It was one of those fabulous nights: ATB and I had enjoyed a wonderful late-evening meal and a bottle of wine in Málaga when we realized that the only available way to Madrid with seats available was a night bus leaving in the wee hours. We rushed back to our room, threw our stuff into our bags and made it to the bus station with moments to spare. The night bus arrived in the ancient city of Cartegena about 8am with no connecting bus until later that afternoon. We were wandering around before the locals (coffee shops) were awake. We had not planned to be in Cartagena, and had done zero research. Our plan was to locate coffee and meander around to see what we could find in the few hours we were in town.
Cartagena is a port city and naval base in the Murcia region of southeast Spain. The Carthaginians founded the city about 220 B.C. Later, the Romans made it a central hub and built walls, villas, and a theatre. After the Romans, the Moorish Kingdom controlled the city for about 150 years from the 12th Century. The Christians took over.
The port area in Cartagena is a pretty area surrounded by hills. It is a working port that also welcomes cruise ships and large private yachts. While we were there, two cruise ships were spending the day in the harbour.
There is a large promenade with plenty of services for those entering the city from the port. There are public art displays and installations. This particular one is a tribute to the victims of terrorism.
El Zulo by Víctor Ochoa
The Naval Museum is housed in an 18th-century building in the port that, until recently, was a naval college. The Museum highlights weapons and navigational tools and covers the history of the 1800s in Europe including several revolutions, the loss of the Spanish colonies and the history of the Spanish Royal Family.
An interesting exhibit is the Isaac Peral Submarine which was the first battery-powered submarine that was launched way back in 1888. Although it was worked on for two years, the project was abandoned.
Whale’s Tail Sculpture
Outside the Naval Museum, near the Tourist Information office is a sculpture of a whale tail close to the harbour. It honours the whales that are often seen year-round in the local waters.
Cola de Ballena by Fernando Saenz de Elorrieta
Castillo de la Concepcion
The Castillo de la Concepcion was built on top of a Roman temple dedicated to Asklepio. When the Moors occupied the city, they built an alcazaba on the foundations, using a rammed-earth technique. When the Christians took over, a large keep was built using stone from the temple ruins and other Roman sites. The castle lost its military importance by the end of the 18th century and parts of it were demolished at the beginning of the 19th century. In the mid-1920s, the site was declared a city park.
Today, the castle keep is a museum. The city offers a voucher that provides admission to 4, 5, or 6 city sights within a 2-week period at a cost between €10 - €20, depending upon the package you choose. For just the Castillo, it costs €4.
To get to or from the Castillo, visitors can take the rather terrifying Ascensor Panorámico (Panoramic Lift) elevator for €2 each way or walk the hill pathway. We walked up and took the elevator down.
Roman Theatre & Museum
Down the hill from the Castillo is a path that leads to the newly-discovered 2,000 year-old Roman Theatre. The ruins were discovered about 30 years ago, beneath several layers of centuries of habitation and the ruins of the Old Cathedral destroyed in the Spanish Civil War. Both the Christians and the Muslim residents simply built their homes and shops right on top of the old amphitheatre. Most of the original materials were still on site and were used in the restoration.
The stage area is magnificent.
A Christian church was added to one end of the theatre. The wealthiest and most powerful sat in the lower levels closest to the stage, the regular poor folk sat way up high in the nosebleed section -- not unlike any other theatre.
The Roman Theatre is open daily except for Mondays and has shorter hours on Sundays. Tickets are €6 with discounts available for students and seniors.
In the museum are many interesting artefacts discovered during the excavations, including an altar to Jupiter, a statue of Apollo, inscribed lintels, and Islamic ceramics from the Middle Ages.
The main pedestrian street in Cartegena is Calle mayor. When we arrived in the early morning, it was quiet but soon became a vibrant and busy area once the business day began. What really stands out for the meanderer is the stunning Modernist architecture which is such a part of Cartagena.
During the late 1800s, Cartagena was a center of a large mining industry which created a wealthy baron class. During those years, the wealthy built extravagant homes in the historic center. The Federalist Revolution in 1874 destroyed much of the city and much rebuilding took place, most in the Modernist Style. There are some incredible art nouveau buildings including the Gran Hotel, Palacio Pedreño and the Casa Cervantes.
Our overall impression was that Cartagena would not be a huge draw for many travellers and that all the major sites could be visited in a full day. We didn't have a full day but were able to hit most of the highlights, although there were several areas further from the city center that we had to miss. We were glad to have seen another area of Spain but wouldn't go out of our way to visit again in the future.
Thanks for meandering with me! Have you been to Cartagena? Tell me what I missed in the comments or let me your thoughts. Share the link with a friend. Become a member to get notified of new content, access to the members' forum, and a monthly newsletter full of chatty behind-the-scenes news, useful travel tips & links, plus more!