Cartagena has earned itself its very own blog post on our passage Along the Costa del Sol to the Costa Blanca. A week sitting out the Saharan Calima wind meant plenty of time to explore its history and buildings.
But walk out of the marina and you would be forgiven for thinking there was anything ancient in Cartagena.The corrugated plastic and reinforcement bars of the conference centre and the concrete and graffiti of the underpass gave no hints of the town’s origins.
Our first dive into the past was at Arqua, the Museum of Underwater Archaeology (free on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, if you find yourself there). Very modern on the outside and with high tech interactive displays, it was a brilliant introduction to the astonishingly ancient vessels and voyages of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans. The remains of this Phoenician sailing boat found on the Spanish seabed date from 700BC.
We found evidence of very early commercial branding by the Phoenicians on this elephant tusk and by the Romans on these iron ingots. We also found we are not the first sailors to enjoy a drop of wine! There are hundreds if not thousands of these amphoras used for transporting wine on the sea bed.
We learnt a lot about the history of boat building and found an opportunity to practice our knots!
At the Roman Theatre and Forum we immersed ourselves further in excavations of buildings long built upon in the centuries after and only recently uncovered. Everywhere felt more like an active archaeological site rather than a museum. And the best bit about visiting out of the height of tourist season meant that we had the places mostly to ourselves – just us, some school kids and the Spanish Air Force!
We visited the remains of the town’s 3rd century Punic Wall, built by the Carthaginians to keep out the Romans. We found remains of the more human kind in the crypt of the 16th century hermitage built on top of it.
A stroll around the town yields more Modernist architecture
and the kind of derelict buildings my camera loves.
Outside of town we found abandoned mines from an unknown era, leaving huge scars on the landscape.
And finally to much more recent history, we paid a very quick visit to the air raid tunnels to which the Cartagenians fled to escape Franco’s bombing raids in the Spanish Civil War. They reminded us of the tunnels we had visited in the cliffs at Ramsgate. Being so well fortified over the years, Cartagena was one the places to hold out the longest before falling into his hands.
We liked Cartagena a lot. There is a debate on Pintail about whether it might be our favourite place on this part of the journey but we think Cadiz is just nudging ahead. Maybe its because it was so lovely and sunny when we were there but that both places find themselves high on the list means we must have a fondness for all things Roman.
Which is a good thing because we are going to find a lot of that in the Med…