Tarragona (English /ˌtɑːrəˈɡoʊnə/, Catalan: [tərəˈɣonə], Spanish: [taraˈɣona]; Phoenician: טַרְקוֹן, Tarqon; Latin: Tarraco) is a port city located in the north-east of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. It is the capital of the Tarragona province, and part of the Tarragonès county and Catalonia region. Geographically, it is bordered on the north by the province of Barcelona and the province of Lleida. The city has a population of 132,199 (2014).
One Catalan legend holds that it was named for Tarraho, eldest son of Tubal in c. 2407 BC; another (derived from Strabo and Megasthenes) attributes the name to ‘Tearcon the Ethiopian’, a 7th-century BC pharaoh who supposedly campaigned in Spain. The real founding date of Tarragona is unknown.
The city may have begun as an Iberic town called Kesse or Kosse, named for the Iberic tribe of the region, the Cossetans, though the identification of Tarragona with Kesse is not certain. Smith suggests that the city was probably founded by the Phoenicians, who called it Tarchon, which, according to Samuel Bochart, means a citadel. This name was probably derived from its situation on a high rock, between 75–90 m (250–300 ft) above the sea; whence we find it characterised as arce potens Tarraco. It was seated on the river Sulcis or Tulcis (modern Francolí), on a bay of the Mare Internum (Mediterranean), between the Pyrenees and the river Iberus (modern Ebro). Livy mentions a portus Tarraconis; and according to Eratosthenes it had a naval station or roads (Ναύσταθμον); but Artemidorus says with more probability that it had none, and scarcely even an anchoring place; and Strabo himself calls it ἀλίμενος. This better reflects its present condition; for though a mole was constructed in the 15th century with the materials of the ancient amphitheatre, and another subsequently by an Irishman named John Smith Sinnot, it still affords but little protection for shipping.
In Roman times, the city was fortified and much enlarged as a Roman colony by the brothers Publius and Gnaeus Scipio, who converted it into a fortress and arsenal against the Carthagenians. The city was first named Colonia Iulia Urbs Triumphalis Tarraco and was capital of the province of Hispania Citerior. Subsequently it became the capital of the province named after it, Hispania Tarraconensis, in the Roman empire and conventus juridicus.
Augustus wintered at Tarraco after his Cantabrian campaign, and bestowed many marks of honour on the city, among which were its honorary titles of Colonia Victrix Togata and Colonia Julia Victrix Tarraconensis.
Tarraco lies on the main road along the south-eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula.
According to Mela it was the richest town on that coast, and Strabo represents its population as equal to that of Carthago Nova (modern Cartagena). Its fertile plain and sunny shores are celebrated by Martial and other poets; and its neighbourhood is described as producing good wine and flax. The city also minted coins.
An inscribed stone base for a now lost statue of Tiberius Claudius Candidus was found in Tarragona during the nineteenth century. The 24-line Latin inscription describes the Governor and Senator’s career as an ally of the future Roman Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, who fought in the civil war following the assassination of Commodus in 192 AD. This important marble block was purchased by the British Museum in 1994.
From the demise of the Romans to the Union of Spain
After the demise of the Western Roman Empire, it was captured firstly by Vandals, then by Visigoths. Visigothic rule of Tarracona was ended by the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in 714. It was an important border city of the Caliphate of Cordoba between 750 and 1013. After the demise of the Caliphate, it was part of Taifa of Zaragoza between 1013 and 1110 and Almoravids between 1110 and 1117. It was taken by County of Barcelona in 1117. After dynastic union of Aragon and Barcelona, it was part of Kingdom of Aragon between 1164 and 1412. After dynastic union of Aragon and Castille, it was remained part of Aragon till founding Spanish Empire in 1516. During Catalan Revolt, it was captured by Catalan insurgents with French support in 1641, but it was retaken by Spanish troops in 1644. It was captured by allied Portuguese, Dutch, and British troops in 1705 during War of the Spanish Succession and remained in their hands until Peace of Utrecht in 1713. During the war, Catalans supported the unsuccessful claim of the Archduke Charles of Austria against the victorious Bourbon Duke of Anjou, became Philip V. He signed the Nueva Planta decrees, which abolished the Crown of Aragon and all remaining Catalan institutions and prohibited the administrative use of Catalan language on 16 January 1716.
During the Peninsular War, In the first siege of Tarragona from 5 May to 29 June 1811, Louis Gabriel Suchet’s French Army of Aragon laid siege to a Spanish garrison led by Lieutenant General Juan Senen de Contreras. A British naval squadron commanded by Admiral Edward Codrington harassed the French besiegers with cannon fire and transported large numbers of reinforcements into the city by sea. Nevertheless, Suchet’s troops stormed into the defenses and killed or captured almost all the defenders. It was become subprefecture center in Bouches-de-l’Èbre department of French empire.
In the second siege of Tarragona (3–11 June 1813), an overwhelming Anglo-Spanish force under the command of Lieutenant General John Murray, 8th Baronet failed to wrest Tarragona from a small Franco-Italian garrison led by General of Brigade Antoine Marc Augustin Bertoletti. Murray was subsequently removed from command for his indecisive and contradictory leadership. The Anglo-Spanish forces finally captured Tarragona on 19 August.
Spanish Civil War
During Spanish Civil War, Tarragona was in the hands of Republicans until captured by Nationalist troops on 15 January 1939 during the Catalonia Offensive.
The Roman ruins of Tarraco have been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Part of the bases of large Cyclopean walls near the Cuartel de Pilatos are thought to pre-date the Romans. The building just mentioned, a prison in the 19th century, is said to have been the palace of Augustus. The 2nd century amphitheatre, near the sea-shore, was extensively used as a quarry after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and but few vestiges of it now remain. A circus, c. 450 m long, was built over in the area now called Plaça de la Font, though portions of it are still to be traced. Throughout the town Latin, and even apparently Phoenician, inscriptions on the stones of the houses mark the material used for buildings in the town.
Two ancient monuments, at some little distance from the town, have, however, fared rather better. The first of these is the Aqüeducte de les Ferreres, which spans a valley about 4 kilometres (2 miles) north of the city. It is 217 m (712 ft) in length, and the loftiest arches, of which there are two tiers, are 26 m (85 ft) high. There is a monument about 6 km (4 mi) along the coast road east of the city, commonly called the “Tower of the Scipios”; but there is no authority for assuming that they were buried here.
Other Roman buildings include:
- The Roman walls
- The capitol, or citadel
- The Amphitheatre
- The Roman circus
- The Pretorium – Tower
- The Forum
- The Necropolis
- The palace of Augustus, called the house of Pilate
- The so-called tower, or sepulchre, of the Scipios
- Arch of Sura, or of Bara
- The Aurelian Way.
The city is also home to the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona.
- The Cathedral, dating to the 12th-13th centuries, combining Romanesque and Gothic architectural elements.
- The convent of the Poor Clares, near the walls
- The convent of Santa Teresa
- The church of the Capuchins, the parish church of the port
- The former convent of Sant Francesc
- The Jesuit college was turned into barracks, their church, however, has been restored to them
- The convent of the Dominicans, now the town hall
- The archiepiscopal palace, situated on the site of the ancient capitol, one tower of which still remains. It was rebuilt in the 19th century.
- Near the sea, in the Roman amphitheatre, are the remains of a church called Santa Maria del Miracle (Holy Mary of the Miracle), which belonged to the Knights Templar. It was afterwards used by the Trinitarian Fathers, and was later converted into a penitentiary. It was demolished around 1915.
The seminary of Sant Pau and Santa Tecla was founded in 1570 by the cardinal archbishop, Gaspar Cervantes de Gaeta, and was the first to comply with the decrees of the Council of Trent. In 1858 Archbishop José Domingo Costa y Borrás built a fourth wing. Benito Villamitjana built a new seminary behind the cathedral in 1886, in the courtyard of which stands the old chapel of Sant Pau. Pope Leo XIII raised this to the rank of a pontifical university.
50 km (31.07 mi) north of the city is the monastery of Poblet, founded in 1151 by Ramon Berenguer IV, which was used for sepultures of the kings.
Tarragona is home to a large port and the Universitat Rovira i Virgili. Much of its economic activity comes from a large number of chemical industries located south of the city.
The main living heritage is the Popular Retinue, a great parade of dances, bestiary and spoken dances- and the human towers. They specially participate in Santa Tecla Festival. They are so popular in Tarragona and also in all Catalonia that they have got their own home. It is called “Casa de la Festa”, Festivities House, where you can visit them all the year. 
A number of beaches, some awarded a Blue Flag designation, line the Mediterranean coast near the city.
Tarragona is located near the holiday resort of Salou and the theme park PortAventura, one of the largest in Europe.
The city is served by Tarragona railway station, and is located a few kilometres away from Reus Airport, which has many low-cost destinations and charter-flights (over a million passengers per year).
Reus is the second city of Tarragona area (101,767 inhabitants in 2006), known by its commercial activity and for being the place where the architect Gaudí was born.
Food and drink outlets
Tarragona contains a number of small bars, restaurants, and cafes serving tapas and sandwiches, and local seafood and Catalan dishes like “pa amb tomàquet” or “neules i torrons”. Many such outlets are found in the historic centre, including those at the Plaça de la Font, Plaça del Rei and Plaça del Fòrum. The neighbourhood of El Serrallo, at the harbour, specialises in seafood cuisine.
Between 1903 and 1989 the French liqueur made by the Carthusian Monks, Chartreuse, was distilled in Tarragona, following the monks’ expulsion from France.
- The Carnival
- Tarragona international dixieland festival. Houses 25 bands and 100 concerts and activities the week before Holy Week.
- Tarraco Viva. A lot of groups around Europe recreate the Roman world: from the Roman legions, to daily life. It’s celebrated between 10 and 20 May.
- Tarragona International Fireworks Displays Competition. The competition selects six international pyrotechnic companies every year. Official website1
- Sant Magí Festival, held between 15 and 19 August.
- Santa Tecla Festival, held between 15 and 24 September. It has been celebrated since 1321 and it is considered of national touristic interest by the state.
- Tarragona 2017 XVIII Mediterranean Games, Tarragona was chosen as the venue for the Mediterranean Games in 2017. They will be held in July 2017.
Tarragona was also a candidate to be the Spanish representative as European Capital of Culture in 2016.
Tourist transport and travel options in the city Tarragona
Everything about Tarragona, options for tourism and ground-based, chauffeured and private transportation in Tarragona. For tourism operators, travel agencies, independent travelers or group travel agencies.
Types of transportation to and from Tarragona
Bus and mini-bus rental:
Currently Tarragona has about 30 companies that rent minibuses and coaches. Many of them, such as Scipion Bus, Autocares Nika, and Autocares A. Sánchez, are based near the Mediterranean Highway (Autovía del Mediterráneo). Would you like to rent a bus in Alicante? You can find a selection of bus rental companies with their profiles on our bus rental Tarragona page.
Transportation to and from the airport:
The airport is just 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the city of Tarragona via highway N-120. You can reserve or request transportation in the city of Tarragona, where you can choose from multiple specialized companies, and you can request a size or specific type of bus.You can request a quote from Autocares del Penedés, Autocares Plana, Autocares Poch, and other transportation companies.
Taxis in Tarragona:
If you’re tired of standing or walking, you can wait for a taxi on any street or request a ride. Almost all the taxi companies and cooperatives have 24/7 phone service. Some centers are: Radio Taxi Salou, Radio Taxi, Taxis Miquel Corbalán, and Taxis Laura.
Limos and luxury cars:
For travelers with a taste for luxury and a desire to travel in style, Tarragona offers a number of companies that rent cars with chauffeurs. You can request a quote from Salou In Out Service, Nika Autocares, or Limusinas Tarragona.
City Tours in Tarragona:
You can rent a bus in Tarragona for tours in the city or in Tarragona Province. There’s a great diversity of guided tours through Tarragona, such as La Ruta Romana (The Roman Route) which starts at La Plaza del Pallol, continues to the city walls, a visit to the Pretorian Palace and Circus (el Pretorio y el Circo), and ends at the Amphitheatre (el Anfiteatro). The Medieval Route (La Ruta Medieval), on the other hand, starts at the Pretorian Palace, continuing through the Old Medieval Market (el Antiguo Mercado Medieval), the façade of the cathedral, The House of Decano (la Casa del Decano), and ends at the Cathedral’s Cloister (el Claustro de la Catedral).