The Roman remains of Tárraco are of exceptional importance in the development of Roman urban planning and design and served as the model for provincial capitals elsewhere in the Roman world. Tárraco provides eloquent testimony to a significant stage in the history of the Mediterranean lands in antiquity.
There was possibly a trading settlement here, founded by Ionian Greeks, in the early 1st millennium BC. However by the end of the 5th century BC the indigenous Iberians had created a settlement, called Kesse. It was seized and fortified by the Roman proconsul Scipio Africanus in 218 BC during the Second Punic War. The town of Tárraco is the first and oldest Roman settlement on the Iberian Peninsula, and it became the capital of the Province of Hispania Citerior, during the reign of Augustus. As such it was suitably endowed with imposing public buildings, as a demonstration of Roman power. It was visited by several Roman emperors, among them Augustus and Hadrian, and was the site of many councils bringing together officials. The unique Roman plan of the town is exceptional, as it adapted to the configuration of the land by means of a series of artificial terraces, which are to be seen around the provincial forum as well as in the residential quarter. The town is rich in important buried architectural and archaeological remains, among them buildings that are completely preserved, as in the case of the group of vaults in the Calle Méndez Núñez.
The defensive system of walls of Tárraco is one of the earliest examples of Roman military engineering on the Iberian Peninsula and the most important symbols of the town, defining its form from antiquity until the 19th century. They illustrate the construction technique known as opus siliceum that was characteristic of Italy and was used in Etruria and Latium. Some sections of wall - with internal and external decoration, cyclopean gates, and defensive bastions such as the Minerva, Capiscol, and Archbishop's Towers -are in a good state of conservation. This large group of buildings determined the layout of the existing old town, where most of the architectural elements survive. It was a large complex spread over three terraces used for high-level political purposes and to bring the communities of Hispania Citerior into the Roman Empire, as shown by the iconography of sculptural and decorative finds. The architectural details and the use of imported materials are taken as evidence of its architects and craftsmen having been brought in from Rome. The work of these Italian specialists is also to be seen in the three Roman structures used for public performances. A number of quarries are known around the town from which stone was extracted to build the Roman structures. There are also several luxurious villas, including the Centcelles villa-mausoleum, a modest villa rustica built in the 2nd century AD and later enlarged, and the Dels Munts Villa, a large and luxurious establishment.
The Roman town was sited on a hill, with the seat of the provincial government, at its crest and on two terraces created below. Among the principal buildings are the ramparts built by Scipio; the imperial cult enclosure; the Provincial Forum, a colonnaded open space; the circus, built from Roman concrete (opus caementicium ); the Colonial Forum at the centre of the town; the theatre, erected on the site of large cisterns and a harbour market; the amphitheatre, built during the reign of Trajan or Hadrian for some 14,000 spectators; the Visigothic basilica dedicated to the martyrs Fructuosus, Augurius and Eulogius; the Romanesque church with a traditional Latin cross form (most of the lower parts of this structure survive, and the decoration that has been studied indicates Cistercian connections); the palaeo-Christian cemetery associated with the cult of the three martyrs, over whose tomb a basilica was built (the Palaeo-Christian Museum on the site houses much of the material resulting from excavations); the aqueduct, built from opus quadratum consisting of two courses of arches; the Tower of the Scipios (its attribution to the Scipios is very doubtful)l; and the Triumphal Arch of Berá, considered to be a territorial marker, indicating the boundary of the territory of Tárraco.
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