Port of Tarragona


Over the course of its history, the Port of Tarragona has undergone a number of changes that have affected its appearance and use. It was highly sought-after because of its privileged location.

The origins of the Port of Tarragona

The port of Tarragona is strategically located in a number of ways. Tarragona has attracted the interest of many different cultures throughout its history. Having a beach at the mouth of a river, the Francolí, was an undeniable advantage.

The Romans built the first hammerhead dam. Situated on a convex rock, it was used as a lighthouse to guide navigators. It was known as the Farelló. Its ruins were still visible until the mid-19th century.

The Romans later built a second arch-shaped dyke. This ran from the foot of the hill to the beach. It was built to prevent debris carried by the river from entering the basin and causing it to overflow.

The region's first international trade, however, came in the form of ships from Greece. Originally built for military purposes, the port gradually came to be used for commercial purposes, mainly due to the quality of the communication routes in the area. It was close to the Ebro valley and the Balearic Islands. This situation also had an impact on the construction of the Port of Tàrraco, and on the expansion to the north.

The most prosperous period for the port came after it became a colony. At the time, it was the main commercial thoroughfare. Numerous products such as wheat, oil and wine were exported here, and traded for other products such as glass and ceramics from other European and African countries.

Tarragona Circus 

Decline and rebirth of the Port of Tarragona

After being invaded several times (by the Arabs and Goths), the Port of Tarragona was abandoned. It remained inactive until the 12th century, when the monarchy took an interest in it with a view to commercial gain.

Certain privileges, such as franchises and customs duties, were then granted to protect the activities carried out in the port. In 1484, Ferdinand the Catholic restored activities to the Port of Tarragona by building a new breakwater.

A tax was levied on meat, wine and bread to finance the work. This decision met with considerable resistance in various villages. For this reason, commercial activities were transferred for a time to the Port of Salou, which was already being used by the people of Reus and the surrounding area. 

After the king's death, the Port of Salou was severely compromised by war and piracy, and work had to be resumed on the Port of Tarragona. It remained active until 1652, when it was once again paralysed by the Reapers' War. Salou once again took over commercial activities.

It was a long time before the quay was restored. Work on the port resumed when Tarragona was appointed head of the Corregimiento (Cap del Corregiment). A protection association was set up to oversee the work. The reconstruction of the Port of Tarragona was underway. The project was managed by the architect who had designed the first reconstruction project.

Port of Tarragona

Restoration work

The direction of the project changed in 1799… along with the plans. The Port of Tarragona's overall dimensions were increased, and a decision was made to build a 1,300-metre-long breakwater. The lower part of the city of Tarragona was also urbanised, and a water pipeline was built to the port.

Work continued uninterrupted until the 19th century. They were, however, suspended during periods of war and crisis. This was particularly the case during the War of Independence and when certain colonies such as the Philippines and Cuba were lost.

Subsequently, the management of the works changed hands and a new grouping was created. The situation began to normalise around 1869. It was at this time that the Port of Tarragona Works Junta was finally set up. It reported to the provincial junta for agriculture, industry and commerce, the deputation and the city hall.

At that time, grants were obtained to finance the project and the management of resources improved. Exports also began to increase and further dykes were built to complete the structure.

Subsequent refurbishments paved the quay, improved general services and installed electricity. These facilities and infrastructures represented a major step forward for the Port of Tarragona. Years later, the Port of Tarragona took on the task of managing the work of other ports that were grouped together with it, includingCambrils and Ametlla de Mar.

Port of Tarragona

The Port of Tarragona today

The city of Tarragona has always held a certain rank among fishing ports, as this activity is very important here. The emergence of petrochemical industries has led to a considerable increase in port traffic. The facilities continued to be upgraded to cover all needs.

The Port of Tarragona is part of the city's history, and has always been closely linked to it. There is proof of this historical link in the creation of the Moll de Costa, now a cultural landmark. It provides residents with a space integrated into the city, which gives it a very special feel.

Port activities are still very much alive here. It was also here that the State first expressed its desire to preserve historical and graphic heritage associated with a port. And so the Port Museum was created.

Travel to Tarragona by train

Eager to hop on the train to Tarragona? Now you can do just that on AVE France, our international high-speed trains between France and Spain. The most comfortable, fastest and sustainable way to travel is by train! You can also take advantage of our discounts and get the best price. 

Did you like our suggestions? Well, there is a lot more where that came from! Discover more original tips on what to do in Tarragona with Renfe.