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The “TARRACO/MNAT” exhibition is installed in the building that for many years welcomed arriving and departing passengers in the Port of Tarragona. In 1986, this building, together with the rest of the complex on the Costa Wharf, was retired from port operations and opened up to the citizens of Tarragona as a setting for cultural events.
Today there is little evidence of the natural enclave that led the Romans to disembark here and set up a military outpost that would eventually become the capital of Hispania Citerior.
It was more than 2,000 years ago that the Romans built the first artificial port facilities. Since then, with more or less success over the centuries, the port has been the arrival and departure point for goods, ideas and people.
The current appearance of the port began to be laid out in the 18th century and was defined during the 19th and 20th centuries. It was not only a port for cargo traffic, but also a fishing port, around which the El Serrallo fishing family quarter grew up.
In 1959, the port began to undergo a profound transformation. The installation of the petrochemical industry, an increase in activity and its adaptation to the new transportation techniques brought about an expansion and a restructuring that led to the facilities on the Costa Wharf being ceded to the city of Tarragona for public use.
Today, the MNAT has moved in next to the Port Museum, the Tinglado 1 exhibition hall and the Tinglado 2 Art Centre on the Costa Wharf.
In 218 BC, as Rome competed with Carthage for domination of the Mediterranean, Roman troops disembarked in what would become the first Roman town founded on the Iberian Peninsula and the operational base for the conquest of Hispania.
Little by little, the original fortified enclosure built on the summit of the hill overlooking the indigenous Iberian settlement was expanded and the urban layout of Roman Tarraco began to take shape.
In the 1st century BC, Caesar granted the town the statute of a colony and shortly afterwards Augustus named it capital of the province, thus defining the singular role it would play in the coming centuries. The Colonial Forum, the Theatre, the Temple of Augustus and the Arch of Berà all date from that period.
During the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, major reforms and new building works were undertaken in Tarraco, including the port façade, the magnificent building complex on the hill and the amphitheatre. These were projects linked to its status as the seat of the assembly of provincial notables, which was held annually in the town. They were also a reflection of its increasing importance. In the 1st century, the town was granted Latin rights, a step closer to recognition of full Roman citizenship for its inhabitants.
However, alongside the grand public buildings linked to the power of the state, Tarraco was also a living and working town that extended down to the lower walled area and the zone between the port and the mouth of the River Francolí. Thanks to the epigraphy, we know the names of slaves, freedmen and citizens –men and women from all over the Mediterranean– who lived in multi-family houses or grand domus. In life they worked in shops, workshops and warehouses and spent their free time relaxing in the public baths; in death they were laid to rest outside the walls, alongside the roads leading out of the town.
Like all Roman towns, Tarraco’s ager extended beyond its walls. Its jurisdiction stretched from the River Llobregat in the north to the Coll de Balaguer Pass in the south, bordering the Terres de l’Ebre, and to the west it reached almost as far as Lleida.
Villas and farms supplied the town with the resources it needed. Sometimes the villas were also the palatial residences of wealthy Tarraco citizens, as is the case of Els Munts in Altafulla. This villa was built for the leisure, rest and self-representation of the aristocratic elites and is thought may have been used by the emperor Hadrian during his stay in Tarraco in the winter of 122-123 AD.
The surrounding area also provided the stone to build the town and the water to supply the population.
Two main roads crossed the territory: the Via Augusta, which followed the coast of the Iberian Peninsula from the Pyrenees in the north to Gades (Cádiz) in the south, and the Via de Italia in Hispanias, which began in Tarraco and led to the interior via Ilerda (Lleida).
In the late 3rd century, Tarraco entered into a period of crisis. At beginning of the 5th century, the situation improved and Tarraco recovered part of its geostrategic and political role. Following the formal dissolution of the Roman empire in 476 AD, Tarraco came under Visigothic domination until the end of the 8th century.
In the 5th century, the monument of Centcelles was built. This is one of the most important late-Roman complexes in the West and it preserves the exceptional mosaic decorating its main dome.
From the early 8th century, Tarraco, along with its surrounding area, found itself on the frontier between the Christian and Muslim domains and it lost much of its population and urban status. This situation would not be reversed until the 12th century.
An Evocative History
Systematically, and due to an innate vocation, any archaeological museum looks towards the past; not to remain in it, but to bring it into the present and turn it into an archaeological document –of whatever kind– and an instrument at the service of today’s society, conceptually and formally adjusted to its needs and requirements.