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If you drove through the city of Tarragona you might not think it was anything special, even if you saw the Roman ruins in the middle of town. However, this was one the Roman capital of the entire Iberian peninsula. Julius Caesar, Augustus, Pompey, and Hannibal all visited here. As Roman ruins go, Tarraco isn’t the greatest in the world. What it lacks in the spectacular ruins it more than makes up in history. The ruins of Tarraco are an easy one hour drive from Barcelona by car.
The Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco is a cultural site recognized as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain. It was added to the list in 2000. This archaeological site is located in what is now the modern-day Tarragona. This site features archaeological monuments from the first and oldest Roman settlement along the Iberian Peninsula. This was used as a base by the Roman conquest that enabled them to conquer the rest of the island’s interior.
The city of Tarragona, which was the site of the Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco, is built on three terraces. The archaeological monuments that were built by the Romans showcase how the earlier conquests adapted to its environment. These monuments were constructed during the 3rd century BC.
There are several components that make up the Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco. The site consists of the following monuments:
What to see / Sights
Wall of Tarragona: The Wall of Tarragona is one of the sites belonging to the Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco. It is also a Spanish Property of Cultural Interest, which was designated as a non-movable monument in 1884. The Roman Walls are one of the best reminders of the rich Roman heritage in the city.
Provincial Forum of Tarraco: This is another Roman archaeological site in Tarragona. This site encompasses 18 hectares of land area. This forum was built in 73 AD as commissioned by Emperor Vespasian. The forum remained in use until the 5th century. The Provincial Forum of Tarraco consists of many buildings such as the provincial council, state treasure, curia, audience hall, and the temple of the Imperial worship.
The Circus of Tarraco: The Circus of Tarraco is an open air and underground ruins from the Roman Empire in the province of Tarragona. It was built in the 1st century CE circus and tower. This site is a notable entry into the list of Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco because of its architectural achievements but due to its place in the city.
Colonial Forum of Tarraco: The Roman colonial forum in Tarraco is one of the best examples of the Roman heritage in the city.
Roman Theatre of Tarraco: This is a Roman theater that was built in Tarraco during the time of Augustus. The theater was built on a hill wherein the builders took advantage to use the slope to build part of the theater seating. By the 20th century, the majority of the theater has been destroyed. However, the three fundamental parts of the Roman Theater has remained intact.
Tarragona Ampitheater: This amphitheater was built on the former Roman city of Tarragona. The amphitheater is one of the most important monuments that consist the Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco recognized by UNESCO. This amphitheater was built in the 2nd century AD and is located close to the Roman forums in the city.
Les Ferreres Aqueduct: The Les Ferreres Aqueduct is an ancient bridge that forms part of the Roman aqueduct that was built to supply water to Tarraco. This site is also known as Pont del Diable. This part of the aqueduct is made up of two levels of arches: the upper and lower section.
Arc de Bera: This triumphal arch was built following the result of the will of Lucius Licinius Sura. This arch was erected during the time of Augustus’ reign in 13 BCE.
The other monuments that are included in the Archaeological Ensemble of Tárraco are as follows: Roman Villa of Centcelles, Ville dels Munts, Torre dels Escipions, and Early Christian cemetery.
The ruins in Tarragona are scattered about the city, often in bits and pieces. You will find parts of columns, and tombstones embedded in building walls. Zoom in on some of the detail that if you can find it in the buildings.
The amphitheater is probably the most photogenic and iconic Roman monument in the city. If you photograph it with the sea in the background, try to do so in the afternoon. In the morning, the sun can be shining directly at you and the light reflecting off the water can overwhelm the image.
If you visit the circus, there is a large tower in the museum and there are stairs you can take to the top. The tower offers the best view of the entire city and of the visible remains of the circus.
Where to Eat
Tarragona is a great city for walking and you can find many cafes through the city.
You can wander around the city at any time of the day. Other attractions within the city will have operating hours.
The Tarragona History Museum (MHT) – The museum operates many of the Roman ruins across town. They all have similar operating hours:
Monday (3 June-26 August): 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Tuesday to Saturday: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday and bank holidays: 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Tuesday to Friday: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Sunday and bank holidays: 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Cathedral – The cathedral opens at 10 am and closes at 8 pm or 7 pm on most weekdays, staying open longer in the summer. On Sunday, it opens to the public at 3 pm.
Costs and Fees
There is a pass you can buy to enter all the Roman ruins in the city which are run by the Tarragona Museum of History (MHT). The pass costs €7.40 and can be purchased at any of the ticket booths at the various venues.
Each of the venues in the city which can be entered with the pass can be entered individually at a cost of €3.30 each.
Amphitheater – The parts which are open to the public are free. You cannot go inside the amphitheater itself, but you can go to the upper rim and look down.
Cathedral – The cathedral costs €5.00 for adults, €4.00 for students with student ID and people older than 65 years old, and €3.00 for children 7 to 16. The pass is not valid at the cathedral as it is operated by the MHT.
Where to stay
Many people will visit Tarragona on a day trip from Barcelona. There are many options for lodging in and around Barcelona.
Within Tarragona, there are several
How to get there
Tarragona is approximately 100km (60 miles) southwest of Barcelona along the Mediterranian coast. It can be easily visited on a day trip from Barcelona.
The nearest major international airport is Barcelona El Prat (BCN).
Reus Airport (REU) is a smaller airport located approximately 8km from Tarragona. It primarily handles seasonal flights in the summer and discount airlines like Ryanair.
You can reach Tarragona easily by car. It is connected to Barcelona via major highways. Take the C-32 to the A-7 from Barcelona and you will reach Tarragona in approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
There are several trains each day which go from Barcelona to Tarragona. You can reach Tarragona from the Barcelona Sants or Franca stations. You can go check online or at the station when the trains will be leaving.
There are two different train services which run between the cities. Make sure you are on the right train, as the tickets for one are not valid on the other. One is a regional train, and the other is the Spanish national train service (Renfe).
Tarragona sits on the Mediterranian Sea and usually has a mild climate year-round. Temperatures seldom dip below freezing in the winter. You might need a light jacket in winter months.
Check current weather conditions for Tarragona.
View the complete list of the 400 UNESCO World Heritage sites I have documented around the world.