Every time I enter Pilats tower I feel like being drawn in to the pages of of the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake. Standing there , in perfect silence, one can almost hear the Gothic town creaking above it’s hollow foundations, which is where the gigantic public building of the Circus and one of the corners of the Forum once stood. Imagine what Tarragona (Tarraco) must have been like at the height of it’s power, with its magnificent temples and extensive public amenities.
Every time I walk up in to this square from the new Rambla I take a big breath… and then exhale as I step in to the living room of Tarragona.
If the Rambla is a river, carrying people along the spine of the city, then Plaça de la Font is an island where it all comes to rest. The noise of the traffic fade behind and the acoustics open up to a large space echoing of chatter, the flutter of pigeons, the sound of cutlery, stirred coffee cups, and ice swirling in long tumblers.
This beautifully restored building is located at Carrer dels Cavallers, once one the most prestigious address in old Tarragona. Built at the beginning of the XV century it was home to the powerful Castellarnau family who held court to king and influential dignitaries of the day. By 1954 the Castellarnaus had fallen in to oblivion and were heavily in debt due to serious gambling habits and most of the original contents of the house were sold to pay off the debts. The house was requested to the Tarragona municipality in exchange of a lifetime pension for the surviving heir.
The National Archaeological Museum is the ideal starting point for an exploration in to ancient Tarraco.
There is a easy to follow audiovisual display shown in the basement of the building which will tell you of Tarraco as seen through the eyes of the emperor Augustus when he came to visit the city. At the height of its splendor it would have been seen afar from the sea from incoming boats as it was built almost in terrace fashion over a rocky hill overlooking the sea. It sported one of the largest circuses ever excavated, a theater, an anphiteatre and a forum and would be bustling with life, trade and entertainment.
Located in the Part Alta of Tarragona, Casa Canals looks rather unassuming from the outside. Yet the interior reveals an understated old world opulence made of chandeliers and eighteen century furniture. It’s very tempting to make your self comfortable and read the Sunday papers (and smoke a cigar).