Located just next to the circus, at Plaça del Rei 5, is the impressive Museu Nacional Arqueològic de Tarragona (MNAT). The museum is open in the summer (June 1st to September 30th) on Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 to 20:30, and from 10:00 to 14:00 on Sundays and public holidays. The rest of the year it is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 to 18:00 and on Sundays and public holidays from 10:00 to 14:00. It is closed on Mondays throughout the year. Admission to the MNAT is 4.50 Euros and includes admission to the Paleochristian Necropolis (Necrópolis Paleocristiana de Tarragona).
The collection at the MNAT is quite impressive and showcases some of the more interesting and important finds from the area of Tarraco. It seems as though most pieces have been kept here rather than being sent to Madrid for display in the MAN, which would be fitting since the importance and wealth of artifacts from the city are better served remaining here. The collection essentially contains a little bit of everything, including an in situ section of the city walls on the basement floor, along with the temporary exhibitions. There are plenty of inscriptions and architectural fragments. There are a few large statuary pieces. The stairwells display some large mosaics and wall paintings from villas in the area. There is a section for smaller finds as well as a well-stocked portrait gallery on the upper floor.
The museum is definitely a must-stop attraction in the city, even for someone not especially interested in archaeology, but certainly for someone who is. It gives a great glimpse into the prosperity of one of the most important cities on the Iberian Peninsula. It took me about 2 hours to go through the museum, there was a wealth of material. I was running under a little bit of a time crunch, so I probably could have spent a bit more time there. Most things have informational signs, but, there isn’t really any English to speak of, most things are displayed in Spanish and Catalan.
Across town from the museum is the Necrópolis Paleocristiana de Tarragona at Avinguda Ramón y Cajal, 84. The necropolis is open during the summer (June to September) on Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 to 13:30 and 16:00 to 20:00 and is open on Sundays and holidays from 10:00 to 14:00. During the rest of the year it is open on Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 to 13:30 and 15:00 to 17:30 (18:00 from March to May) and on Sundays from 10:00 to 14:00. It is closed on Mondays year round. Admission is 4.50 Euro and is part of a joint ticket with the MNAT.
At the entrance is a small museum with an array of funerary objects, some taken from the necropolis here and others from the general area. It doesn’t just span the usage of the necropolis either as there are a few artifacts dating back to the Republican period. It’s a pretty small museum, it took about 15 minutes to get through. There is nothing posted in English, but there is a small guide with an English translation available. It gives very general information, though, and does not pertain specifically to any of the artifacts presented.
What primarily remains of the necropolis here is from the 5th century CE or later, when a funerary basilica was built to the martyrs who were executed in the amphitheater in 259 CE. The three were likely buried in the already existing Roman necropolis here, which had grown up outside the western city walls along a road leading from Tarraco. Most of what remains of this level of the necropolis are small burials of varying type, but there are a few larger, intact mausolea, one of which was open for viewing. The foundations of a third mausoleum dated to the 4th or 5th century CE is also there.
Despite the name, the site isn’t just a necropolis as part of a suburban domus and a road are also preserved on the site in the northeast corner. Among the remains of the domus are two distinct bathing complexes. A few buildings associated possibly with wine and olive oil production, in the southeastern portion of the site, to the south of the domus, have also been found and are on display. Though a bit out of the way of everything else, the site is certainly worth a visit, particularly if you’ve already paid the entrance for the museum. It took me about an hour to get through the small museum and the site combined. While there was no English in the museum, there was an English translation on the informational signs around the site.
There is apparently a new portion of this area, including part of the funerary basilica and a 4th century CE domestic structure, able to be visited that has opened up in the shopping mall across the street to the north of the necropolis, which was not open when I visited Tarragona. Entrance to that is free and it is open Monday through Saturday, from 9:00 to 14:00 in the winter (October through May) and 9:30 to 22:00 the rest of the year. Not far from the Necrópolis Paleocristiana de Tarragona is the Reserva Arqueologica del Carrer d’Evissa, a small gated excavation with no entrance, but which has various viewpoints from the surrounding streets. There is an informational card with an English, as well as Spanish and Catalan, explanations of the excavation. This is a portion of the road leading out of the city toward the Francoli River at which the nearby necropolis grew up next to. The remains of some funerary monuments, dating to various periods, can be seen along this section of the road.
The last of the monuments in the western part of the city is the colonial forum of Tarraco, located at Calle Lérida s/n. The forum is open during the summer (April 12 to September 30) on Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 to 21:00 and on Sundays and holidays from 9:00 to 15:00. The rest of the year it is open on Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 to 19:00 and on Sundays and holidays from 9:00 to 15:00. It is closed on Monday throughout the year. Admission is 3.30 Euro, but a 7.40 Euro combination ticket can be purchased that also allows entrance to the amphitheater, forum, and the archaeological promenade of the walls (valid for up to a year).
Quite a large section of Tarraco’s forum is excavated, and it actually covers parts of two city blocks; a bridge crosses over a road to connect the two sections, which are interestingly raised above the modern ground level. As the name would suggest, many of the structures in this forum were originally built around the time of the founding of the colony placed by Caesar, probably about 30 BCE.
In the first section of the forum, a portion of the basilica, with a number of reconstructed columns is present along most of the southern area. The northern half is composed mostly of a curia-aedes augusti building devoted to the imperial cult. Constructed during the original building program of the forum and refurbished during the reign of Hadrian, the building is flanked by a series of tabernae on either side, two of which are reconstructed. Behind the easternmost taberna is a large cistern and channel, possibly dating back to a pre-30 BCE period of occupation.
The majority of the eastern section of the forum area is taken up by a cardo and a housing block. A tiered square with colonnade flanks the insula to the west, and a small portion of the Capitoline temple is preserved on the south side of the cardo. On the east side of the insula is a small section of a decumanus. Various fragments of building materials are displayed throughout the site. The signage and information provided is fairly plentiful and helpful. All the major structures have informational placards in Spanish, Catalan, and English, often with visual aids. A map near the entrance also helps with identification of the structures within the forum.
Back in the old town area, in the terrace above the circus, was the location of the provincial forum. This forum, built during the reign of Vespasian, served as the administrative heart of the province of Hispania Tarraconensis, of which Tarraco was the capital. Not much of the form of the forum seems to be known, it doesn’t seem to have had the same administrative buildings as the colonial forum. What does remain are some vestiges of the portico that surrounded the forum, which essentially stretched the entirety of the area between the eastern and western city walls that are still extant. On the north/northeast side of the forum there was also a cult precinct in which a temple to the imperial cult of Augustus was located.
Just north of Plaça d’en Rovellat are a few stones associated with the eastern wall of the forum portico, one of them embedded in the wall of a modern building on the east side of the road. To the northwest of here is the appropriately named Plaça del Fòrum, where some much larger standing remains from the northern wall of the forum portico, near where the northeastern corner of the forum would have been. Some paving stones a few meters away from the large, standing section of wall are present at this location as well.
Continuing northwest out of the plaza, down Carrer de la Merceria, right before the staircase leading up to the terrace with the cathedral are the Voltes de la Merceria. While much of the construction here is of medieval origin, the foundations of the vaults belonged to the northern portico of the forum, near where the entrance to the cult precinct was. One small portion of this cult precinct remains. Though it was only recently discovered and opened in the last year, and so I was not able to visit, there is a portion of an exedra associated with the cult district located in the Museu Diocesà de Tarragona at Plaça de Palau 2. The museum’s opening hours are complicated, and so it is best to check with the website here. Entrance is 5 Euros.
The last remains of Tarraco’s provincial forum that are able to be visited come from the western/southwestern portion of the portico. On the north side of the Plaça del Pallol are the Volta del Pallol, some valuts from the western wall of the forum. Some of these vaults and the wall are visible in the exterior of the building, near the entrance. Despite the fact that there are hours of operation posted, the building is closed indefinitely, and the model of 2nd century CE Tarraco is no longer located on the premises. Instead, the model has been moved across the plaza to the cultural center Antiga Audiència – Torre Romana. Not only does this building contain the model, it also has the remnants of a monumental staircase leading between the circus and the provincial forum terraces, the western counterpart to the praetorium tower on the east side. Located at Plaça del Pallol 3, admission to the building is free. It is open during the summer (April 11 to September 30) Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 21:00, Saturday from 9:00 to 20:00, and Sundays and holidays from 9:00 to 14:00. The rest of the year it is open the same hours, except Saturdays are only 9:00 to 18:00. There is a single sign with an English translation explaining, generally, what remains at the location.
Enclosing much of the old town, particularly on the west and north sides, and more sporadically on the east side, are the walls of the city. While the walls were bolstered and used as defensive walls in later periods, the Roman foundations remain and are often very identifiable. Some of the segments of walls are open and are visible along the west side of Passeig de Sant Antoni on the east side of the city, and a small portion along Passeig de Torroja on the northwest. The segments along Passeig de Sant Antoni are incorporated into the more modern buildings, but the ancient stones have been made clearly visible. As such, the interior face of the wall is not visible. On the west side of the city, a segment is visible along the east side of Via de l’Imperi Romana, of which there is also a Roman column displayed in the median. At the north end of this street is the Passeig Arqueològic.
The Passeig Arqueològic (Murallas Paseo Arqueológico) are an entranced segment of the exterior portions of the west and northern walls of the city. Some of the interior faces of the west wall are visible along the streets inside the old town, though the face of the northern walls are contained in a religious school in the part of the city. The Passeig Arqueològic is open during the summer (April 11 to September 30) on Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 to 21:00 and on Sundays and holidays from 9:00 to 15:00. The rest of the year it is open Tuesday to Friday from 9:00 to 19:30, Saturday from 9:00 to 19:00, and Sundays and holidays from 9:00 to 15:00. It is closed on Monday, except between May 22 and September 11, when it is open from 9:00 to 15:00. Admission is 3.30 Euro, but it is also part of the combination ticket with the circus, amphitheater, and colonial forum for 7.40 Euro.
The Passeig Arqueològic is actually situated on top of a later set of fortifications used to bolster the defensive nature of the walls, but it gives good access to viewing the earlier walls. Informational signs in English, Spanish, and Catalan do a good job of indicating points of interest such as towers and portals along this stretch of the wall. They also help to differentiate the different phases of the wall. The larger, slightly irregular, cyclopean ashlar blocks (opus siliceum) at the base belong to the original Roman construction of the wall during the Scipio brothers’ founding of Tarraco at about 218 BCE. This phase of the wall is supposedly the oldest Roman defensive wall constructed outside of Italy. A second phase of larger, more regular blocks above that course are from an extension and reconstruction of the wall dating to between 150 and 100 BCE. The smaller blocks that fill some of the towers and top the second phase belong to later, non-Roman phases of construction. The Passeig Arqueològic allows access to some of the best preserved sections of the walls, and further helps to identify the different phases with excellent examples of the two Roman phases of construction.
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Cassius Dio, Historia Romana, 53.25.
Curchin, Leonard A. Roman Spain: Conquest and Assimilation. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Fishwick, Duncan. “The ‘Temple of Augustus’ at Tarraco.” Latomas, vol. 58, no. 1, 1999, pp. 121–138.
MacKendrick, Paul. The Iberian Stones Speak: Archaeology in Spain and Portugal. New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1969.
Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historiae, 3.21
Polybius, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.76.
Pomponius Mela, Description of the World, 2.80.
Suetonius, Life of Augustus, 26, 81.
Tacitus, Annals, 1.78.