Port of Tarragona
Review and History

The Port of Tarragona is the capital of Tarragona Province in Catalonia, Spain. On the mouth of the Francoli River on the northeastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Tarragona is an important seaport, a busy agricultural center, and a center for tourism in southern Spain. With a modern port, the city is home to an active petrochemical industry. In 2006, almost 63 thousand people called the Port of Tarragona home.

Port History

Experts believe that the Port of Tarragona was originally an Iberic town named Kesse after the Cosetian tribe who lived in the area. The Romans took the town in 218 BC, making it a stronghold they called Tarraco. They improved its harbor and built city walls. Julius Caesar started its golden era, calling it Julia Victrix Triumphalis. Augustus made it the capital of the Roman district, and a temple was built there to honor him.

Emperors Trajan and Hadrian granted prestige and power to the Port of Tarragona, and it became one of Rome’s richest seaports. Its flax trade, local industry, rich agricultural produce, and wines were praised by Pliney the Elder. Local tradition says that St. Paul founded a Christian church in the Port of Tarragona in 60 AD. The Moors destroyed the city in 714, and it was not important until retaken by the Christians in the 12th Century.

The Port of Tarragona became an important city in the Kingdom of Aragon in the early 12th Century. In 1229, James I planned the conquest of Mallorca from the city.

The Port of Tarragona’s old quarter contains houses with some Roman masonry, and it is partly surrounded by the old Roman walls. The city contains many Roman ruins that earned it designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Other Roman remains include an amphitheater, circus, necropolis, forum, and an aqueduct.

The modern Port of Tarragona is home to a busy port, the Universitat Rovira I Virgili, and a prosperous chemical industry. It hosts many tourists who visit the Roman ruins. The Port of Tarragona is famous for its Popular Retinue, a fantastic parade especially popular during the Santa Tecla Festival, whose dances, bestiary, and human towers are housed in the Casa de la Festa for year-round visits. The Port of Tarragona is also home to several wonderful beaches, several with a Blue Flag designation.

While Greek sailors used the Port of Tarragona harbor for trade, the Romans first built docks and a lighthouse on today’s site. Established as a Roman military base, the port city became a Roman colony and official port in 45 BC that exported oil, wine, and wheat and imported ceramics, glass, and other manufactured products. After invasions by the Visigoths and Moors, the port was stagnant until the 12th Century entry of Aragon.

Using the old Roman port, commercial activity began again in the Port of Tarragona in the 14th Century when roads to the interior were opened to facilitate transfer of agricultural products. The city got permission to build a new pier in 1484, but the local Council imposed taxes on trade, forcing business to the ports in Salou. With crises in the 16th Century (including the plague, international wars, and piracy) bringing trade in Salou to a stop, the Port of Tarragona saw a new era of development.

In the late 18th Century, new port construction was undertaken. Many new improvements were completed in the Port of Tarragona during the 19th Century that were the base for the modern Port of Tarragona. During the 20th Century, the focus was equipping port facilities with modern cranes and machinery and constructing silos and warehouses. Always an important fishing port, the Port of Tarragona moved the fishing fleet to the Serallo area.

During the 1960s, the petrochemical boom added new facilities and brought improvements to the waterways. Many new buildings, facilities, and docks were added in the 1990s to accommodate new generations of vessels and cargoes. Docks were specialized to handle specific products.

The Port Authority of Tarragona is a pioneer in preserving its historic heritage and in supporting the community. It is home to the Port of Tarragona Archive and the Museum of the Port. It also provides exhibition space for local artists and shows.

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