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The Priorat Region | p.4

Ranging a little further afield, the town of Valls, thirty miles to the east of Priorat, is famed as the birthplace of "castells." Castells are complex human pyramids that are constructed every year in Valls and other towns nearby as part of their fiestas, and are fascinating examples of tradition, co-operation and futility. They consist of up to nine levels of people standing on one anotherŐs shoulders and heads, and are assembled in time to the music of gralles, which resemble clarinets. The bases of the pyramids are surrounded by a close press of hundreds of cheering people, and they are topped by an anxanet—a young boy who waves a Catalan flag. Castellet building takes place in Valls, El Vendrell, and Vilafranca throughout the months of summer, and there are competitions held for the most artistic tower of bodies in Tarragona, the principal city of the region, to which travellers are advised to pay a visit once they have been refreshed by the pure air and dramatic landscapes of Priorat.

Tarragona, on the Costa Dorada, was founded by the Romans and contains many monuments to their presence. Its old quarter is partially surrounded by Roman walls, it is watered by a Roman aqueduct, and contains the remains of a Roman amphitheatre in which the first bishop of Tarragona, St. Fructuos, was martyred in 257 AD. The archaeological museum of the town contains a sculpture that will delight every oenophile ­ a Praxitelean Bacchus depicting the old god of wine in all his majesty. Tarragona is also graced with a fine selection of mediaeval buildings, and further examples of Catalan modernism. These are best enjoyed by joining its Paseo, the evening parade of the Tarragonese, who stroll its Ramblas, to see and be seen. Finally, travellers with an interest in Catalan minimalism, in the sense of beach wear, will enjoy the beaches in and around Tarragona, where the young women wear no more than a tanga and suntan cream out of doors during the summer months.