On tourists and collectors

Collection of the Municipal Newspaper Library of Tarragona

Since May 2020, the Municipal Newspaper Library (BHMT) has been publishing a series of images, accompanied by brief texts about the city and tourism, on the social media of the Tarragona Municipal Tourist Board. The idea is to share old posters, programmes, leaflets and publications that were used to promote tourism in the city of Tarragona. Using the #Tarragonavintage hashtag, we aim to give the citizens of today a glimpse into aspects of the past: how we showed ourselves to the world and how they saw us from outside; which aspects were the most important at different times, and which images they identified us with.

As a library specialising in local topics and authors, there are numerous books and travel guides from different periods on the subject of tourism. But there are also brochures, posters and other material for the promotion of tourism in the city dating from the late nineteenth century through to the present day. The sources of these documents are very varied and in many cases, particularly the older collections, they were donated by private individuals. The legacies of these collectors who loaned their collections to the city can now be consulted at the library. Donors include Josep Gramunt, Carles Babot, Enric Baixeras and Jordi Morant. As a documentation centre, since the 1980s we have systematically collected the promotional material generated by the Municipal Tourist Board such as guides, brochures, publicity for tourist establishments, posters, etc., continuing the work begun by collectors.

In July 2018, issue 30 of the magazine Fet a Tarragona (Made in Tarragona) included a central insert dedicated to tourism, featuring two articles entitled “Attracting the first tourists” and “From Empire to modern times”. Pineda Vaquer and Anna Plaza, the authors of the articles, got a lot of their information from the BHMT. All the published images form part of our collection and we were able to display some of the documents on the day of the magazine’s presentation at l’Espai Turisme.

The use of this material as a reference for the magazine article by Pineda Vaquer and Anna Plaza encouraged us to reorganise the different documents in the collection, which in some cases were widely scattered. We classified them by year and searched for publication dates where there was no printed date on the document. It was necessary to check all the gaps and missing information to offer researchers all the material that has reached us in incomplete form from different sources, hence making it easier to refer to the documents and giving a greater insight into the spread of tourism at different moments in the city’s history.

The variety of viewpoints and the overview given by the two articles is an example of the many interpretations that can be made from the brochures created to promote the city. Tracking the development of tourist propaganda over the years gives us a better understanding of the changes in mentalities, interests and designs of each period. Seeing how the city was sold abroad gives a great deal of food for thought!

Monuments as a tourist attraction

From the early days of promoting tourism, the city’s main monuments were already being used as a magnet to attract visitors through photographs and illustrations by contemporary artists.

The first of which we have evidence, which is in the BHMT collection, is a small booklet in the form of an accordion entitled 12 Views of Tarragona, which was published in 1875 and features some of the earliest photographs of the city’s most iconic monuments and sights.

We also often read on the posters advertising the Santa Tecla festivities in the late nineteenth century, or the Easter festival from the 1920s, that reasonably priced tickets were offered to entice people to come to the city and discover its rich heritage, and also that excursions were organised to visit the main monuments.

To give just a few examples, the promotional brochure of the Hotel Paris stands out, which in the 1920s used an illustration of the Arch of Berà, or the poster published by the National Tourist Board in 1928 which reproduced an illustration of the Tower of the Scipios. Other notable examples are the posters for the tourist exhibitions of 1936 and 1963, the first of which features the Roman column of the Via de l’Imperi (Way of the Empire) and the second an image of the sculpture of the little black boy used as a lampstand, part of the Archaeological Museum’s collection. In later years, images of the main monuments have appeared in brochures and frequently been used in advertisements for shops and commercial establishments.

The Municipal Tourist Office

In 1933, the Municipal Tourist Office was founded as one of the city council’s strategies during the Second Republic. There are three notebooks of press clippings from its early years at the BHMT, when a specific section used to appear in the local press with news about the tourists and foreign cars passing through the city, visits by dignitaries, and articles on any subject related to tourism, as well as opinion pieces. This is an interesting collection for scholars of the subject.

Promotion in national magazines

The magazines and newspapers of the time played a very important role in promoting the city. From the 1950s onwards there is a collection of lavishly illustrated monographs and articles showcasing the city. To mention just a few examples, in March 1955 the magazine Mundo Ilustrado devoted an issue to Tarragona, writing about the historic and urban aspects of the province and mentioning some of the beaches. Meanwhile, Solidaridad Nacional, published in September 1963, and La Plaza de Cataluña, with tributes to Tarragona in 1963 and 1973, give us a greater insight into the promotion of monuments, beaches and the tourist industry at that time.

Some of the headings of the articles raise issues that were extremely topical in the 1950s and 1960s, such as: Tarragona, a future summer holiday centre (1955); Tourist boom on the coast of Tarragona (1961); Tarragona, the centre of the biggest tourist destination in Europe (1963), The problems posed by the economic development of Tarragona, and Tourism or industry? Tourism AND industry!! (1963).


Having access to these collections has enabled us to collaborate with other initiatives related to the history of tourism in Tarragona. An example of this is the exhibition entitled “Past and Present” organised by the Government of Catalonia in 2007 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Catalan Tourist Board.

In 2011, in conjunction with the Historical Archive of Tarragona, we organised the exhibition entitled “Postcard Tourism”, which displayed a selection of postcards by Raimon Miserachs and tourist publications from the 1950s and 1960s featuring his photos to illustrate the articles. The exhibition spent a year touring towns on the Costa Daurada.

In 2015, we complemented the photos by Ramon Segú Chinchilla and Rafael López Monné by exhibiting various documents such as books, periodicals and brochures in the exhibition Beaches of Tarragona, 50 years later organised by the Historical Archive of the City Tarragona. The photos that Chinchilla took in the 1960s provided an interesting contrast to the present-day photos taken by López Monné.

Our current collaboration with the Tourist Office allows for the much wider dissemination of a whole collection of material that was used to promote Tarragona in earlier times and which, thanks to the collectors who have donated it to the Library, is now available to anyone interested in the subject.

M. Elena Virgili Bertran

Head of the Municipal Newspaper Library of Tarragona