Fortification and Art: Exploring the History of Tossa de Mar

Vila Vella, Tossa de Mar
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Tossa de Mar is a popular tourist destination. Not just for the beauty of its location on Spain’s Costa Brava, or the quality of its food and hospitality, but also because of its long and varied history. You can explore this history as you walk around the town, taking in the Roman settlement, the medieval fortifications and the more recent cultural and artistic tradition.

Vila Vella, Tossa de Mar
The Vila Vella, Tossa de Mar’s impressive medieval fortification

The Long History of Tossa de Mar

Tossa de Mar may be small but there is a surprising amount to discover. The star attraction is undoubtedly the Vila Vella, the fortified town built in the 13th century to protect the town’s population from the pirates and other invaders who frequented the coastline. The inhabitants at that time were mainly fishermen and their families, but at times of trouble the local farmers would also seek safety inside the walls. People still live in the Vila Vella today, and in some ways it looks much as it must have done in the Middle Ages, especially if you wander off the main paths and down the narrow passages between the houses.

Vila Vella, Tossa de Mar
The houses of the Vila Vella

You could spend all day exploring the Vila Vella, walking around the perimeter walls with their towers and battlements, and stopping to look at the Lighthouse Museum and the remains of the Church of Sant Vicenç. Walk to the top to be rewarded with magnificent views and make time to stop at one of the many restaurants serving traditional local dishes.

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But there is more to Tossa de Mar than this. Close to the Vila Vella is La Roqueta, the fishermen’s area constructed when the town began to expand in the 16th century. Look out for Can Ganga, once an isolated farmhouse requiring heavy fortification, but now in the centre of the town. Then walk up to Els Ametillers Roman Villa, the remains of an impressive dwelling that was once surrounded by vineyards. You can see why this site was chosen: it would have had a commanding view of the sea and countryside around.

Roman villa, Tossa de Mar
The remains of Els Ametillers, Tossa de Mar’s Roman villa

Poems and Sculptures

For many centuries Tossa was an isolated community, with little activity other than fishing and farming. But that all changed in the 1930s when it became a popular retreat for artists, attracted by the light and the beauty of the town and its surroundings. And 1950 saw the arrival of Hollywood, when the actress Ava Gardner stayed here while making the film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. This film brought Tossa to the world’s attention and helped to promote it as a holiday destination.

Outdoor sculpture in Tossa de Mar
Tossa de Mar’s outdoor sculptures recall the history of the town. Here we have a fisherman and his son

Tossa de Mar continues to enjoy its artistic heritage today. As you walk around you will spot several sculptures, part of a series of outdoor artworks by different artists. These showcase different aspects of the town, many on a fishing or maritime theme, but there is also a figure of Ava Gardner in the Vila Vella. Look out, too, for decorative tiles, some of them with fragments of poetry by local Catalan poets. A reminder, if one was needed, of the rich cultural history of Tossa de Mar.

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6 thoughts on “Fortification and Art: Exploring the History of Tossa de Mar”

  1. Pingback: Ten Top Posts on Exploring Spain | Trips100

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About Karen

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren. I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 60 countries at the last count). I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica (I still hope to get there one day…), and my current favourite destinations are Italy, Spain and North America. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

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