Sunday 20th September, a bright, sunny & warm day, & four of us travel by train to Tarragona to meet friends for the day, which happens to be midway through the ten day annual festa major of santa Tecla, Tarragona's patron saint. The journey takes just over an hour from Barcelona central, costing a mere €8, & follows the Catalunyan coastline making a few stops at small towns along the way. We arrived mid morning & set off to find a place to breakfast on our way to Plaça de la Font, our meeting point, which also happened to be the festas main place of events.
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Santa Tecla (ancient Greek: Thékla) was born (Konya, Turkey) & died around the first century AD, & is venerated by the four churches of Eastern Christianity, being considered an apostle, virgin, martyr, & follower of biblical & historical figure, Paul The Apsotle. Her feast day is 23rd September, which is the main celebration day of the 10-day festa major in Tarragona. The cult of Santa Tecla dates back beyond my research, but the festa goes back at least as far as 1091, when Pope Urban II declared the feast a day of obligation.
The port city of Tarragona in Catalunya is situated by the Mediterranian Sea, about 100km south of Barcelona, in north-east Spain. It is an ancient city & although its founding date is considered unknown, legend holds that its existence could stretch as far back as 2400 BC, & it has been populated, throughout bygone eras, in turn by Phoenecians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, & Umayyads (to name a few) after a succession of conquests. It was also part of the Kingdom of Aragón, before the founding of the Spanish Empire in 1516. It's current population is over 130, 000.
Within a few minutes of walking from the train station, through quiet shady streets, we emerged on Rambla Nova which was totally cordoned off by metal barriers & blue & white security tape, looped between the trunks of the tree-lined boulevard. The reason for this soon presented itself to us with the emergence of knots of cyclists pumping their way speedily past, around the converted race circuit that was Rambla Nova.
After a light breakfast outside a cafe, (very light for me, vegan options being zero), & I shooting a few cyclists, we carried on our way to Plaça de la Font, which was 2 or 3 minutes further walk. When we arrived the plaça & surrounding side streets were packed full of people come to watch the 'human castles', which would erect themselves over the ensuing hours before the mayoral building, to continued enthusiastic applause. 'Human castles' are a peculiar traditional feature of festas around the whole Catalunyan region, where groups (colles) from different towns compete to create (& safely dismantle) the highest or most sophisticated 'castles', comprised of people standing on each others shoulders up to 9 or 10 tiers high, supported by a base (pinya) consisting of dozens of human 'props'. The tiers are made up of between 1 & 4 people per level. Sometimes there are also 2nd (folre) & 3rd (manilles) bases atop the pinya when extra strength is required to hold a particularly large 'tower' (overall the largest of towers can consist of hundreds of people). When the top-most tier is finally made a small, & very brave, child (enxaneta) is required to climb over it, pausing to raise 4 fingers at the summit to signify completion. The castelleres then attempt to dismantle themselves without falling. On this occasion I witnessed 3 tumbling towers, but it seemed no-one was seriously injured.
Tarragona also contains many well preserved ancient ruins, which is surprising considering its history of sieges & invasions, & its Roman ones being designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. They consist of walls, citadel, circus, amphitheatre, tower, forum, necropolis, palace of Augustus (house of Pilate), tower, or sepulchre of the Scipios, arch of Sura, or of Bara, & the Aurelian Way. I had only a few hours to work with but I managed to get a few shots of the circus & amphitheatre ruins, as seen below.
During the afternoon I managed to dislocate myself from my company & explore somewhat the immediate area around the festivities. I found the cathedral dating to the 12th & 13th centuries & comprising both Roman & Gothic architecture, & took in some of the general feel of the place.
This is nowhere near a comprehensive visual review of Tarragona, which yet conceals from me its myriad ancient features, but, having been proffered native invitation I am sure to visit again, & next time shall endeavour to capture a greater flavour of this venerable Mediterranian city.
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