching Poblet - l'Espluga de Francoli - has several
excellent wine shops.
Inside the abbey church at Poblet is the biggest concentration of royal tombs in Spain.
They were reconstructed from damage in 1950 and include several big names in Spanish
history including Jaume I and Juan II, the last king of Aragon. Kings and Queens are
entombed on these structural supports which are actually above the main floor of the
church and tilted in towards the altar. Princes and princesses are buried elsewhere
around the church.
Tarragona is perhaps most famous for its Roman ruins. It was founded in the 3rd
century BC as the capital of Tarraconensis, a Roman province which eventually included
nearly all of modern Spain. This aqueduct it just outside the city on the west side
and is fairly difficult to get to. There is a road access to the far side (along
the road to Poblet) or you can get there via a parking area on the A-7 motorway.
If you're driving through on the A-7 at night this is spectacularly lit up and very
visible from the road. This bridge was part of a 19 mile (30 km) long aqueduct which
brought water to the Roman town.
Elsewhere in town is the Roman arena along the seafront. This is one of the larger
individual sites and as you can see in this picture it is right in the middle of
modern Tarragona. The cross-shaped building set into the middle of this arena is
a 12th century Catholic church which has fared little better than the arena it borrowed
building stone from. The entrance to the arena involves a small fee but they'll give
you a handy guide to the various Roman ruins scattered around town which also includes
a Roman circus, underground passageways, houses and the Praetorium.
Modern Tarragona is an engaging sort of place. The main road (Rambla Nova) is an attractive
divided thoroughfare and the pedestrian walkways and parks in the center include some
very interesting sculpture depicting traditional Catalonian activities like dancing
(the Sardana) and Castelling. We spent the evening in and around the old town where there
are an abundance of outdoor restaurants and bars.