It used to be a tradition to go to Catalunya every Christmas break, so when I went back to the States in 2012 for my first Christmas with family since 2007, I wanted my flight to be from Barcelona. I was adamant about that, despite living in Madrid. On my way back, I gave myself time to tick another province off my to-do list…Tarragona.
Tarragona is a city of 138,000 people located an hour or so from Barcelona. The province is the southern most of the Catalan provinces, and the capital city is famous for its Roman monuments. Most people think of Salou and Port Aventura when they think of Tarragona, but me being me, I think of the Roman monuments. I love the Roman theatre that is right on the sea.
I only had one day in Tarragona unfortunately. These things happen when you’re rushed for time and jetlagged from the flight back from the States (like I am writing this entry two years later!). I caught a morning bus from Barcelona, where I was staying. My first impressions were that it was a typical city of the Greatest Peninsula in the World, nothing too exciting. That’s the problem with the areas around the bus and train stations. They’re interchangeable in most cities. When I got to the casco antiguo (historic centre), I fell in love with the city and its history. I bought a combined ticket to visit the most important monuments and had time to see 5 of the 6. I tried to practice my catalán, which at the time I was in my first year of studying; however, they responded in castellano (Castilian Spanish) so I went with the flow. There are also various old houses worth visiting. The day went by fast, and I had gotten the return ticket for too early. I could’ve spent a few more hours or another day exploring. As it is, there are many places in the province I would like to visit one day.
One thing worth mentioning, Tarragona is said to have the most expensive taxis in all of Spain.
Known as Tarraco to the Romans, Tarragona still has many Roman ruins that can be visited today. I missed seeing the aqueduct 4 km (2 miles) north of the city and the Tower of the Scipios 6 km (4 miles) away. I also didn’t have time to see the Forum. I was able to see the amphitheatre on the sea, the circus, the capital/citadel, the walls and the Pretorium tower. Tarragona is one of the most important Roman ruins in the peninsula, along with Mérida in Extremadura and Cartegena in Murcia. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Catedral de Tarragona
The Cathedral of Tarragona blends Roman and Gothic styles and was declared a national monument 110 years ago in 1905. Construction began in 1154 and the “new” cathedral began in 1331. It was restored in the 1990s. During the restoration, they discovered a temple to Augustus.
Reus (yet to discover)
The city name Reus (population 101,000) is said to come from the Celtic word “red” from “reddis/redis” which meant crossroads, or from the Latin word for prisoners, which meant it was a Roman prison. Choose carefully which tale you believe! At one time, Reus was the second-most important city in Catalunya until Tarragona and Lleida overtook it in the 20th century. Today it is the 9th largest city in Catalunya and has an airport popular with Ryan Air flights, making it a popular tourist destination. One of the sites of interest is a centre for the famous Gaudí.
Castells de Valls (yet to discover)
Catalunya is famous for its “castells” or human towers. The small city of Valls, population 25,000, is famous for both the castells and a green onion known as calçot. Although the castells are a staple of festivals throughout Catalunya, the ones in Valls are rather famous. At a calçotada, you can try recently harvested calçots and maybe see a castell.
Montblanc (yet to discover)
Located close to the Prades mountains, Montblanc is a medieval village of around 7400 people. The village is famous as the Legend of Saint George (known around these parts as Sant Jordi) and the dragon is said to have occurred here. Today Sant Jordi is celebrated in Catalunya by giving books and is connected to Día del Libro (Day of the Book) as it’s also the same day Shakespeare and Cervantes were said to have died. Today you can still see the walls of the village and take a stroll through the medieval streets.
Tortosa (yet to discover)
Located on the Ebro River, Tortosa, home of 34,000 habitants, is the home of the Castillo de la Suda, an important castle dating back to Roman and Muslim rule. Tortosa was recaptured by the Christians during the Second Crusade. Today it is part of the Camino de Santiago del Ebro, one of the lesser known caminos. It also has a cathedral and magnificent views.
Salou (yet to discover)
Located 10 kilometres from Reus and Tarragona, Salou is a major vacation destination for much of Spain (especially the Basque Country. I hear you can hear more Euskera (Basque) on the streets than Catalán during peak holiday seasons!) It’s home to many beaches and, most famously, the Port Aventura theme park.