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Roman and Medieval Tarragona

Roman and Medieval Tarragona

JULY 2018

Tarraco, second capital of the Roman Empire

Since its Roman foundation, in 218 a.C., Tarragona stands as one of the most relevant and longest-lived capitals of the Iberian Peninsula. Although the Iberians had lived near Tarraco before, it was the Romans who brought wealth, innovation and fame to the territory.

During the Republic, the so-called Punic Wars took place. They were a race towards the conquest of the territories of the Mediterranean periphery. After winning the First Punic War, the Romans landed on our shores with the aim of snatching Hannibal his part of the Iberian Peninsula. Tarraco began as a military settlement but ended up becoming one of the three capitals of the Roman Empire.

The city hosted the Emperor Augustus in the first quarter of the first century BC, so it became the capital of the Roman world. During that time both the city and Hispania flourished and this is demonstrated by the construction of the Via Augusta, the Acueducto de las Ferreras (or the Devil's Bridge) and the Theater. Despite the conflicts and eccentricities generated by the imperial successions (collected in The Life of the Twelve Caesars), Tarraco continued to grow and expand its urban heritage. The forum and the circus were built a few decades after the death of Augustus and, at the end of the 2nd century AD, the amphitheater was finished. In this same amphitheater, Saint Fructuoso was burnt to death, victim of the Christian persecution by the empire. Later, in the middle of the arena, a church was built in its honor.

The legend of Santa Tecla and Tarragona after Tarraco.

The splendor of Tarragona declined with the Empire and became ostracized during much of the High Middle Ages (from the seventh to the eleventh century). The city fell into the hands of the Visigoths and later of the Arab-Berber army. The struggles for the control of the territory between the Arabs and the armies of the Christian kingdoms did not cease until the eleventh century. The Christians finally took control of Tarragona and began to inhabit the site of the Roman forum. Tarragona returned to a certain stability and began an urban expansion that culminated in the construction of the cathedral in 1171 and its consecration in 1331.

The cathedral is dedicated to Santa Tecla, patron saint of the city, to whom numerous martyrdoms are attributed. The legend says that after miraculously saving herself from many punishments, she retired in a cave. This was surrounded, after a short time, by an army of soldiers who tried to kill her. Santa Tecla, before being massacred by these men, worked a miracle causing the cave to collapse with her inside. Of Santa Tecla nothing remained but her exposed arm, which would be recovered by his followers. Currently the relic of Santa Tecla's arm is kept in the Cathedral of Tarragona.

Although Tarragona has remained a very relevant Mediterranean port, it had to deal with several wars (especially the War of the French) that greatly hampered its prosperity and repeatedly destroyed parts of the city. The fact that its Roman ruins have been preserved so well is, therefore, a miracle that we can not stop celebrating.


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