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History of Tarragona Museum Roman Circus And Pretorium

Roman circus (chariot racing arena) and Praetorium building with substantial vaults. Open to the public as part of the Museum of History Tarragona (MHT).

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

by: Barcelona Travel Hacks

Views: 538

About History of Tarragona Museum Roman Circus And Pretorium

Roman Tarragona Circus History

The circus was the most popular mass spectacle in the Roman world because of the chariot races, pulled by two or four horses.

The building dates from the end of the first century AD, during the reign of Domitian, and was part of the large provincial monumental complex, of which it occupied the lower terrace.

The Roman circus of Tarraco had dimensions of approximately 325 meters in length and a width of between 100 and 115 meters. It was built on powerful cement vaults that fulfilled a double function: on the one hand, they were the foundation on which the steps, the stairs and the upper platform were based; on the other, they served as internal corridors that made it possible to distribute spectators throughout the building, much like a modern arena today. In this network of vaults rested the upper platform of the building and the bleachers, arranged along three of the sides, while in the fourth were the exit point of the carts.

The grandstand was separated from the arena (the space where the show took place) by a wall more than 2 meters high, the podium, which had the function of protecting spectators in the event of any kind of accident during the show. Approximately in the centre of one of the long sides of the circus, the northern one, and attached to the buildings that made up the provincial forum, was the pulvinar.

One of the short sides of the building was occupied by dungeons, in which twelve exit chambers were generally opened, six on each side of a main door. Recent archaeological excavations have located these structures in the basement of the current Tarragona City Council building. The prisons were flanked by a tower. The whole sector was known as the oppidum . The organizer of the games (editor spectaculorum), who had the honour of starting the races, Could view the races from a space on the terrace above the prisons, while the magistrates who controlled the race, the correct behaviour of the chariots and the order of arrival, a tribune (tribunal iudicum) was reserved for them.

Current data suggest that during the 5th century the building was lost, at least partially its original function. Some of the vaults that formed it came to be occupied as room spaces.

Roman Tarragona Circus Current condition

Much of the huge Arena has now been built upon by what is the old centre of modern Tarragona city. What remains are a corner of the circus, the gate and some long tunnels underneath.

Roman Tarragona Praetorium History

Around 73 AD, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian, the Provincial Forum was built in the upper part of the city. It had the function of running the province from a political and economic point of view. The governing body of the new administrative network was the Consilium Provinciae Hispaniae Citerioris (Provincial Council) of which the governor was an active part.

The site chosen to establish government offices was the highest part of the city, a state-owned space since its founding with a total area of about 7.5 hectares.

The Provincial Forum was divided into two terraces taking advantage of the unevenness of the terrain. On the upper terrace was located the imperial place of worship and below, the representation square. On a third terrace was the circus that, built a few years later, completed the monumental complex.

The representation square was the building from where the whole province was managed. There were spaces as important as the tabular (state archive) or the ark (state box). To facilitate access to the various sectors of the building, a series of side towers were enabled that served as stairwells.

The provincial complex was articulated in a unitary way through an axis of symmetry that, in a northwest / southeast direction, connected the temple of imperial worship, in the highest part, with the pulvinar of the circus by a processional route that crossed longitudinally the intermediate terrace. On both sides of this road were distributed a series of statues of which only the pedestals are preserved.

The Provincial Forum ceased to function structurally at the beginning of the 5th century. From that moment on, the administrative area was reduced to much smaller spaces that are, for now, unknown. In terms of architecture, most of the high-imperial buildings entered a continuous process of dismantling walls and materials that were reused in the construction of the civil and religious buildings of the late Roman and medieval Tarraco.

Roman Tarragona Praetorium Current condition

What remains today is a side tower with large internal staircase used to connect the terrace levels of Roman Tarragona. Inside this space are preserved exhibits of statues, stone coffins and stone carvings. In this building it is possible to access the roof terrace viewpoint and look over modern day Tarragona.

5 Attractions Nearby

Visiting History of Tarragona Museum Roman Circus And Pretorium

There is a ticket office in the circus building with access via the roundabout. You can buy a single ticket or a combined ticket for all MHT attractions. Discounts are available for over 65's, children and students. Although the circus and Praetorium are separate buildings they are interlinked by a tunnel and staircase so you can transfer between the two with a combined ticket.

Roman Tarragona Circus and Praetorium opening hours

Summer: 1st April to 30 September.

Tuesday to Friday: 09:00h to 20:30h.

Saturday: 09:00h to 18:30h.

Sunday and Holiday's: 09:00h to 14:30h.

Closed: Monday's and 5th April.

Open mornings only: 1st May, 24th June, 19th August, 11th September and 23rd September.

Winter: 1st October to 31 March.

Tuesday to Friday: 09:00h to 19:00h.

Saturday: 09:00h to 18:30h.

Sunday and Holiday's: 09:00h to 14:30h.

Closed: Monday's, 24th December, 25th December, 26th December, 31st December, 1st January, 6th January, 1st November.

Open mornings only: 12th October, 6th December, 8th December.

Free Entry:International museum day in May, 19th August, 18th September, 23rd September, 8,8 and 10th October. The last Tuesday of January, February, march, May, October, November and December.

Access closes 30 minutes before final closing time.

Accessibility, mobility & Clothing for Roman Tarragona Circus And Pretorium

Access to the Roman Tarragona Amphitheater is via steps from Rambla vella. However the tour route is via a flight of stairs to the Praetorium. The Praetorian can also be accessed from Plaza del Rei via a flight of stairs. Once inside the Praetorium there is a lift to access all floors including the roof viewpoint. To confirm accessibility call 977 242 220 or write to

There are no bicycle anchorage points near to the museum.

Large rucksacks and bags will not be permitted inside the museum, nor is there space in reception to leave them. I was allowed inside with my small 10L museum rucksack.

No need for headphones because there is no audio guide but there are information plaques explaining each exhibit.

Summary of Prices

Train/Bus Fare Entry Ticket Additional Information Train/Bus Fare Entry Ticket Additional Information Adult € 16.10 € 3.30 Students, Over 65 years, 1.70 Euros Child € 16.10 FREE For under 16 YearsGroup/Family Ticket? See Website.Notes Combined ticket for all MHT 11.05 Euros.

Weather for Tarragona

Getting to History of Tarragona Museum Roman Circus And Pretorium

Address: Rambla Vella 2, Tarragona. 43003

From Barcelona there are frequent REGIONAL trains with a journey time of about 1 hour 10 minutes, departing from Barcelona-Estacio de franca, Barcelona-passeig de Gracia and Barcelona-Sants.

Public Transport Guide

Documents for History of Tarragona Museum Roman Circus And Pretorium

Click on any one of the 3 PDFs to view in full screen and download.


Tarragona Train Map

Author: Barcelona Travel Hacks


Regional Rail Map



Tarragona City Map


Wikiloc Trail for History of Tarragona Museum Roman Circus And Pretorium

TAR01 - Roman Tarragona

A city walk in Tarragona that covers the main Roman Museums that are part of the MHT (Museo Historico de Tarragona).

Distance: 8.27 Km

Difficulty: Moderate

Return Travel Fare: 21.00 EUR

Transport Network: Renfe Regional

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