The Cathedral of Santa Maria was built between the 12th and 14th century on the highest point of the city, in a place full of history. Previously there had been a 10th century mosque, a Christian Visigothic basilica and, earlier, a Roman temple. The Cathedral in Tarragona hides, within its foundations, an ancient temple dedicated to Augustus.
The existence of this building was known through numismatic and written references, although its location wasn’t stated. The most logical idea was that it would be found in the forum of the ancient ‘Tàrraco’ (the Roman name for Tarragona), where centuries later Christian temples were erected. In 2010, a team of archaeologists excavated the central nave of the Cathedral and laid bare the remains of the Roman temple.
The Cathedral itself, however, is a transitional work between Romanesque and Gothic periods; the former was then still current, and spread in the 12th century to many parts of the New Catalonia. In Tarragona later styles such as Gothic, coexisted with the Renaissance and the Baroque.
Notable are the three portals of the church, which correspond to its three naves: the main one is Gothic and the other two Romanesque. Looking up, however, you can see that the Cathedral is unfinished, due to the ravages caused by the black death.
The Gothic cloister, which leads to the Diocesan Museum, stands out for it extensive sculptural decoration. The more curious visitors can find an Arabic inscription dating from the year 960 from the ancient mosque and the representation of the popular legend of the burial of a cat by rats.
Inside, the presbytery and the central apse have a fully Romanesque element that one might pass without noticing: the pavement. It is made of stone and marble, coloured white, black, orange and yellow, and with geometric interlaced designs.
What doesn’t go unnoticed is the large organ. It was made in the 16th century, although in 1929 the mechanism and the pipes were replaced by those of the Romantic organ from the Palau Maricel in Sitges.
It is in the chapels, built in the 14th century, where the shift towards the Gothic and later styles is most evident. The most outstanding piece is the polychrome, alabaster altarpiece, which has sculptures of Santa Tecla, Santa Maria and Sant Pau.
Come and discover historical records and the beautiful works of art in the Cathedral of Tarragona. The church programme:
- Cultural visits
- Group visits
- Schools activities