History of Tarragona

According to the legend, the god Jupiter abandoned his mortal wife when he fell in love with the city of Tarragona.

Thanks to the history books, it is known that the city, over two thousand years ago, used to be the residence of the Emperor Caesar Augustus and administrative capital of the Roman Empire. From that era of splendour, we still preserve a large monumental legacy which lead UNESCO to declare the city a World Heritage Site in the year 2000.

During medieval times, Tarragona was a very important eclesiastical centre, whose religious and noble art that are a legacy of that time, can be found at the cathedral and at the Jewish quarter. From its Modernist era, the city offers the visitors architectonic works by Gaudí, Jujol or Domènech i Montaner.

Publius Cornelius Scipio, known as ‘the African’, saw a unique place in this rich piece of land to establish his settlement during the conquest of Hispania in the year 217 BC.

It was here where the Romans, helped by the Kese Iberian tribe, raised the walls of the future city, the oldest ones outside of Italy.

Tarraco soon became a strategic point, a communication nexus and a very important base for the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. This quest took over 200 years. Such was its importance that, in the year 27 BC, the first Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus lived in the city for two years in his official trip to control the campaign.

The city grew. Its port, its commerce, the passing of the invincible Roman legions on the Via Augusta, the spectacular gladiator games, the chariot races in the circus, the worship to their gods, its wine, its people and the wealth of the whole empire were reflected in Roman Tarraco.

A whole history, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, nowadays remains fresh thanks to the protection of this rich legacy. Roman Tarraco, which hides secrets in its stones, streets and walls, will live in eternity between progress and this wonderful history of the glorious Roman times.

After the glorious Roman era, Tarragona also had a very important role in the old medieval Europe. Preserving part of the old Roman urban legacy, the city became a consolidated and powerful urban centre.

The Arabs occupied it in the year 711 AD and the city was under Arabic domain until its reconqueste in the year 1116 AD by Ramón Berenguer III, a medieval Count.

A few years later, the city became the Principality of Tarragona, commanded by the Normans through a vassalage pact controlled by the Archbishop of Barcelona.

The ancient Roman tower of Pretorius was used as a fortress by Robert Bordet, a Norman adventurer. From then on, it begans the city’s new era.

The importance of the city is reflected in the construction of the great cathedral in 1711, which occupied the upper part of the city. Nowadays, it is one of the most visited monuments in the city of non-Roman heritage.

Centuries later, Tarragona survived the European plague that made the city’s demographics plunge, as well as different military conflicts, especially the Catalan Civil War in the 15th century.

The conflicts continued from the 16th to the 18th century, such as the Catalan Revolt of els segadors (the reapers), which played off the Catalans against the French, or, years later, the War of Spanish Succession and the occupation of the city by the King Felipe V.

Pirate attacks were also rife between the 16th and 17th centuries. The city defended itself from watchtowers, such as Torre de la Mora.

On 28th June 1811, Tarragona was sieged by the French army. The city was occupied for two long years in one of the most tragic episodes that it has ever seen. This memory is still alive in the shape of the monument to the heroes of the Peninsulan War, which occupies a of privileged spot on Rambla Nova.

However, the economic and social recovering of Tarragona finally arrived in 1896 and, with it, the free commerce with America and the urban expansion outside the city walls. New streets were designed, which today make up the main artery of Tarragona’s commerce and leisure, such as the Ramblas, Carrer Unió, and new areas, such as Part Baixa or Marina, which later became an economic engine open to the sea.

It was at this time that the remains of Roman Tarraco began to be recovered and that were used as the base to the construction of the Archaeological Museum, a must-see landmark of the city today.

The post-war years after the Spanish Civil War and the time of the Franco dictatorship were very hard times for Tarragona, who endured rationing and the black market.

In the 1950s, an era of recovery began with the arrival of the first chemical factories to the city. Then, new districts were designed, such as Sant Pere i Sant Pau, Sant Salvador, Torreforta and Camp Clar.

The port became a strategic enclave for this new industrial Tarragona and an economic engine for the city today.

Tarragona coexists today with industrial growth and the economic expansion of the last few decades together with leisure, culture and, especially, the preservation and revaluation of its rich architectonic and historical legacy. Enjoy the beauty of its coastline and its beaches, with the rhythm of the economy in its port and traditional commerce on the streets where centuries earlier the Patricians used to go to the Roman Forum. Live a city impregnated with its history and culture which continue to advance through its small history.