Sant Agapito Bis is a grassroots initiative which has injected new life into a neglected area of the old city, making Carrer del Compte (now known as Pilon’s Street) one of the most photographed streets in Tarragona.
The historic quarter of Tarragona is a tale of two cities: you have the roman ruins, listed by UNESCO, relatively well managed by the city council, and you have the medieval, post-medieval part which is not. Although new pavement has been installed in many areas the Parte Alta, as the historic part of Tarragona is known, is home to some of the poorest neighbourhoods. This is reflected by the state of many neglected buildings, some of which of great historical importance, covered by nettings to prevent the fall of debris. A chronic lack of maintenance has caused whole areas to simply collapse. Many buildings have been abandoned with squatters settling in. Walk around and you see exposed medieval arches, ghost walls and windows with nothing left behind.
When, in 2005, due to poor soil drainage a whole row of houses collapsed in Carrer del Compte people reacted. Fed up with the blight and led by renowned photographer Pep Escoda and Ramon Ollé (founder of the local beer brand Rosita) they took advantage of the repaving of the street by asking the council to install a set of bollards on each side. The resulting bollards became the centre of a painting contest which got its name after an imaginary saint: Sant Agapito Bis.
Sant Agapito Bis takes place the saturday of the first week in July. At 10:30 the yearly makeover of the 57 bollards starts; it’s a carnival atmosphere with paint running everywhere, free Rosita beer and vermouth is given out in honour of the saint while the Pilon’s Street Quartet provides the musical entertainment. As far as the makeover goes there is no specific theme and anything goes, from aliens to mermaids, dolls, cats, abstract and surreal, human towers, instagrammers. Everyone is at it, concentrating on their artistic task under the summer sun.
By lunchtime the makeover party has usually fizzled out.
The bollards covered in new colours and themes dry in the hot air ready to be perused by the thousand of visitors which walk down Pilon’s Street every year.