26 & 27January – Visit to Cartagena
After the pleasure of being at home visiting family we were raring to go. We stopped off at La Marina to stock up on food and spent the night on a camperstop by the petrol station. It was cheap and remarkably peaceful given that it was in a very busy location.
We selected an Aire near to Cartagena for our next stop as we were intending to stay a few days. The Aires at Los Dolores fitted the bill as it was handy for the bus into town. The proprietor of the Aires was very friendly and helpful. She gave us a map of Cartagena, instructed me in the correct pronunciation, and directed us to the bus stop in the village. Being unusually organised, we went on a recce so we would not waste time the next day. We also found a handy local supermarket for re-provisioning. The road into the village was a bit dicey as it was very narrow with no footpath. There was much leaping into verges and flattening against walls!
Next day we caught the bus to the old town and visited the Tourist Information office. We acquired more information and worked our way down to the port end. Our main focus was the Roman Theatre and Forum. However, there are many other interesting museums to cater for all tastes. The Naval port is visible from the sea front and there is a Naval Museum and military arsenal. There is also the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology in the same area. There are so many things to do and see that you could spend several days in Cartagena.
On our first day we headed for the Roman Theatre where we were welcomed by a very informative and enthusiastic young man on the reception. On his advice we bought a three attraction ticket which made a good saving. The theatre museum was very illuminating before we finally arrived, via a tunnel, at the theatre itself.
It is very complete and was every bit as impressive as we had hoped. The Roman city had been covered up for generations and there are still remains of the cathedral of Santa Maria de Grazia which was built over part of the Roman Theatre.
Clyde could not resist the opportunity to stand on the stage and give a quick performance of “friends and Romans……”.
I was interested to learn that the theatre was a crucial element in the urban regeneration programme pursued by emperor Augustus who wished to restore the traditional values of Roman culture. The theatre could seat 7000 spectators and came to play a vital role in the political and social machines of Carthago Nova.
It was interesting to see how the modern city has been built amongst the historic parts. This was reinforced as we walked down to the historic attractions when we came across an uncovered Roman road that has been left there with an explanation but no protection. What is interesting on rereading one of the notices, is that they have re-covered a Punic house in order to preserve it until they can enhance its real value
We spent a long time exploring this fascinating monument and decided to save the other attractions for the next day.
Day two saw us heading for the Castillo de La Conception which is built on the highest of the five hills of the city. We had paid to use the panoramic lift up to the ramparts. Quite brave of me considering my fear of heights. In fact it was not a clear glass lift as I had expected but had a grill type construction so, although it was quite windy, I felt reasonably secure. Even so, I did not venture along the platform that jutted out from the hill front. I left that to Clyde who is much braver than me.
Once we were at the top, we had a walk up a tiered pathway, complete with peacocks, to the large walled parade ground with it’s commanding view of the port and the city. We enjoyed our packed lunch there in the sun.
The Castillo was built in the 13th century, the site having been an important strategic and defensive location for the city for centuries. The museum that is housed in the keep gives an interpretation of the history of the area dating back to the Middle Ages.
Our next historic experience was the Roman Forum. This is one of the largest urban archaeological sites in Spain, with a modern roof protecting the remains of a whole block of the old Roman city. There are two blocks separated by streets and comprising three buildings: the thermal baths of the port, the atrium building and the Shrine of Isis and Serapis. It is possible to see what the various rooms looked like and there are wall paintings and mosaic floors. According to our favourite guide, who was on the reception of the Forum today, there is a large part still to be uncovered. He took us across the street and through another door where we were invited to go and have a look at an uncovered main street. Work is still on going to uncover more of the street that will link with the Forum over the road.
Interestingly, most of the work to uncover the old city has taken place since 2000. Talking to the young guide, there is not as much interest in the old history as you might expect. The focus seems to be more on the beaches and fine weather where tourism is concerned.
There are many other places of interest to visit. The town hall was one of these, but we were there on a Saturday and it was only open for guided tours. However, we were able to have a look at the entrance hall and two small exhibition rooms. Just the entrance hall was stunning:
We strolled along the harbour and spotted this unusual looking vessel. I am sure it is a British ship and for some reason I have Bristol in mind as its home? We thought we could see a Union flag flying but it was too far away to be sure.
We enjoyed Cartagena for it’s history and the attractive port and old town. It would certainly bear another visit in the future.