Location, surroundings and climate
Tortosa is located in the Baix Ebre region in the south of Catalonia, one of Tarragona’s largest regions.
This is a strategic and privileged location since it is in a central position approximately 200 km from large cities such as Barcelona, Valencia and Saragossa.
The city is located near the River Ebro, close to the mouth where the delta and Ports begin. It benefits from a Mediterranean climate.
Surrounded by the Ports de Tortosa-Beseit massif and the Cardò and Boix mountain ranges, right where the Iberian System connects to the Catalan pre-coastal mountain range, its territory forms a valley of fertile fields that extends as far as the Delta’s unique rice fields. The mountain range on the right, a branch of the central system, is very rugged and reaches heights that exceed one thousand meters.
On the other hand, the left mountain range, an extension of Mount Cardo, ends at the Santa Catalina pass and is much lower. Both flank the municipal boundaries and run parallel to the river’s course. The valley is basically rather horizontal and there is only a variation of 7 meters in level along the 30 miles that separate it from the river mouth. This privileged geographic location was the reason why the first human settlements decided on this area, since the Ebro, the largest river of the Iberian Peninsula, offered its inhabitants a very prosperous life.
The municipality of Tortosa is quite large and spans Santa Rosa and Bítem with large fertile fields; the Campredó industry and the Quinto Fountain; the, mountainous and artisan Reguers; the densely populated and dynamic Jesús, with two novitiates; and Vinallop, with the most inland rice fields at the mouth of the River Ebro.
The Mediterranean climate of Tortosa is generally mild and gentle. Its average temperatures fluctuate between 13 and 22 degrees centigrade. Its average annual rainfall is between 500 mm. and 700 mm. In winter, strong winds sometimes blow from the N. and N.W. (high or northerly winds) and their speed can often exceed 100 kilometers an hour. Snow is rare in the valley, however in winter it occasionally tops the summits of Ports.
Population: 37,850 (May 2009)
Size of the municipal district: 22,031,0066 hectares or 219,60 km².
Tortosa’s rich heritage goes back more than two thousand years. The city has been declared a Historic-Artistic Site.
Ancient Tortosa was considered a Mediterranean city, used as both a port and a market for receiving and distributing products from the inland of the peninsula and from the whole of the Mediterranean area.
When occupied by the Romans, it was surrounded by walls and renamed as Dertosa.
In the 8th century it was conquered by the Muslims and their long domination of the city had a strong and profound influence on it. In the 11th century it became a very important “Taifa” or Muslim ruled kingdom.
The greatness of this “Taifa” or Muslim ruled kingdom came to an end in 1148, when Tortosa was conquered by Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona. The three city ports controlled the wheat and salt trade in the western Mediterranean. The city became a junction of the territories that made up the Crown of Catalonia-Aragon and was one of the large cities that often became the site of the “Courts” of the Crown of Aragon.
The expulsion of the Jews (1492) and, to a lesser degree, the Arabs, (17th Century) caused serious harm to the economic life of Tortosa.
It soon fell into the hands of the Castilians (1640) during the Harvesters’ War, who were shortly after expelled by the French (1650) during a period of political and cultural decline for Catalonia.
When Valencia fell into the hands of Felipe V (18th Century) during the “Succession War”, Tortosa also went with it.
The 19th Century began with the Napoleonic invasion, during which a large part of the territory, including the whole of Catalonia, was ripped away from the Spanish Empire and included in the French Empire until 1814.
Despite having lost the territorial unity, which hence led to the transfer of the capital to Tarragona in 1833, the century stands out for the continuance and growth of creative activity within the cultural sphere and was marked by the Carlist Wars.
Tortosa was one of the places most seriously affected by the conflict of the Civil War in 1936, with the dramatic and bloody backdrop of the Battle of the Ebro.
Local cuisine wisely combines produce from the land with those of the delta, the mountains and the sea. The local blood sausage, wild mushrooms, truffles and olive oil are very popular. It excels in desserts and have preserved specialties from Arabic, Jewish and Christian cultures.
Among the wide variety of starters, olive pâté, monkfish soup, thyme soup, palm hearts and the empedrat tortosí (a local salad) are certainly worth trying.
For egg dishes: scrambled eggs with tomatoes, artichoke omelette, mushroom omelette, nest eggs baked in bread and eggs with sauce.
There are many dishes made with eels, baby eels and vegetables, such as the fish stew. The “paella de l’horta” (orchard paella) is a mixture of meats (chicken and rabbit) with all kinds of vegetables, from which a very tasty rice is made, even though it may be a bit strong. Other ways of cooking rice are: Tortosa style, in a saucepan with squid, cod, kidney beans and rice with chicken. However, all restaurants serve other non-local dishes such as black rice or rossejats noodles. Among the variety of recipes with vegetables and cereals we should mention the porridge, green beans with ham, country stew, “drowned” beans, broth, cod with chickpeas and sauce, “recapte” (left-overs), the Tortosa noodles and morenetes (a type of mushroom) soup.
Seafood is used for “mariscades” or seafood platters, sauces and fish stews. The abundance of fish has resulted in numerous specialties being created: skate with haricot beans, cod with sauce, cuttlefish with onion, cod balls, baked fish and salted sardines country style.
As for the meat, there is the Hispanic goat stew, rabbit with broken olives, “cassola gelada” (iced casserole), meat stew, Carlares ham, starlings with spring onions, poultry casserole and oxtail. Snails are eaten straight from the casserole, with “xocolata a la pedra” (hard chocolate) and salt and oil.
We should also mention the sauces: “Alioli” (garlic mayonnaise), “Romesco” sauce (almond sauce) and Tortosa sauce, and as accompaniment, the rostifaci, rovellons (wild mushrooms) and ratatouille. Bread is a basic ingredient for making fogassetes and clotxes (different filled bread meals), bread with wine and sugar and bread with oil and salt. The importance of baldana should also be noted, which is a kind of sausage made with rice, lean meat, pine nuts and spices and top quality local olive oil, both with the Baix Ebre Region denomination of origin.
Wine from “Terra Alta”, rice and mussels from the Ebro Delta, mandarin and oranges are some of the high quality products or with denominations of origin. Among the desserts some ancient specialties have been preserved. The biscuits are a remnant from Arab confectionery; “coquets de sagí” or “coquets de Maria” are a Hebrew legacy and the “garrofetes” of Father Benedict are from the “Luna” papal court. Other pastries are the bilge, tortosins, mostatxos (moustaches), the congres, sultanes, farinoses, menjar blanc, sweet rice, and as for the sponge cakes: “cóc borratxo”, apple cake, fast cake, honey cake, golden cake and the one with curd cheese and “camagrocs” and country cake. Nowadays queen soup and “Cucafera” are very popular; the latter is a dragon-shaped cake made with sponge cake, cream and kiwi. Quince syrup, herbal liquor, absinthe and the “clara” (beer with lemon) are among the typical drinks.
The Food Fair, a Renaissance culinary event, held during the Renaissance Festival in the third week of July, is a moment for tasting recipes from yesteryear are now hardly ever used. For Festival Desserts there are those that are already popular such as “torretes”, and various types of “cocas”, or thin pastries: Renaissance “coca” or “prim coca”, Festival Bread, the Emperor’s “coca” and spinach “coca”.
In late February the Gastronomic Olive Oil Event takes place and from February to May the Cultural and Gastronomic Rice Tour of the “Ebre Lands” and in March the Gastronomic Cod Event, in July the Cajun Food Fair and in November the Leftovers Fair.
Several fairs related to market produce take place in Jesús, Els Reguers and Bítem. The Oil Festival is held in Jesús on the last weekend of February, the Clementine Festival is held in Els Reguers on 31 October and 1 and 2 November and the “rovello” (a type of mushroom) fair is celebrated in Bítem on the weekend before All Saints Day.
Ebro Delta- National Park
This is the largest wetland in Catalonia, and one of the most important in the Mediterranean region The estuary of the river, which gives its name to this region, forms a first class nature reserve, with a richness of flora and fauna beyond compare. It has a total surface area of 7,736 hectares in the Baix Ebre and Montsià regions. Here, you will find many lagoons: La Bassa de les Olles, El Canal Vell, El Garxal, L’Alfacada, la Platjola, la Tancada and L’Encanyissada; as well as Buda, Sapinya and Sant Antoni islands; La punta de la Banya and El Fangar peninsulas, the Casablanca moorlands and Els Ullals de Baltasar (blow holes).
As for vegetation, there are more than 500 different species including reedbeds, bulrushes, Eucalyptus and River Woodbines. Not forgetting rice, which is the star of the area and rice fields occupy lots of land in the delta. Regarding fauna, birds are very important here, with 50,000 to 100,000 examples of 300 different species. The humid climate is ideal for insects and invertebrates, and the differing degrees of salinity in the water means that there are also many different fish, including eels, red mullet and sea bass which live alongside other introduced fish like the Wels Catfish.
Climatic conditions and the natural beauty of the land, give visitors some wonderful scenery to admire, where the water from the river and the sea plays a leading part. There are many routes and activities to choose from in the Ebre Delta and nearby towns and villages
Els Ports – Natural Park
Els Ports Natural Park covers the Catalan area of the Els Ports mountains, a massif that passes the limits of Terres de l’Ebre and reaches into in the provinces of Teruel (Aragon) and Castellón (Valencian Community). These mountain ranges are very rich in fauna and flora and are in fact, a refuge for many endangered animal and vegetable species. The Hispanic Goat inhabits these lands, and the most southern area of beech trees in Europe is here too. Geological formations create a unique landscape, which is typical only in Catalonia.
We cannot forget the historical ties that have been established between the villages which border the massif and the farmhouses in the area, which are now abandoned. The use of the natural resources here, such as hunting, livestock, removal of wood, the production of lime and resin, or the construction of snow wells, remind us of eras of intense human presence in this natural space.
With the year 2001, the declaration of Els Ports Natural Park and the partial Nature Reserve of Fageda del Retaule, recognized the natural values of this, one of the most significant natural spaces in Catalonia and the second biggest after Cadí Moixaró Nature Reserve. Since then, it has been possible to visit different Interpretation Centres in the villages of Roquetes, La Sénia and Horta de Sant Joan, which help us to discover the natural and cultural wealth that lies hidden in these mountains.