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Although I do like to be beside the seaside, and in nature, I also adore fine cities and Tortosa slots nicely into this category for me. It’s a Catalan city, that is dripping in history and culture, on the banks of the River Ebro. There are numerous interesting sights in Tortosa, which include the striking castle, cathedral, and some beautiful modernist buildings. In 2007 archaeologists found remains of the walls of the ancient city of Hibera, close to the now city of Tortosa. Hibera was the capital of Ilercavonia, which was the strategic point from where the Hannibalic War (208 to 201 BC) originated.
In Tortosa you can easily immerse yourself in the old part of the town, which is just by the river. The city has its own charm, but is also a great place to base yourself to explore the Delta de l’Ebre and the Els Ports National Park. Close by is the historic town of Amposta, which is also worth a visit. In terms of beaches, you can find lovely, unspoilt beaches in the Delta de l’Ebre, or you can head to other locations that are easily accessible such as L’Ampolla and L’Ametlla de Mar, which although it’s further away, is a charming fishing village, which has embraced tourism, so there’s plenty to do there.
Tortosa also has a number of interesting festivals, in particular the Renaissance Festival, which takes place around the third week in July each year – the dates for 2014 were the 24th to 27th July. It’s a rather splendid scene during this event, as around 3000 people wear period costumes, and there are wonderful stalls, plus performances. It has been awarded with Catalonia’s Honorary Tourism Plaque, as well as being declared a festival that is of National Tourist Interest. The above photo is from the Tortosa Giants Festival, which is about a local legend. Although giants as part of the festivals here are a big part of the culture generally.
Additionally there are a number of interesting routes that you can discover from Tortosa, such as Saint James Way and the Hemingway Route, to name a couple, plus trekking routes. Of course you may prefer to soak up the sun and the atmosphere by sitting outside one of the city’s many bars and cafés, or you can also go wine tasting with Tanins Vinoteca.
The municipality of Tortosa, is in the country of Baix Ebre, in the province of Tarragona. It includes the city itself, plus Vitem, Campredó, Els Reguers and Vinallop.
Carrer Portal de Romeu
One of the most recognisable emblems of this walled city is the Roman Portal. It is both the entrance and the exit to the Camí Sant Jaume de l’Ebre (The Way of St. James along the Ebro). Built towards the end of the 15th century, you’ll find it near Cinta Square and it was originally part of a single building, which also encompassed the current Oriol Palace. There are several Gothic palaces dotted around the old town which are quite stunning, instantly recognisable and make for fabulous photo opportunities.
Now the site where the Tortosa courts are located, this wonderful building has been been so well preserved it is hard to believe that it dates back to the 16th century. If you don’t believe us you can see the date carved into the façade! You will also see an engraved cross to indicate is original purpose as well as its name.
It is easy to see the former richness of this building’s design in the way it has cleverly played with the combination of brick walls and polychromatic glass ceramics. This, along with several other public buildings, was created not only for a purpose but also to improve the aesthetic appeal of Tortosa at the time.
The city’s modernist architecture is closely linked to Tortosa’s urban development. When stretches of wall were demolished at the end of the 19th century the expansion of the town began in earnest. During this time the bourgeois families in the city, many connected to the industries that were the backbone of the city’s economy, built houses in Tortosa. Two architects in particular stand out for the part they played in this expansion; Joan Abril and Pau Monguió.
Just for a moment forget about the huge importance of this castle as a monument, and visit it only for the magnificent views from it, over the city of Tortosa, and of course, the River Ebro. Then cast your eyes over to the mountains of the Cardó Massif, and see the windmills of the Tortosa wind farm. The Romans built the initial walled structures, but it was the Moors who really shaped what you can see today, 59 metres above sea level.
This castle is not only a key piece of the cultural heritage of the region, but is also a monument of National Interest and is a magnificent architectural testimony to the Andalusian city of Tortosa. The castle gets it name from the well, known as Saracen or Suda, which plunges to a depth of 45m before reaching the level of the Ebro River. This site boasts Catalonia’s only outdoor Arabic cemetery and is now a hotel owned by the state, one of Spain’s wonderful Paradors.
Tortosa Cathedral was constructed on the site where there were remains of a Romanesque Cathedral, with work commencing in 1347, however work was to continue on it right up until the 18th century. Benito Dalguayre was the architect of this majestic building, which has an incredibly detailed ambulatory and apse. Predominantly the architecture is of Catalan Gothic style, but the main facade was designed by the master of Martí Abraria, in Baroque style, which, in fact, remains unfinished. The cathedral has a number of notable works in its interior, and it is a basilica which has three naves and chapels, between buttresses. There are three levels of windows which light the interior.
Pujada de Santa Clara 16
The convent of Santa Clara has actually been occupied by nuns ever since the 13th century. The first community of nuns came from Barcelona and settled in what is thought to be an ancient parish of Saint Michael. The surrounding refuge of the Santa Clara monastery is one of most peculiar of all the city’s neighbourhoods, and it’s believed to be the starting point of Medieval Tortosa. The streets that run through the structure start at Carrer de Montcada and stretch up the narrow and steep north side of Sitjar, a fortified mountain, which is now also the home of the Vergin de la Cinta Health Centre.
Carrer Montcada 28
This beautiful building, which is located on Carrer Montcada stands out for its venerated, and pretty spectacular, Sant Crist de la Purisima altar. The convent was built on the site of the former Montcada Palace and first opened its doors on the 30th May 1644 when 9 nuns arrived from Santa Clara to take up residence. For centuries it was one of the largest and grandest buildings in the city, but it suffered badly during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, when it was both plundered and had several parts destroyed. It was then used as a prison from 1939-1954. However a massive renovation began in 1964 and the result is there for us all to admire today.
Passeig de l’Ebre 24
This church, which the architect Joan Abril designed, was originally sited on another part of the river. Designed in 1910 and built from 1912 to 1914, the original effect of the church has now gone due to its majestic belfry, built as an expression of the spiritual leanings of the architect, losing a vast portion of its height during the Spanish Civil War.
Carrer de la Mercé 4
Designed in 1899, this church was actually founded by Manuel Domingo I Sol, who was later beatified. It was designed by Joan Abril I Guanyabens. The first ever Reparació temple to be built in Spain, and the second in the whole world. It has a Neo-Roman crypt, with a total of 16 stone columns which support the nave. The attention grabber from the exterior is the central dome, and beautiful skylight.
This glorious baroque style building was constructed in 1734 and sits on Sant Joan square and now houses the Community Centre of Tortosa, the Occupational Training Centre and the Design School of the Regional Council of Tarragona. It was seized by invaders in 1811 during the Napoleonic War and used as both an arms depot and a war hospital. The nuns of Sant Joan of Jerusalem returned here in 1814 and, after a refurbishment, once again resumed their contemplative life here. The monastery was attacked and set alight in 1936 around the start of the Spanish Civil War and once again had to be refurbished in 1941. The nuns stayed here until 1967 when it was converted into its current use.
Carrer Montcada 23
First built as a residential palace back in the Gothic period of the 14th-15th century, the palace was fortified with a turret in each corner. It’s first inhabitants were the Abaria family who gave the palace its name. Currently, it is the HQ of Regional Government for the Ebre Lands, of the Autonomous Government of Catalonia. The palace underwent a massive refurbishment in the 19th century, when another wealthy family was in residence, and its stand out architectural features are medieval style stone gargoyles, murals and mosaic flooring which all date from this 19th century makeover.
Included in the complex that makes up the Montagut palace is the Tamarit portal, one of the original medieval gates of the city. Through this all the stone blocks of the cathedral were moved one by one. Since 1982, this historic building has been used as the headquarters of la Comunitat de Regants de l’Esquerra de l’Ebre.
Carrer de la Rosa 3
The striking feature of this building is a stunning tiled patio which has a neo-Arabic touch. It is also one of the few remaining palaces in Tortosa that has eaves and a façade, which have been fully preserved. It is believed to have been built in the last part of the 17th century on land that had once belonged to nobleman Jaume Oliver. In 1868 Josef Grifoll, the master builder, lovingly created a wonderful reproduction of the Lions’ Court found in the Alhambra in Granada in the palace’s main hall. This led to it becoming known locally as the Tortosa Alhambra.
Avenida de la Generalitat
As you drive or walk into Tortosa, on the Avenida de la Generalitat, you’ll see the wonderful park. This is Tortosa’s equivalent of Central Park, and of course it’s not the same size, but in proportion to the city, it’s a good size. The park is lovely, filled with mature trees, colourful flowers and it includes a play area for children.
This expansive municipal park has been the busy, urban centre point of Tortosa since the Modernist period, and is also now the home of the fish market. Used by both locals and visitors alike for recreation and relaxation, this park is a haven of tranquillity in what is frequently a very busy city.
I’ve already mentioned that Tortosa is a good base to explore the Delta de l’Ebre. Take a picnic or try out one of the local restaurants. The landscape in the Delta is unique and magical. The journey takes around 20 minutes or so by car. Find out more about the Delta here.
About 20 minutes driving is the fishing village of L’Ampolla. These days it’s far more built up than it used to be, but that said it still has its harbour, port and village feeling.
Further along the coast from L’Ampolla is another fishing village, L’Ametlla de Mar. I think the port area here is prettier, plus it has some lovely coves. It takes a bit less than half an hour to drive to from Tortosa. You can see our L’Ametlla de Mar Travel Guide here.
Heading inland, you can visit the lovely village of Horta de Sant Joan. This forms part of the Route of the Four Geniuses. It was here that Pablo Picasso convalesced, aged 17, and then really discovered nature. Get a feel for Horta de Sant Joan here.
If you are travelling with younger family members, then a trip to Port Aventura might be on the cards. It takes around 50 minutes to drive there. Check out our information on Salou here.
I know those of you who fly with Ryanair may be familiar with the name Reus, and some of you may have spent time in this fine city. It’s the birthplace of Gaudi, so you’ll find the Gaudi Museum there. I love it – beautiful architecture, lovely shops! Its around a 55 minute journey. Read more about Reus here.
Around a 55 minute drive from Tortosa, you’ll find the wonderful city of Tarragona. If you’re heading to Reus (above) don’t miss Tarragona, and vice versa. Tarragona is a spectacular city, that is often overlooked for the buzzing Barcelona up the road. Read about Tarragona here.
The style in which the Tortosa market is built is best described as eclectic, thanks to the participation in the design of Joan Torras i Guardiola and is known locally as the ‘Catalan Eiffel Tower’. It was built on what used to be the riverbed of the Ebro and was constructed between 1884-1887. This building has huge appeal for those interested in eclectic architecture, and anyone else for that matter.