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The Arch of Berà was built straddling the Via Augusta at the end of the 1st century BC, although the arch we see today is not exactly the same as the Romans would have seen.
Over the centuries, numerous modifications have been made to the monument. Apart from the deterioration caused by the passing of time, some ill-conceived restoration projects and even an attempt to blow it up have seriously endangered its integrity.
The monument we see today as we drive along the main N-340 road is the result of the most recent restoration in 1998, a meticulous task of research carried out under the supervision of the archaeologist Xavier Dupré. The arch is missing its upper body on which there was probably a group of sculptures representing Augustus and other members of his family.
In 27 BC, the emperor Augustus began an administrative reform programme under which Tarraco became the capital of the Provincia Hispania Citerior. The emperor also organised a reform of the road network that involved a change in the route of the Via Herculea as it passed through Tarraco. At this time its name was also changed to Via Augusta.
From Tarraco, the road would have taken us south to Gades (Cádiz) or north to the Pyrenees, where it linked up with the Via Domitia to continue to Italy. Today, if we travel from north to south along the coast, we are still following almost the same route as the Romans 2,000 years ago.
Augustus left a deep impression on Tarraco. Following his stay between 27 and 25 BC, Tarraco underwent a major transformation to turn it into the town imagined by the emperor. The construction of the theatre and subsequently the temple dedicated to the worship of the emperor are evidence of Augustus’ impact on Tarraco.
The Arch of Berà was built on the Via Augusta in this context, also with the objective of paying tribute to Augustus. Although this type of construction is often known as a triumphal arch, they were not always built to commemorate military victories and therefore it is more accurate to use the term honorary arch. Although they would have had different functions (marking territorial boundaries, linked
If we stand in front of the arch, we can still see the top part of the remains of an inscription which tells us that Lucius Licinius Sura left a bequest in his will to build the arch.
Who was Lucius Licinius Sura? The truth is we know very little about him. We know he was not born in Tarraco, but was originally from Colonia Victrix Iulia Lepida (Velilla de Ebro, Zaragoza) where he began his political career. When Tarraco became the capital of the province, he saw an opportunity to prosper socially and financially and moved here.
Things must not have gone too badly for him, as the fact that he could afford to pay for this arch shows. Lucius Licinius Sura would have had two objectives in erecting this monument: to pay homage to an emperor who had meant so much to Tarraco and to preserve the memory of his own name for eternity.