Picture of beach 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.

Picture of cathedral_front 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.

Picture of tarragona_cathedral 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.

Picture of reliquary 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.

Picture of wooden_ceiling 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.

Picture of courtyard 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.

Picture of unesco

Picture of poblet_entrance 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.

Picture of poblet_walls 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 monastery now.

Picture of poblet_inside 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.

Picture of well 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.

Picture of tombs 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.

Picture of aqueduct 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.

Picture of roman_arena 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.

Picture of barge 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.


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