The National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona (MNAT), the oldest in its speciality in Catalonia, started life as a provincial museum. It was established in the first half of the 20th century with collections from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, although most of its exhibits were discovered during the last 150 years as a consequence of the construction of the modern port and the extraordinary urban growth of the city and its surrounding area.
After being housed in various locations and going through periods of greater or lesser activity, including times when it was closed, the museum was definitively consolidated and installed in a building in the Plaça de la Font, where it remained for more than a hundred years. In 1960, it moved to a purpose-built museum in the Plaça del Rei, with the particularity that in the basement it is possible to see part of the original Roman walls. In 1982, the Ministry of Culture, the owner of the Museum, transferred its management to the Catalan Government. Since 2014, the Catalan Cultural Heritage Agency, part of the Department of Culture, has managed the Museum and its branches.
The MNAT manages the Archaeological Museum, the Early Christian Museum and Necropolis, the Roman Theatre of Tarragona, the Villa of Els Munts (Altafulla), the monumental complex of Centcelles (Constantí), the Arch of Berà (Roda de Berà) and the Tower of the Scipios (Tarragona). The institution's offices and technical services are housed in the Central Services building on Avinguda Ramón y Cajal in Tarragona.
The MNAT fosters the research and conservation of the collections and archaeological sites in its care. It also undertakes informative and educational programmes under the motto "A Journey through the Roman Culture", aimed at disseminating awareness and knowledge of the Roman legacy declared World Heritage by UNESCO in the year 2000.
The Archaeological Museum in the Plaça del Rei is currently undergoing extensive refurbishment and is closed to the public. While this work is being completed, a synthesis exhibition "TARRACO/MNAT" can be visited in Tinglado 4 in the Port of Tarragona.
The Roman Theatre of Tarragona and the Villa of Els Munts in Altafulla are also the subject of archaeological research and museographic projects aimed at improving comprehension and public presentation of them.