A joke from my childhood: a bull called Hannibal jumped over the fence and exclaimed that his name was now Hanni because he had lost his balls in the barbed wire. A pretty lame joke, all the more since my schoolmates used to tease me with it.
I knew that Hannibal the army commander (the one from the elephants) was associated with the Spanish city of Cartagena, but only recently I discovered the exact connection in the museum of the Punic Wall.
Apart from the Punic Wall, there are several other exquisite attractions in Cartagena. The city is only an hour’s drive from our house, so we visit this beautiful city often.
Besieged and captured several times
Cartagena was founded in the 3rd century BC by Phoenicians from Carthage. The translation of Carthage is ‘New City’, which makes Cartagena as New Carthage the New New City. 🙂
After the 2nd Punic War, the city came under Roman rule for a long time. This time was a heyday for Cartagena. From the 8th century on, most of Spain was dominated by the Moors, who called the city Qartayanna.
Los Reyes Católicos Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon reconquered the peninsula from the Moors and united the various kingdoms into one country. After this Reconquista, the Moors and Jews were expelled. Cartagena was part of the kingdom of Murcia.
A rich history that is uncovered recently
You’ll notice a lot of construction activity in the old center of Cartagena when you visit it. The excavations have not all been completed yet. What we can visit and watch is impressive, so that promises a lot for the future!
There have been several periods of prosperity and decline in this part of Spain. The most recent event was the Civil War. Cartagena is a garrison city and had to withstand air attacks from the German and Franco’s troops. Many buildings were destroyed.
The excavations have been in full swing since the 1980s. The most interesting exposures are the Roman Theater and the Roman Baths.
Tourist Attractions in Cartagena
The atmosphere of this Roman Theater is much more intimate than the Theater of Mérida. Both founded in the Roman era there are similarities of course. Mainly in the construction, yet the one in Mérida has survived the time better than the one in Cartagena.
The circumstances of Cartagena’s Theater have been quite interesting. After the decline of the Roman Empire, the Moors built a market on the remains of the Theater. In time the construction of the Theater got covered more and more.
After the Moors disappeared, the market was covered with dwellings. As well as a cathedral and a bullring. The cathedral was almost completely destroyed in one of the Civil War bombings.
In 1988 the excavation began which is ongoing to the present day.
Most Spanish museums accompanying excavations have historical re-enactment and/or animated videos that give a brilliant view of ancient history. It makes history alive and in combination with the displayed artifacts gives a clear image of our ancestors. The archaeological museum of the Roman Theater of Cartagena has a cinema room screening a remarkably imaginative explanation of Cartagena’s history.
Barrio del Foro Romano
We had been peeking through the gates of this Roman quarter several times before we finally found it open one day. You’ll have to check for the timetable if you want to go there because I haven’t figured out yet what it should be. But it’s definitely one of the places to visit in Cartagena, so if you have the chance, go see it.
The Barrio del Foro Romano consists of official buildings and a villa of someone high in place. A lot of the heating system has been recovered, and from the floor plan, you get a fine impression of what must have been commanding buildings in those days. As well as some beautiful murals. Frescoes in green and red, although damaged in time, are still very recognizable.
A couple of centuries older than the Roman buildings is the Punic Wall. It’s an Interpretation Centre with an audiovisual presentation where I learned that Hannibal had lived in Cartagena before handing the defense of the city over to his brother. He took his army and the famous elephants to the Alps in an attempt to conquer Rome.
In the meantime the Romans defeated Cartagena, turning it into a Roman city. They didn’t leave much of the Punic constructions. Only part of the foundation can be seen in this little museum. As well as a 16th and 17th-century crypt belonging to the hermitage of St. Joseph.
Cartagena’s harbor is one of the most important harbors of Spain. It is unique because it is protected by high surrounding mountains. Hence, the military importance that the city has always had. A submarine base of the Spanish navy is located here, as well as other regiments.
Unfortunately, the port is also excellent for immense cruise ships. If you’ve read more on this website, you will know that both Tom and I are avid environmentalists.
Little is as water contaminating and visually polluting as cruise ships. The shops and restaurants are of course happy with the visitors, and when a cruise ship arrives, they are even open during the holy Spanish siesta.
Tom has discovered a website that shows the timetables of the cruise ships so we can plan our visits on different days.
My favorite museum of Cartagena and even one of my most favorite of Spain’s museums is ARQUA. It’s about underwater archaeology and shows old shipbuilding techniques. In addition, the building is absolutely unique, specially designed as a museum space.
The museum is great to visit with kids because of the interactive displays they have. Adults will be most interested in the many videos that are shown on the problems of underwater archaeology.
A Phoenician boat found in Puerto de Mazarrón is exhibited here, along with a variety of other artifacts recovered from the sea.
Castillo de la Concepción
The Castillo de la Concepción is located high on a hill overlooking the Roman Theater next to it. You should go here just for the view over the harbor, the Theater, and the city, although the castle is worth a visit too.
The surrounding gardens are lovely in the shade on a hot day. And a special element in my eyes are the rather tame peacocks that show their splendor.
The Moors first built a castle here. This was gradually expanded and adapted in time, using not only new stones but Roman parts such as pilasters and columns as well.
Apart from the Roman remains, which take you back 2,000 years, Cartagena’s inner city has many Modernist buildings from 100 years ago. The transition from the 19th to the 20th century heralded an Art Nouveau era in many parts of Europe. Similarly, here.
The Palacio Consistorial is hard to miss, at the entrance of the inner city from the harbor. Other examples of this building style are the Gran Hotel, the Palacio de Aguirre (which houses the Regional Museum of Modern Art, Muram), the Casino, and the Casa Maestre.
Some practical tips
Cartagena’s coast is called Costa Cálida, which means Warm Coast. July and August are really, really hot. If you love that, as Tom does, no problem. If you don’t like that – I don’t – then you’d better choose other months to visit this town.
The train connects Cartagena with Murcia and Alicante. There are local buses to the surrounding villages and within Cartagena, you can take the city bus.
Hotels are available in all price categories. As we live so close by we can’t recommend one from our own experience.
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