CARTAGENA


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Europe » Spain » Region of Murcia » Cartagena
July 10th 2013
Published: July 10th 2013
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I'm sitting, well really half lying, on my bed in the Pension Balcones Azules (Blue Balconies) in Cartagena (said Cart-a-khe-na), Wednesday afternoon. I arrived here Monday by bus. When I was packing on Sunday night I realised that I had left behind in Granada a display folder with some personal stuff in it. Luckily nothing too important. So this was 'boo-boo' number two. Remember, an attempted bag snatch on Thursday in Granada was number one! I wondered what number three would be. I did not have long to wait, as on the bus journey from Almeria to Cartagena the bus broke down, only 10 km from Cartagena. The gear box made a terrible noise and when I looked under the bus there was oil all over the road! So the seven passengers waited an hour for the mechanic and alternative transport. I spent the time with a lovely Spanish lady, Maria, who spoke English very well, chatting and having a drink in a bar. What else can you do!
This is the first time I've stayed in a pension. It's run by a married couple with 2 dogs (one blind) and 2 inside cats. She also feeds about 20 (yes that's right!) outside ones. She does the reception work and all the cleaning and I'm not sure what he does - except open the door for guests (you have to hand your key in when you go out) and walk the dog (the not blind one!). When she cleans she sings and talks to herself - I can identify with that! The pension faces the District of the Forum, and is 5 minutes from the main street (Calle Mayor) and about 10 minutes from the harbour.
The city's chequered history over centuries in which it has been ruled first by one civilisation then another, is reflected in its vast historic and cultural heritage. The city was founded in 227 BC by the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal, the father of Hanibal, when it became the central point for the Carthaginian settlement of the Iberian peninsula. In 209 BC, during the Second Punic War, the Roman general Scipio conquered the city. The city was 'modernised' under the rule of Emperor Augustus, with the construction of a forum and theatre. The city occupied a highly strategic location and the surrounding land was mined for silver, in particular. Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Cartagena was lost to Germanic tribes, Byzantines, Visigoths and Moors. In 1245 the city was conquered by Prince Alphonse, and came under the Crown of Aragon and then the Crown of Castille. It was not until the Bourbon dynasty in the eighteen century that Cartagena was established as a naval facility. It was bombed badly during the Spanish Civil War as it was the only navy base that remained under Republican control and was the last city to be taken by Franco's troops.
On Monday afternoon, I walked around to orientate myself - first trying to locate the Tourist Office, thankfully with the help of 2 English gentlemen and a group from Northern Ireland. It was closed - siesta - from 2pm until 5pm. What else do you do but wait in a bar - particularly when it is hot and humid. I chatted with an English couple while having a drink and a late lunch.
On Tuesday morning, after breakfast in the Calle Mayor (the pension does not serve breakfast), I had decided on what sites to visit and to purchase a 'complete voucher' which included the entry to 9 museums and the tourist bus and boat for 22 euros (would have cost around 36 euros if paid for individually). I took the tourist bus first to further orientate myself. It was locally run, not by the international hop on / hop off people, so the fare only allowed one circuit of the route, but you could get off and back one hour later at an of the 3 stops. I got off at the Muralla Punica - Punic Wall Interpretation Centre. This centre marks the recovery in 1987 of the remains of the ancient Carthaginian wall and is one of only a few Punic findings located in Spain. The tour began with an audio visual display (in English) that explains the founding of the city by Hasdrubal and the conquest by the Romans. The wall itself consists of 2 parallel walls, made of huge sandstone blocks. The museum also contains a crypt, where wooden coffins were interred within 110 niches and the walls were decorated with paintings in the theme, 'Dance of Death'. Exposition cases show pieces found in the excavations. A fantastic visit, in a well though out museum.
Back on the bus to the next stop at the base of the Panoramic Lift, which takes you to both the Museo Refugio de la Guerra Civil (Civil War Shelters Museum) and Castillo de la Concepion (Conception Castle). From the top of the lift you can also see across the road into the amphitheatre. It has not been restored and cannot be visited. The Civil War Museum is in an actual air raid shelter used during the bombings made by the Italian - German air forces serving Franco. It is very moving, as it displays the impact on daily life - rationing, the establishment of school colonies, changes in leisure activities. Inside the tower of the castle, located on top of the hill, is a centre for interpretation which outlines the history of Cartagena. Some rooms of the castle have been restored. The main purpose for the lift ride and climb is the views of the city from the terrace. Cartagena can be viewed in all four directions, and it cements the reason why the city has been such a strategic location - a well protected harbour, and the city protected within two hills. A walk back into the old town for lunch, took me to the top of the Roman Theatre. Wow! I could not wait to visit it later in the afternoon!
The street fa├žade of the Roman Theatre Museum is the Palace Pascual de Riquelme and gives no hint of what lies beyond. The tour began with an audio visual of the history, discovery and excavation of the theatre. From this auditorium you walk along a corridor, through various rooms and up escalators, seeing as you go collections of architectural pieces from the site, information boards on the function of theatre in ancient times and passing under the St Maria la Vieja Church, before entering the Roman Theatre. It was built in the late first century BC and the stage, orchestra, seating terraces and scenic facade have been restored. It is magnificent and sitting in the 'cavea' you can fantasise about the political and religious plays that would have been performed here in Emperor Augustus' time.
Wednesday (today) proved not to be as hot and humid as it has been (well until about 2pm anyway!). This morning I visited the Casa de la Fortuna, the Augusteum and the Forum District. Casa de la Fortuna is a house, underground, which consists of a atrium, bedrooms, banquet room, garden and bathroom. Information boards with English translation clearly explains each part of the building. Objects found during the excavations are also on display. The Augusteum can only be visited at special times and accompanied by a guide from the Casa de la Fortuna. There were four of us for the 11:30am entry - 3 Spanish women and me! The tour guide choose to only make the explanations in Spanish, though she appeared to speak adequate English. It is also underground. The Augusteum, as the name implies, is where Emperor Octavian Augustus was worshipped.
The height of the day was the visit to the District of the Forum. An English tour was offered at 2pm. I was the only person! Firstly we visited the Decumano - part of the commercial district and road outside the forum. Again we were under the level of the present road. Back in the main area of the Forum district, the tour guide led me around the thermal baths, a columned courtyard, atrium and various smaller rooms serving different purposes, including a kitchen. The temple area and forum have yet to be excavated - a victim of the financial crisis.
What is amazing about Cartagena is that most of the excavation work has only been going since the late 1980's. The sites are administered by the Puerta de Culturas, which is to be commended for their museum designs and their publications for each site. This is truly a city full of history!
When I post this blog entry, I'll be sitting on the stairs in the foyer of the pension, with the company of at least one cat, as the wifi (said wee-fee!) is not strong enough to connect in my room! The joys of travelling!

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