Friday, 21 September 2012

St Matthew's Day in Tarragona

After a couple failed attempts recently I finally took a train to Tarragona for sightseeing. The excursion using the RENFE Regional Express cost less than fifteen pounds. It meant changing trains at L'Aldea-Amposta, with a short wait in between trains. Most disconcertingly there is no signage of any kind on the platform five where we were deposited and picked up from. The train announcements were clear, but I'd hate to be deaf in a situation like that. By the looks of it, the station although complete, is not yet fully furnished like others on this line. I was aware of the anxieties of other travellers, in both directions.
Tarragona station is just north of its busy shipping port (a counted ten ships at anchor waiting off shore), close to the sea shore. It's about a kilometre walk following the shore line north, but going up hill toward the town centre, ancient and modern. From the brow of the hill is a marvellous view of the the bay, and of the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, sitting just behind the beach and railway line.
Its surroundings have been made into a park, and behind the park inland is a large restaurant on a terrace, taking advantage of the view. I couldn't help noticing a stylish glass and chrome lift installed to give access from street level above to the restaurant. 
The other side of the street is the intact Praetorian Tower, the ruins of the Forum and Circus, surrounded by a mixture of buildings both modern and a few centuries old. Remains of the century Roman colonial city built of golden hued limestone appear all over the town centre, some times cordoned off for paying customers, other times, just there in the middle of one of several plazas as a decorative feature. Right in the heart of the old Roman quarter stands the magnificent 11-12th century cathedral.

In the plaza outside its gothic decorated west front is an imposing ancient house (now somewhat dilapidated and in need of restoration), said to have been a residence of the Archdeacon of Tarragona, built on the site of a Roman Temple. Across the road, in a mediaeval house with a modern entrance extension is the Tarragona biblical institute. I got the impression that the city doesn't rest on its laurels, but remains a cultural dynamo for the region.
The church building complex is entered from the north side, where a fine gothic cloister is situated. It is unusual in having a series of chapels built in to its perimeter.
Several of these are still used for current devotional purposes. Large ancient rooms off the cloister belonging to the Chapter, plus the old Sacristy house a remarkable collection of high quality mediaeval religious art, beautifully displayed, well conserved, a collection any national  museum would be glad to possess. 
The Cathedral nave has a romanesque high stone vaulted ceiling and octagonal lantern at the crossing between nave and chancel, and a beautiful gilded gothic high altar reredos. I think there were a dozen side chapels in all, but I may have miscounted. The fine baroque organ case is but a shell at the moment, as the organ has been taken out for restoration. Work on a building of this majesty is never ending. It's quite encouraging to see how much of it is in good repair, well looked after, and well used for prayer.

All around town there was an abundance of portable toilets, like Cardiff on an international match day, only much more generous provision. A bit late for the tourist season, I thought. But then, I noticed the festive banners in honour of St Tecla the Virgin, said to have been one a St Paul's travelling companions. Her feast is this coming Sunday, she's patron saint of both the city and the Cathedral. I imagine the entire weekend will be one of celebration, to judge from concert stages being erected in plazas, and in the cathedral. Banners of the saint, mixed with the Catalonian flags flutter in the breeze everywhere.
After three hours of walking and photographing in the sun, I was pretty tired, despite fortification from pizza and beer en route. I returned to the station, but found I couldn't get a Regional Train connection until five forty, so I made the circuit again, and took some more photos. I was glad to get on the train, even if it was so full I had to stand until it got to Salou. A lot of young people with holiday cases in tow are on the move this weekend. Some coming into Tarragona for the fiesta, others heading for the beach one last time before the start of a new academic term, no doubt.

I was glad to get home and eat, but thrilled with most of my pictures. You can see them here


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