You may wish to see an introductory page to this section or to Tarragona first.
The Ferreres aqueduct, the Centcelles mausoleum, Els Munts Roman villa and the Tower of the Scipios contribute to the understanding of the property (i.e. the historical and artistic value of Tarragona).
From the criteria endorsing the 2000 inclusion of the Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Views of Acueducto de les Ferreres or Pont del Diable (see another image in the introductory page)
three miles from the city, is the Puente de Ferriera, an ancient aqueduct, which I did not go to see, not having heard of it;
till we had passed too far on to turn back.
Henry Swinburne - Travels through Spain in the Years 1775 and 1776 in which several monuments of Roman and Moorish architecture are illustrated
About 1 L. on the road to Leida to the r. is a superb Roman aqueduct. (..) The water runs partly underground nearly 20 m. (..) The view from above is charming; the lonely rich ochry aqueduct, stretched across a ravine, with here and there a pine-tree soaring out of the palmito-clad soil, looks truly the work of those times when there were giants on the earth. Ruined by the Moors, it so remained upwards of 1000 years, until repaired by the Archbishops Joaquin de Santiyan de Valdivielso and Armanac (in the late XVIIIth century); what they repaired, Suchet (a French general) destroyed, who broke it down in 1811: it has since been set to rights.
Richard Ford - A Handbook for Travellers in Spain - 1855
Acueducto de les Ferreres: (left) water channel at the end of the "bridge"; (right) central section
This aqueduct is called el Puente de
Ferreras, and by the vulgar del Diablo,
giving as usual all praise to "the
devil" as pontifex maximus. (..) It spans
the dip of a valley from which the
loftiest arches rise 96 ft. high; double,
11 below and 26 in the upper tier;
they diminish in height as they ascend
the slopes; the length is 700 ft. (..) Many Roman aqueducts exist in thirsty Spain, as their public utility has led to their preservation, and to their repair when broken from military reason. Ford
The aqueduct of Segovia was known as Puente del Diablo, similar to les Ferreres. The largest aqueduct of Merida was called los Milagros, perhaps because the fact that its imposing arches had not collapsed was regarded as a miracle.
(left) Tower of the Scipios; (right) the monument in an illustration of Alexandre de Laborde - A View of Spain - translated into English for Longman, Hurst, etc. 1809
On one side of the road to Barcelona is the
Torre de los Scipiones, or more properly, the tomb of the Scipios: being the base of an obelisk, or pyramid, erected to their
memory, with a figure on each side in the Roman habit; these
are by some judged to express the two Scipios, by others two
I think it has been erected by some priest,
for himself and family, as the fragments of
the last line may be interpreted in that manner. Some take the first word of the first
line to have been Cornelius, a name belonging to the Scipios. The top of the monument, which probably ended in a pyramidal
form, is fallen off. The tomb of Theron, at Girgenti in Sicily
resembles this in form.
Edward Clarke - Letters concerning the Spanish nation: written during the years 1760 and 1761
Further on we turned off the road to the right, into a wood of pines and shrubs, to visit a monument that tradition has named the tomb of the Scipios, they were the father and uncle of Scipio Africanus, both killed in Spain. This building is small, being about nineteen feet square and twenty-eight high. In the front, facing the sea are two statues of warriors in a mournful posture, roughly cut out of the stories of the sepulchre, and much worn away by the sea air. The inscription is so much defaced, that it is hard to make any thing of it: what remains is as follows:
VI...VA..FL...BVS..SIBI.. PERPETVO REMANERE.
Igeler Saule near Trier in Germany, tombs outside Jerusalem and a mausoleum at Thugga are other examples of funerary monuments resembling the Tower of the Scipios.
I think it has been erected by some priest, for himself and family, as the fragments of the last line may be interpreted in that manner. Some take the first word of the first line to have been Cornelius, a name belonging to the Scipios. The top of the monument, which probably ended in a pyramidal form, is fallen off. The tomb of Theron, at Girgenti in Sicily resembles this in form.Swinburne.
Tower of the Scipios: details
Make another excursion 1 L. to the
N.W. of Tarragona, along the sea-coast, to a Roman sepulchre, called La
Torre de los Scipiones, although the
real place of the burial of the Scipios
is quite unknown. (..) The
monument lies close to the road, amid
aromatic shrubs all life and colour;
two injured figures, in mournful attitudes, stand on the front; the stone-work is much corroded: an alabaster
inscription was taken down by Card.
Ximenez; in that which remains the
word perpetuo is just legible, as if in
mockery of man and his perishable
works. (..) The beauty of the present
is heightened by the poetry of the past; (..) and
then the sentiment, the classical
Claude-like feeling inspired by the
grey Roman tomb! (a reference to Claude Lorrain, a XVIIth century French landscape painter who spent most of his life in Rome). Ford
Today the tower is dated early Ist century AD and according to the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona the two figures in eastern garments portray Attis, High Priest of Cybele. This interpretation is consistent with Swinburne's suggestion that the monument was the mausoleum of a priest.
Villa dels Munts, a few miles east of Tower of the Scipios in the municipality of Altafulla, once a tiny medieval town and today a thriving seaside location
Tarragona, as a residence for invalids,
is remarkably healthy; the air is mild,
but from its great dryness, bracing and
rather keen. There are no standing
waters, nor is irrigation employed;
the walks are excellent, looking down
to the sea; while in various directions
on the land side are scattered pine
woods, heaths, and aromatic wastes,
where the wild-lavender and sweet-smelling shrubs perfume the air even
in mid winter. (..) The picturesque
road runs amid pine-clad hillocks,
which slope down to sheltered bays,
where fishermen haul in their heavy
nets, and where painted barks sleep on
the lazy sea on the ridges above bird-catchers spread their toils. (..) The blue sea
peep through vistas of the red branches
of the pines, and glitter through the
dark velvet of their tufted heads. Ford
The existence of Roman ruins in a commanding position on a low promontory east of Tarragona was mentioned in 1572 by Lluis Pons d'Icart, a magistrate of Tarragona in Libro de las grandezas y cosas memorables de Tarragona. Proper excavations began in 1967 and by 1983 the area surrounding a Roman villa was fenced and eventually opened to the public.
Villa dels Munts: (left) "la Tartana" (covered carriage) actually a water reservoir; (right-above) cisterns at the top of the hill; (right-below) workshop
The residential area was part of a rural establishment. It was developed in the Ist century AD along the slope of a hill. It was supplied with water by large cisterns at the top of the hill which were utilized also for irrigating the area which was farmed. A workshop with round basins near the cisterns indicates that some agricultural processing activities were carried out there.
Villa dels Munts: passageway and "cubicula", private rooms
Only a relatively small part of the main residential building is still visible. It consists of two wings of a portico surrounding a rectangular garden. The portico and the adjoining rooms were partly below the level of the ground, possibly to reduce the impact of extremely hot weather (see the underground rooms of Villa di Livia in Rome).
Fresco from Villa dels Munts at the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona
This painting showing Oceanus with crab claw horns and surrounded by sea creatures was found in one of the private rooms. The subject was a very popular one especially for mosaics as at the Roman Villa of Carranque near Toledo and outside Spain at Setif in Algeria, Utica in Tunisia and Antioch in Turkey. The main interest of the fresco is the inscription which celebrates Caius Valerius Avitus and his wife Faustina because they built a cistern of a capacity of 2,125 Roman amphorae. Other inscriptions found elsewhere shed more light on the landlord. He was a duumvir of Tarragona, i.e. one of the two magistrates in charge of the administration of the town and he was appointed to this post by Emperor Antoninus Pius, thus the redecoration of the house and the improvement of its facilities can be dated Ist half of the IInd century AD.
Villa dels Munts: (left) mosaic floor of the passageway with Solomon's knots, a decorative pattern which became very popular during the Late Empire and can be seen in many Early Christian churches, e.g. at Grado near Venice; (centre-above) a fresco inside one of the "cubicula"; (right-above) steps leading to the (entirely lost) upper storey; (below) long hall
Archaeological activities are still being carried out at Villa dels Munts and in 2004 the foundations of a narrow and long hall were unearthed near the house. Because of its shape it has been suggested it might have been a mithraeum, a hall resembling a cave where followers of Mithra held their ceremonies (see some statues related to this cult which were found at Merida).
Villa dels Munts: hypocaust, heating system of the "calidarium", hot room
A relatively large bath establishment stood lower down the slope of the hill, apparently separated from the house. Its size and the fact that it had all the canonical components of a Roman bath, i.e. apodyterium (dressing room), frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room), calidarium and even a laconicum, a very hot room, indicate that it was made to impress the landlord's guests or perhaps a very special one, i.e. Emperor Hadrian who visited Tarragona in the winter of 123.
Villa dels Munts: pool of the "frigidarium"
The villa was greatly damaged by fire in ca 260; the farming activity went on, but the house did not regain its former aspect and it was eventually utilized for installing some agricultural facilities. The baths were abandoned. You may wish to see a page with passages by Seneca in which the philosopher describes activities at a Roman public bath establishment.
The works of art found at the villa were moved to Tarragona; they included a fragment of a mosaic portraying Euterpe, one of the Nine Muses, which suggests the original floor mosaic was a large one (see the Mosaic of the Muses at the Museum of El-Djem in Tunisia). The image used as background for this page is based on a detail of a geometric mosaic found at the villa.
Villa Romana de Centcelles: Monumental Part
Centcelles is an inland location west of Tarragona where a very interesting domed hall stands at the centre of a series of buildings which were part of a Roman countryside residence. The hall is dated IVth or Vth century and it is in many ways unique for Spain.
Villa Romana de Centcelles: Circular Hall
The strong walls managed to support the dome through the ravages of time and the hall was used as a rural church or a farmhouse until 1959 when archaeologists began to work at the consolidation of the building and at the conservation of its decoration, i.e. fragments of mosaics on the dome, the mural paintings on the walls with four niches being almost entirely lost.
For centuries the ancient Romans and Greeks regarded mosaics as a construction technique for making very durable floors. It is only at the beginning of the IVth century that mosaics were massively utilized for the decoration of walls, ceilings and vaults; this development coincided with the spreading of the Christian faith. S. Costanza in Rome has one of the first examples of vaults with figurative mosaics. In the Vth century this technique was utilized for the decoration of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and of the Baptistery of Neon at Ravenna and eventually mosaics became the most distinct feature of Byzantine art.
Villa Romana de Centcelles: overall view of the dome
The dome of the circular hall shows that this new approach to the decoration of buildings reached Spain too, although the loss of Early Christian churches does not allow to appreciate its development there. It was only when Byzantine craftsmen worked at the decoration of the Great Mosque of Cordoba that Spain saw again fine mosaics on the walls of its monuments.
The mosaics on the dome at Centcelles were arranged in concentric bands, a design which required a well-thought preparatory phase. In one of the bands the scenes are separated by a fake architecture of Ionic columns, another element which testifies to the complexity of the decoration.
What was the purpose of the hall and for whom it was built are two questions which are not fully answered. Its circular shape suggests it was a mausoleum, but not all archaeologists and art historians agree because usually mausolea are isolated while at Centcelles the hall is inserted in a series of building. Assuming it was a mausoleum it could have been built or redesigned for Emperor Constans who was killed in 350. Its size however was rather small when compared to the mausoleum built for Emperor Galerius at the beginning of the century at Thessalonica.
The decoration of the ceiling does not contain clear elements supporting this opinion, such as a decursio funebris, a funerary procession for an emperor.
Villa Romana de Centcelles: episodes divided by columns: (left-above) Jonah's Boat; (right-above) The Fiery Furnace; (left-below) Daniel in the Lions' Den; (right-below) The Good Shepherd and Noah's Ark
One of the circular bands is decorated with episodes of the New and the Old Testament; they clearly indicate that the landlord or whoever commissioned the mosaic was a Christian and they could be regarded as consistent with the opinion that the hall was a mausoleum because they were often depicted on sarcophagi, e.g. at S. Sebastiano (The Fiery Furnace and Noah's Ark). For this reason some archaeologists have suggested it was the mausoleum of a bishop.
Villa Romana de Centcelles: (left) two details which are assumed to portray the landlord; (right) the villa
The decoration of the lowest band supports the opinion that the circular hall was the oecus, the main hall of the villa where the landlord received his guests and his assistants (see that at Villa Romana La Olmeda in northern Spain). The mosaics of this band bring to mind a famous mosaic found in Tunisia which depicts a Roman villa, its landlord and all the activities which were carried out there.
Villa Romana de Centcelles: hunting scenes
Hunting was the preferred pastime of a wealthy owner of a large estate during the Late Empire. In Africa hunting of wild animals was also an important source of income and mosaics showed the most dramatic phases of their capture which required the use of nets. These are shown also at Centcelles where they were utilized for stags.
Villa Romana de Centcelles: one of the four niches of the adjoining hall
A passage leads from the circular hall to another hall of approximately the same size with four large niches. It is not decorated and apparently it was not finished and its purpose is even more obscure than that of the circular one. It shows however how good were the construction techniques based on arches and vaults which prevented its collapse.
Villa Romana de Centcelles: wall of the "tepidarium"
The two large halls were incorporated into the church and the farmhouse which replaced the villa, whereas the rest of the ancient complex was abandoned or destroyed on purpose to make room for other facilities. Archaeologists have identified the existence of a bath establishment which was built in two phases.
Villa Romana de Centcelles: unfinished section
Plan of this section (see its introductory pages):
|Almeria Antequera Baelo Claudia Carmona Cordoba Granada Italica Jerez de la Frontera Medina Azahara Ronda Seville Tarifa
|Archaeological Park of Carranque Castillo de Coca Olmedo Segovia Toledo Villa La Olmeda
|Barcelona Emporiae Girona Tarragona