It’s clear that this first-century Roman circus, or horse and chariot racing track, was once impressive. It would have matched any outside Rome. In its heyday, the circus was an oval circuit over 1,000 feet long. It’s estimated it could host around 30,000 spectators.
The land has been built on over the years, and now buildings and roads cover all but a fraction of the site. Just one corner of the track and seating area is still visible at the surface, but the subterranean remains are much more impressive.
A long tunnel that would have run under the seating area extends beneath numerous 19th-century buildings, and small ventilation holes along its length seem to penetrate into their basements. It is believed that below these buildings the terraces are well-preserved.
The tunnels connect the circus to the Praetorian Tower, which despite the name had nothing to do with the Praetorian Guards or the Chief Magistrate of the same name. In fact, in Roman times, it was simply a tower housing a staircase linking the lower city to the provincial forum, via the tunnels of the circus.
In the 12th century, the tower was converted to a palace for the crown of Aragon and in later years was used as an armory, and later still as a local prison. Inside is an interesting display of Roman material and useful information boards describing the history.
Know Before You Go
Best to get a combined ticket for all the historic buildings in Tarragona at 7 Euros.
If you go right to the top of the tower there is only one narrow staircase without room to pass. It may take some time to get back down.