Sunday, 4 December 2016

Spanish Stories: Discovering Cartagena

You'd be forgiven for mistaking these pictures for Rome itself, but in fact this is Cartagena. A historic naval port on the east coast of Spain, famous for it's Roman amphitheatre and Mediterranean marina.


We picked a beautifully sunny, Wednesday afternoon to take a short but scenic roadtrip to the nearby city. Cruising down the Spanish highways, we eventually came to a stop in a random car park at what I presume to be a University campus. Cartagena is a pretty hilly city. We made our way down a steep hill, to go back up another on the opposite side of a road, and climbed our way to the top for a picture perfect (and free!) view of the Teatro Romano.


In recent years, the Museum of the Roman Theatre has opened its doors, so for a small fee you can actually walk among the ancient steps. It took us a few more hills, getting slightly lost, ending up at the exit and then lugging in to another conversation to figure out how to find the entrance!


Eventually we found ourselves in the town hall square, and made our way into the museum. Inside we learned about the history of the theatre, built between 5 and 1 BC(!) and only recently discovered during archaeological excavation in the nineties! Crazy to think that all this was buried beneath a whole history book of buildings.


Opened in 2008, the museum leads you through a corridor of history with displays of jugs, pots, and all sorts uncovered during the excavations and tells how different periods changed the area and built over the theatre until all trace of it was lost. A strong Arabic and Christian heritage is visible throughout the exhibition, which goes from marble statue remnants to an "Archaelogical corridor" under the Santa Maria church, before emerging out into the overwhelmingly striking Roman Theatre.


Inscriptions dedicated to the grandsons of Ceaser Augustus have been uncovered, proving the importance of the theatre in Roman history. It's such an amazing space to explore. We climbed the steps, and ducked into the cave-like entrances at the top to look down over the theatre, it's ruined columns, and the city beyond.


Eventually we left the museum and headed for the marina in search of ice cream. Would you believe we didn't find any?! To be fair it was mid November and probably siesta time. Top tip - don't wear your brightest, most summery dress on a winter's day in Cartagena. You will get some funny looks! Apparently 20 degrees is sweater weather to the locals. And scarf and jacket weather. Meanwhile my ghost skin was burning in the heat.


Despite it's various museums, hilltop forts and churches to explore, we found Cartagena to be fairly quiet on the tourist front. With places like Alicante and the Costa Blanca nearby, tourism is a booming industry in the area but seems busier around the beaches and purpose built complexes. Again though, we did visit in the off season and this is perhaps a different story through the summer months.


Personally I preferred exploring Cartagena to wondering aimlessly along beaches full of Brits. Our holidays are usually city breaks to places full of history, architecture and culture - Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin - packed full of sightseeing (and eating). The city was right up our street. Next time we hope to add more city stops to our Spanish adventures, with Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia all on the bucket list!


Next time you take a trip to the coastal resorts of Espania, get out and explore! Hire a car, drive the desert lined roads and see more of what Spain has to offer. You never know what you might discover.

Where's your favourite place to explore? Any must visits in Spain?

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