Menu Hamburger Logo Menu close Logo
Barcelona Travel Hacks home logo

History of Tarragona Museum Roman Circus & Praetorium

Discover the Tarragona 1st Century Roman Circus And Praetorium. opening hours, ticket options, top tips for visiting the Museum of History Tarragona (MHT)

Updated: Nov 5, 2023 by: Barcelona Travel Hacks Views: 1.3k

About History of Tarragona Museum Roman Circus & Praetorium

The Tarragona Roman circus, Circo romano de Tarraco, and Roman Praetorium, Pretorio Romano de Tarraco are two conjoined roman ruins near to the Roman Amphitheatre. During the Middle Ages the Kings of Aragón redesigned it for use as a Royal Palace.

Tarragona Roman 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.

Tarragona Roman Condition Today

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.

Tarragona Roman 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 the materials were reused in the construction of the civil and religious buildings of the late Roman and medieval Tarraco.

Tarragona Roman Praetorium Condition Today

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 and the roman circus and amphitheatre.