An eye for detail

An excellent description of the city of Tarragona by a 19th century Scot whose keen eye missed little

Women Travellers in Catalan Lands

Tarragona stands high on its cliffs, and the little port, with a few brown fishing-boats, nestles below. No steamer touches here; there is no commerce, no bustle. The sea is without sails; the land is an aromatic wilderness; the air is perhaps the purest and most exhilarating in Spain. Our first impression of the Rambla was that it was very forlorn and uninteresting. It is a broad street, running not alongside of, but inland from the sea; the houses are neither picturesque nor handsome. But at one end is the glorious sea-view; at the other, one turns aside into the bright market-place. [...]

Everything in Tarragona seems several centuries older than anywhere else; and oldest of all are the Cyclopean walls: those are pre-historic, and their history was lost in the mists of antiquity, before Augustus Caesar held his court in Tarragona. In many places they are quite perfect, to the very top of their enormous height; in some, there is but one row of gigantic stones apparent, surmounted by more modern work; the greater part of the circuit has from three to six courses of the huge blocks still remaining, below the masonry of later times. In 1868, an old gateway was found in this wall, behind some shabby houses that had been built against it. It is Cyclopean; and the lintel is one stone, more than ten feet in length. The thickness of the walls here is more than sixteen feet. No cement is used.

The drive to the Roman aqueduct is delightful, and was perhaps not the less so, as the worthy Italian landlord would not allow us to go in a tartana; for, as he said, what was the use of breaking our bones? The Tarragonese tartanas are springless, and altogether very unlike the more civilized vehicles of Valencia; and the experience we had had, the day we arrived here, did not induce us to contest the point: so we started in one of those great heavy carriages, half diligence, half omnibus, which are frequently the only kind to be had in Spain. The best thing to be done was to take possession of the coupé, and fancy ourselves in a light open carriage, completely ignoring the lumbering omnibus behind; this settled, we got on very comfortably[...] The aqueduct is superb, with its line of deep orange arches striding across the ravine. It looks quite perfect, but is no longer used. It is possible to cross the ravine by means of it, but it is rather dizzy work, as the height is great. Of course there is no parapet, but it is worth while to go for some distance, in order to judge of its great size and of the depth below.

From thence we made the circuit of great part of the walls, and drove to the Tomb of the Scipios, which is quite on the other side of Tarragona. Lonely it stands near the dark blue sea, with the pines overhead, and the heath and myrtle around; while its two mournful figures seem to keep watch and ward. Nothing is known of its history; there is no record, save the one remaining word of the inscription, “perpetuo”.

In the Museum of Antiquities we saw many interesting things. There is a fac-simile and translation, by Gayangos, of a grant made (as far as I could make out) in 1216, by a Moorish Emir, to the monks of Poblet, giving them permission to pasture their flocks, and drink water at the wells in a certain territory. It is couched in the most courteous and liberal terms; I am afraid the Spanish chivalry would scarcely have acted in so Christian a spirit as those their Moslem enemies. Here, too, are the remains of the tomb of Don Jaime the Conquistador, brought from Poblet; it must have been splendid. A medallion is on each side: one represents Jonah being ejected from the whale's mouth; the other is the Resurrection. [...] There were many specimens of flint arrow-heads, and weapons of different periods. The sword of Don Jaime the Conqueror was there; and beside it a long slip of paper containing portraits of the kings of Aragon [...]

We looked about a long time in vain for the Roman amphitheatre. In Tarragona there are no regular guides; and our landlord's young brother, who acted in that capacity, knew nothing about it, though he was otherwise an intelligent youth. At last, not at all where we expected to find it, I descried the unmistakable oval form, on the shore below, apparently within the precincts of the prison. We went down; and the soldiers on guard civilly let us in to examine it. Little now remains, except some rows of seats, which are not built, but cut in the sloping ground.

Claudia Hamilton Ramsay

Pere Gifra

Not much is known about Claudia Hamilton Garden (1825-1902), best remembered by her pen name “Mrs. Ramsay”. Born in Glasgow, in 1853 she married Robert Ramsay in Barony (Lanark) and lived for many years in Italy. Thanks to her long residence in this country she became fluent with the language and met some of the greatest scholars of Dante, which enabled her to publish in 1862-63 a three-volume translation of the Divina Commedia in the metre and rhyme of the original. Apart from Italy, she also made a tour across Spain between May and November of 1872, described in A Summer in Spain (1874). The Pall Mall Gazette said that “Mrs. Ramsay understands the art of travelling. She knows how to observe and how to enjoy; she can make allowances for national peculiarities; she is free from feminine prejudices, and has knowledge enough to judge of what she sees with discrimination”. She died in Rome and lies buried in the Protestant cemetery next to her sister Henrietta. Mrs. Ramsay's trip took place during the ill-fated reign of king Amadeo I, from the House of Savoy, from 1870 until 1873. In 1872 Spain was up in arms on account of a Carlist insurrection in the northern provinces, but she decided to risk it and crossed the border with a female companion. Despite fears that a robbery or attack might disrupt their plans, the two finally completed their trip unharmed. One of the cities they visited was Tarragona.

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