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The Archaeological Museum has an exceptional collection from the Roman period. It reflects the historical and monumental importance of the Roman town of Tarraco and the archaeological sites in its surrounding area.
In 1845, the museum passed into public hands under the Provincial Commission of Monuments and, in 1852, the first catalogue of exhibits was published.
The collection was constituted during the 19th century, based mainly on finds made during public and private urban development projects, on chance finds and on contributions from private citizens.
This trend would change substantially with Joan Serra i Vilaró’s methodical excavations in the Colonial Forum and the Early Christian Necropolis (1926-1933).
From 1978 and especially since the Archaeology Service of the Catalan Regional Government was set up in 1981, archaeological excavations have been practically the sole source of additions to the museum’s collections.
In 1960, the Archaeological Museum in the Plaça del Rei was opened. Its new home was purpose-built to exhibit the exceptional collections from Roman Tarraco that the museum had been assembling since the 19th century and that had previously been displayed in its various provisional facilities.
The building was designed by Josep M. Monravà, the municipal architect and author of the General Urban Plan of 1960 for the organisation of various areas and buildings in the city, including the museum.
In the basement of the new building there was a preserved stretch of the Roman walls and the museum also had offices, a store room and a library. The rooms on its two floors were expressly designed to display the mosaics and other finds from the city’s large Roman buildings: the theatre, the provincial and colonial forums, the amphitheatre and the circus. The visit was organised by thematic areas and included objects of daily life and, on the second floor, sculptures.
In 1987, the museum’s technical services were transferred to a new building next to the Necropolis. This allowed the exhibition areas to be expanded and a new temporary exhibition room to be opened. In 1993, the museum underwent a wide-ranging museographic reform and its accessibility was improved.
In 2018, the project for the renovation of the Archaeological Museum began. It covered both the architectural adaptation of the building and its museographic renovation. The building reforms, financed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, involve major alterations to the facilities and accesses, with the objective of improving such aspects as preventive conservation and visitor accessibility and convenience.
This work has necessitated the transfer of a large part of the collection to the MNAT’s store rooms for their conservation and restoration, while an exceptional selection of the pieces will be exhibited in Tinglado 4 on the Costa Wharf in the Port of Tarragona.
The intervention will also include the renovation of the museography, a project financed by the Catalan Regional Government.
A visit to the renovated future museum will include a tour of the head of the Roman Circus and the Praetorium Tower. This is a joint project of the Catalan Regional Government and Tarragona City Council to raise the profile of the World Heritage of Roman Tarragona.
The refurbishment of the museum required the removal of most of the collection. Only the wall mosaics and the exhibits built into the architecture room were protected and remained in place.
The plan for the transfer of the museum’s exhibits, some 1.095 pieces, was drawn up by teams from the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona and the Centre for the Restoration of Artefacts of Catalonia, and provided for their preventive conservation, dismantling and transfer.
A prior requirement was the adaptation of the museum’s store rooms to receive such a large number of pieces, as well as the preparation of the documentation for each of them.
The other, much more important, requirement was the definition of the working protocols to guarantee the recording of the collection and the coordination of the teams.
The transfer of the collection, therefore, was not merely a physical move involving packing and handling, but a much more complex operation of planning and task coordination.
Another important aspect of this project is the revision of the condition of the collection, the identification of any physical or chemical alterations, cleaning and the determination of restoration needs.