Before I studied in Barcelona, I knew very little (ok next to nothing…) about the region of which it is a part – Catalunya. So, here’s some very brief information: Spain is broken up into 17 autonomies communities, which are further broken up into provinces so Barcelona is a province in the larger autonomous community of Catalunya. The city of Tarragona is another province with some very important historical context to Catalunya.
Tarragona, then called “Tarraco,” was founded around the 1st century A.D. after the Second Punic War and served as the capital of the Roman Empire in Spain for some time. Because it was the capital, Barcelona (then called Barcino) was submissive to its greater power but also grew simultaneously because of its strategic location. This is why Roman construction can still be spotted in Barcelona’s “ciutat vella” or old city.
The ancient Romans are not difficult to spot in Tarragona, however. I traveled there by train from Barcelona a couple weekends ago (about an hour-long trip) and, as soon as we began walking to the high part of the city, we looked out toward the Mediterranean and spotted an enormous Roman amphitheater. I’ve never been to the Coliseum in Rome, but I imagine it’s a much larger version of this. We were able to walk in and around the amphitheater, which had been used for gladiator battles, animal fights and executions, for only 3€! I was amazed by how prominent the ruins were to the town itself.
As we continued wandering, we saw a portion of the Roman wall built as a defense for the city and later walked through the remnants of a Roman circus, where chariot races were frequently held. It was all incredible and made us feel very, very young.
We also checked out the Cathedral of Tarragona, another breathtaking gothic structure that seemed to go on and on.
Modern Tarragona is a very fun place to visit as well. We ate one of the best meals we’ve ever had while staring out at the Mediterranean: It included patatas bravas (of course), pan con tomate (also of course), paella, wine and dessert. If you want to make sure you get the most out of your meals abroad, make sure you use TripAdvisor ahead of time. It really makes a difference!
A couple hours before we were going to board our train home, we finally stumbled upon the main shopping district where there was an enormous open-air market, featuring food, handmade jewelry and trinkets. A couple scoops of gelato helped us end the day right and left us in love with the small Roman town.