Spain – Tarragona

The days allotted to Barcelona had passed all too swiftly away, and we bought our tickets, and sent our luggage to the railway office. The arrangements for luggage in the chief towns of Spain are equal to anything in New York. A porter will carry your trunks to the railway office, which is usually near to the hotel, and return with the paper check, which you can fold up and put in your pocket-book. You pay him for his trouble and repay the amount charged for weight. When you reach your journey’s end, you hand your paper check to another porter, and he brings your luggage to the omnibus which is waiting to convey you to the hotel which you have chosen. I prefer this arrangement to the choicest plans yet invented by Dodd or Westcott or their numerous compatriots. One does not have so much brass to cumber his pocket, nor so many fees to pay; and the service is more prompt and trustworthy. Spain is usually considered as a retrograde country and very slow, but this branch of the baggage express business is far better managed than it is in the United States.

We left Barcelona in the evening train for the short ride to Tarragona. It was full moonlight and the road ran for a part of the way along the sea. The ride would have been very pleasant had the company been agreeable, but after we were nicely settled in a comfortable “no fumar” (no smoking) carriage, four large Germans forced their way in. They had second class tickets and were very angry at being obliged to pay extra fare, the train being composed of first class carriages only. They had been drinking heavily, as persons often do in these countries where wine is furnished free at meals. They soon began to smoke, and upon being informed politely by the Spanish guard that the compartment was “non-smoking,” and that there were two ladies to whom. smoking was offensive, they became very angry and cursed the guard and abused the railway, and were exceedingly brutal and disgusting. I have known many very agreeable and polite persons of this nationality, but as a rule those who are met in travel are, since the Franco-Prussian war, extremely arrogant. We have had many experiences with them while travelling in Europe during the past three years, and all have been disagreeable. We were heartily glad when the express train had crawled as far as Tarragona and we could change our company. We were bundled into a long omnibus, to which a string of mules was attached, and whirled through devious ways to the Fonda de Paris, a good hotel near the ramparts.

The old part of,Tarragona is finely situated on the steep slope of a hill, eight hundred feet high. The stately Cathedral crowns the city, which is encircled by grand and lofty walls. Beyond and below the walls is the modern town, which has no interest except as the centre of the present trade and business. A broad street, called, after the one in Barcelona, “Rambla,” separates the upper and lower towns. A narrow-gauge tramway runs from the railway station through this street, and even climbs into the narrow street in the upper town in front of the Cathedral.

The views on all sides are beautiful. There are charming promenades on the ramparts, from which one can look far out southward on the sea, dotted with sails and steamers. Looking to the east, hill rises beyond hill, point succeeds point, jutting out from the shore line, the green and dark colors of the land contrasting with the deep-blue waters of the Mediterranean, and making a most charming picture. The western view is over a large expanse of cultivated land, studded with a rich growth of trees, till the view is bounded by hills, beyond the old town of Reus, a centre of business and manufactures.

Tarragona has been recommended for invalids on account of its delicious climate, but authorities differ greatly as to this matter. A place situated on such a lofty cliff overlooking the Mediterranean could hardly be a good winter resort, but sea breezes might greatly temper the summer heats of this interesting old town; and persons of antiquarian tastes could find much to occupy their time here, for there are many Roman ruins, and the Cathedral is one of the most noble and interesting in Spain.

Tarragona makes a considerable figure in history. It was an ancient Phoenician settlement, subsequently colonized by Carthaginians, who sent their soldiers to increase the army of Hannibal. Then it passed under the Roman sway, and was a winter residence of Augustus, twenty-six years before the birth of Christ. As a Roman province it sided with Pompey against Caesar, a mistake of which it hastened to repent when the latter became the master of the world, sending ambassadors who successfully sued for pardon. Under Augustus the city grew to wealth and importance, possessed many splendid temples, fine baths and a magnificent amphitheatre, of which a few vestiges remain, a castle and a palace. Remains of the Roman period are still discovered in the shape of coins and mosaics and fragments of statues. After the Romans, came the Goths with their spirit of destruction, and what they left of Carthaginian and Roman splendor was ruthlessly effaced by Tarik and his Berber hordes. O’Shea says: “Its falling into the hands of Christians did not better its fate. It rose and prospered as the rival of Rome in magnificence and power; it stood a monument of greatness that was to pass away, and fell and lies there a hopeless and distorted mass – a skeleton whose very bones are now but dust – a vast necropolis.”Its last disaster was in 1813, when it succumbed to the attack of the French, under Suchet, and was cruelly sacked.

Allusion has been made to the Cathedral of Tarragona. Every Spanish town has some wonderful religious edifice, and I do not intend to describe, even in brief, all of the cathedrals that I visit; but where the building is so unique and beautiful as in Tarragona it would be impossible in justice to omit some description.

The Cathedral was begun in the twelfth century by San Olaguer, and work was continued on it to the fifteenth century. Like many such buildings, it was never completed; but enough has been finished to show the magnificent and beautiful plans of its many architects. The building is approached from the west by a steep flight of eighteen steps, which lead to a wide and deeply recessed doorway, flanked by two massive square piers crowned by pinnacles, and over which is a glorious rose window. Around the bases of these piers are a series of little decorated arches, and just above are niches for twenty-one statues of apostles and prophets under Gothic canopies. A number of the niches are vacant, which is accounted for by a tradition that the old saints get stiff and weary of the monotonous position, and so, every hundred years, one of them comes down and disappears. The interior of the church is cruciform, with a lofty nave, and two aisles; and the roof is light and elegant. The twenty piers are massive, and at the time of our visit were swathed in superb old tapestries. Hare says that some of the tapestries which decorate the walls once belonged to St. Paul’s in London, and that they were sold by Henry the Eighth with a lot of other church furniture! The carvings throughout the church are rich and in exquisite detail, especially those of the high altar, where you may observe insects hanging from intertwined leaves, and draperies of statues of saints wrought with the utmost delicacy and minuteness. The cloisters, however, are the choicest part of the Cathedral, and among the most interesting in Spain. The door by which you enter is divided in the centre by a pillar resting on a base of intertwined serpents; and its capital is adorned with a number of carvings, among which is the Adoration of the Magi. Above this are the symbols of the evangelists. Another capital represents the three magi asleep in the same bed, while a winged herald is waking them up to go on to Bethlehem.

The detailed architectural and carved work of these cloisters is exquisite and curious. The upper circle of one of the pillars is extremely quaint. There are two scenes carefully carved. In one, some mice are conducting the funeral of a cat, which is borne on a bier; in front, march priestly mice carrying the sprinkling brush and the holy water; alongside, walks the sexton mouse with a trowel to dig the grave. The corpse of the cat is admirably carved. In the second scene, the cat, who had counterfeited death, is springing from the bier; while the mice priests, mourners, undertakers, sexton, and all are scattering in every direction. The capitals of the columns beneath this ring of sculpture represent a cock-fight. Other capitals have hunting scenes, and legends of the saints, and historical events. The gardens of the cloister contain Gothic arches cut and trimmed from box, and other shrubs, and large beds of ivy and myrtle in quaint shapes.

There are fine chapels, and glorious windows of rich purple and orange glass, and the tombs of heroes, and all the paraphernalia of a cathedral at Tarragona; but the building itself is here more interesting than the things which it contains.