Thursday, 26 May 2016

Tarraco's Romans

There's a town about an hour by train down the coast called Tarragona, but if you visit the place, you would swear it was called Tarraco. Tarraco was the name of the city when the Romans were there from 200 BC to about 200 AD, and the core of the old city just hangs onto that moniker despite having:
  • the Roman stuff knocked down and turned it into Vizigoth stuff (around 400 AD), then...
  • they knocked that down and turned it into Christian stuff (around 900 AD), then...
  • they knocked that down during various internal tiffs (in the 1400's, 1600's, 1700's and 1850's)...
  • and civil wars (1939 or so)...
  • and World Wars (both, but mostly in 1941)...
  • and then bulldozed it to build new stuff in the early 1900's on top of all of that.
This is all perhaps why I find Roman ruins fascinating. The Romans truly believed they would be around forever and built stuff to last, like theatres and aqueducts and monuments and walls and palaces. Turns out the advent of "modern warfare technology (like, say, cannons in the 1800's) meant you needed to up the Roman's game when it came to defensive creations.  But still, it was built to last, and last a lot of it did despite the best efforts of others (particularly Christians) to wreck it.

Like, say, Tarraco's amphitheatre. Built in that 100 AD period, seating 12,500 when it was in good shape, in use for 150 years, those Vizigoths tried to tear it down and build a church in it, then the Christians did the exact same thing (on top of the Vizigoth church), then the space found other use as a school or a prison, and yet... it remains.

The Med on the right 
Rebuilt, but still there  
Portions of the seats rebuilt, portions not
Look in the bowl on the right
The walls in the bowl on the right are not part of the amphitheatre. They're the walls of the Christian Church, and hiding inside them are the footings of the Vizigoth church.
The small Vizigoth church 
The walls and columns of the Christian church
The original portico through which the gladiators remains mostly intact (but rebuilt) as does the road they walked into death and doom.
I suspect if you went through those doors it was bad
Original stairs that lead to seating remain (I like stairs).
2,000 year old steps
Across the street from the amphitheatre is the Circus and Pretorian tower.
The back wall of the circus 
The tower
A little bit is left of the outside portion of the Circus. As a reminder, the Circus was a long oval (in this case, 370 m long, and 100 m wide) where they did chariot races. There still remain parts of the seating areas...

The painting on the wall of the building puts things in context
Used to be stands
But the cool part is what lies "underground". To get people into the stands, there were tunnels under the stands that accessed the arena area. Two major parts remain here in Tarraco: a 40 m section behind the curve of the oval...
All original, only somewhat repaired
The other end near the Pretorian Tower
...and a +100 m section down the long axis of the 350 m long oval (that happens to run partially under an active road, built before they knew the passage was there).
It just goes and goes... 
The length of a football field 
There are 5 side rooms, and other passages lead to the seats

Extremely cool.

The first passage continues and connects to a passage in the Provincial Forum next door, too.

More cool
The Forum passage contains carved artifacts, and they are lit very well, so you can actually see the inscriptions.
Most of these are funary 
Some are more simple than others 
All date from around 100 AD
You can ascend the Pretorian Tower (a guard post and lookout tower, mostly, that abutted the Provincial Forum). The walls inside are neat, but the tower was modified by most of the folks since 200 AD, especially the Italians in the 1800's, but there are also gothic elements, too. There is a bit of a 15 m tall column, though, that used to be inside.
And this is not small 
Me for scale. Yes, it's solid stone
The way to get to the roof of the tower is your classic "built for 1, barely" circular staircase (or you can take the elevator, but what fun is there in that?)

The entrance 
The exit
The view from the tower's pretty nice.
The amphitheatre 
Two 1800's era forts 
The Cathedral -- largest in Catalynya 
The remaining bit of the Circus
From here, we wandered across the old section of town. It's a pretty little place, with those narrow streets...
That inlaid stone stuff so common in Greece 
The main drag to the Cathedral
...where there's not enough room for cars AND people unless the sidewalk is shared.
If you don't like how I drive...
We ran across a street where (I assume) the locals went crazy on a fabulous beautification project.
Love it
We went across town to visit the Roman walls. We were led to believe you could walk on the 1.5 km of intact wall and visit the towers.


In the 1800's, the Italians came in and added fortifications (to the then 1,700 year old walls) so they could withstand cannon blasts and be better defended. The Italians did a lovely job of building ramparts, fortifications and bastions along the base of the Roman walls. But the Roman Walls themselves (a) aren't very wide, and (b) in many places are the back walls of people's houses -- in some cases the INSIDE back walls. These people have, over time, put windows in the 2,000 year old walls so they could see out. One of the folks who did that was the Archbishop, who's palace backs onto the wall (build in the 1300's to obliterate any evidence of previous occupancy by other non-Catholics, like, say, the Romans or Vizigoths). 

So you get to walk along the Italian fortifications from the 1800's at the base of the walls, while looking up at people's bedroom windows. 

Ah, well. It's still pretty.

The wall, petering out into buildings in this direction 
House windows built into the wall 
The Archbishop's Palace abutting the wall for the last 700 yrs 
Wall on right, Italian bastion sticking out 
Roman tower, part of someone's house 
Cannon. One is dated 1774 
Mostly original Roman tower
Inside that section of wall is a pretty street where "modern" (ie; less than 200 year old houses) face or abut a wall 10x (or more) older.
The wall on the left, running behind houses 
All of these back onto the wall 
The Archbishop''s palace, the wall just visible on the left
There are other cool things in the old city (and we only saw a bit of it).
An 11th century hospital 
Original column detail 
14th century Gothic arches 
Inside the archways 
That's actually a painted wall, not what it looks like 
A square lined with cafes
Oh, and then there's the Cathedral, consecrated in 1331.

Bigger than it looks from the front 
Sort of a corner view 
Sort of another corner 
Hey... is that the Seven Dwarfs? Can't be -- there's 8.
Over in the middle of town, while doing reno work in the 1970's, they discovered Roman ruins in a "basement". This led to unearthing a main Local Forum, which was built around 30 BC. Interestingly, it's HIGHER than the streets around it, because most of this section of town was lowered substantially in the late 1800's when the buildings were built (and any historical stuff was just bulldozed away). After this spot was found, they re-erected a couple of columns...
Used to be 16 on each side

...rebuilt a part of the taburnae

These lined the edges of the forum

...found a road and houses lining it...
The road, original stones and drains in place 
Half the site
...all of it 2 stories above the current grade.

I would have loved to have gotten to their standing aqueduct fragment -- it's 200 m long and 27 m tall and spans a valley -- but it's 5 km out of town, and hard to get to by public transit. You can also visit nearby arches and the stone quarries if you have a car.

Tarragona/Tarraco has one thing figured out: the MHT museum which runs most of these sites has a combined "visit them all" ticket good for a full year from it's first use. And the ticket costs a measly €7.20 (individual sites are just €3.30). Which partially explains why we didn't go into the Cathedral, which by itself charges €5. 

Tarraco demonstrates at least one thing to me: the certainty of wholesale societal change. 400 years of Romans followed by 400 years of Vizigoths followed by 700 years of Christians (broken into multiple eras of power dominance of various stripes). Each one came, saw, conquered, and were subsequently conquered. Each one of those +400 year realms thought they would last forever (and for us, 400 years -- 16 generations or more -- is a freakin' long time). The Romans had better engineers (thus building stuff better than most). But they were all here, and "here" continues to change and evolve.

No comments: