• Shore Spain Tours Team

Visit Cartagena

A walkthrough the history of Cartagena.

Before you visit Cartagena, we want to give you some pills about our history, that could make you better understand the importance of our city.

One of the most demanded Cartagena tour guides with the cruise excursions is the Highlights of Cartagena, in which of course the visit of the Roman theatre is included….

Let us guide you into the history of our city.

The city of Cartagena was founded, with the name of Qart Hadasht, around 227 B.C. by the Carthaginian general Asdrubal on a previous population nucleus that has been related to the Mastia that appears in the Ora Marítima written by the Roman Rufo Festo Avieno in the 4th century B.C. The presence of Carthaginians in it would be fleeting since in 209 B.C., during the Second Punic War was conquered by the Roman Publius Cornelius Scipio.

Under Roman rule the city experienced its greatest moments of splendour between the end of the 3rd century B.C. and the beginning of the 2nd century B.C. In 44 B.C. it was given the title of colony under the name of Colonia Urbs Iulia Nova Carthago. The importance of the city was based, together with the mining wealth of its mountain range, on its privileged location and the singularity of its topography – a small peninsula between the sea and an interior lagoon (the Almarjal of modern times) – that allowed an easy defense.

With the end of the Roman Empire begins a period of decadence of which there is very little news. From this period we can highlight the passage of the vandals through the city, the Visigoth domain, interrupted in 555 by the Byzantine troops of Emperor Justinian who, in an attempt to recover the territories that belonged to the Roman Empire of the West, took the city and turned it into the capital of the province of Spania, which covered part of the peninsular southeast, from Malaga to Cartagena itself. The city would fall back into the hands of the Visigoths after being conquered and razed to the ground at the beginning of the 7th century. From that moment on, Cartagena practically disappeared as a city.

In 734, as a result of the capitulation of the Cora de Tudmir, it would fall under Muslim power, undertaking then, and especially between the 10th and 12th centuries, a process of slow recovery, which is reflected by its quotation in the works of Arab writers.

It was in 1245 when the then Prince Alfonso – who would later become Alfonso X the Wise – conquered the city, which will regain its status of episcopal seat. However, these low-medieval centuries will be a period of decadence, from which it will begin to emerge in the 16th century with the generalised economic and political reactivation that the country is experiencing; but, again, it will enter a deep crisis in the middle of the 17th century, which the epidemics will aggravate even more (plague of 1648).

Cartagena regained its former importance in the 18th century when, following its election in 1726 as capital of the Mediterranean Maritime Department and the construction of the Arsenal and the castles and barracks provided for in the city’s fortification plan, a great constructive and mercantile activity was achieved that would attract large contingents of population to the city, which would pass in a short space of time from 10,000 to 50,000 inhabitants.

After a new period of decline in the first half of the nineteenth century, the second half of that century will see a new takeoff from Cartagena because of the great boom in mining, which, in turn, served as a stimulus to industry and trade. This will be the time when Cartagena, after the destruction caused by the Cantonal Revolution of 1873, acquires its current physiognomy, with the construction of numerous public and private buildings that reflect the eclectic and modernist tendencies prevailing at that time in Spain.

In the midst of the economic recession and strong social tensions, caused by the mining crisis and aggravated by the great international economic crisis of the second decade of the twentieth century, Cartagena faced the Second Republic and suffered the dramatic consequences of the Civil War, during which it was one of the most important bastions of the Republican government and, together with Alicante, the last city to fall into the hands of General Franco.

After the post-war period, which was particularly hard in Cartagena, the arrival of the Taibilla water and the construction of the refinery in Escombreras led to a new stage of economic development that lasted until the 1970s. The growing importance of tourism and the implementation of the Tagus-Segura transfer complemented industrial activity. With the economic boom comes the increase in population and the growth of the city, which now builds the Ensanche designed in the late nineteenth century. But the uncontrolled development will generate serious problems of contamination and urbanistic abuses, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

The economic difficulties, which began with the oil crisis in the 1970s and worsened in the 1980s, accompanied the establishment of democracy, the first steps of which were made more difficult by the economic situation and social tensions. But the crisis bottomed out in the nineties and, since the middle of that decade, we have witnessed a new period of economic boom and urban growth, which, unfortunately, despite the changes in the development model, repeats some of the errors of the previous stage.

At the beginning of the 21st century Cartagena has renewed its industry, consolidated its tourist offer thanks to increasingly important cultural resources and attracted intense cruise traffic. The population reaches 200,000 inhabitants and the peripheral urbanizations proliferate in the city and out of it, but the problems of the old helmet remain unresolved.

Tips to visit Cartagena and Historical Curiosities of Cartagena

Cartagena has been such an important settlement  in the history of Spain.

In fact, you will see it summarized in a large ceramic plaque that you find in the stretch of maritime wall located in front of the imposing Palacio Consistorial de Cartagena, former seat of the city council.

Even better, the historical evolution of the city founded in 227 B.C. by the Carthaginian general Asdrubal, later conquered by the Romans, who renamed it Cartago Nova, can be seen in the very interesting visit to the Roman Theatre Museum.

Roman remains

On your next visit to Cartagena you will understand how this great enclosure that in its day had capacity for 6,000 spectators, was gradually disappearing covered by houses during the Byzantine, Muslim and medieval times.

But now the great heritage of Roman archaeological remains has become one of the great tourist attractions of Cartagena.

Cartagena is also a city whose history has been marked by its great mining wealth, with lead and silver mines, and also for being one of the most important natural ports in the Mediterranean.

Its great industrial activity today is concentrated in the nearby valley of Escombreras, with imposing petrochemical facilities and refineries that were born from the decade of the 50’s of last century.

Cartagena has always been protected by walls, but also by numerous artillery batteries distributed over the hills surrounding the bay at the entrance to the city’s port, and can be admire from your cruise.

In your visit Cartagena you will see tha the  historic centre extends to the foot of the castle hill and is almost entirely pedestrian.

In the historic center of Cartagena you can see some monuments, such as the aforementioned town hall.

But also several buildings of modernist architecture, such as the Casinoo or the Gran Hotel, which makes a city very pleasant to walk.

In addition, Cartagena is now a city well prepared to facilitate your tourist visit.

This is undoubtedly thanks to the development of the brand project city Cartagena, Port of Cultures that in a coordinated way offers visitors an interesting proposal for cultural visits.

What to see in Cartagena in a shore excursion

If you are planning a cruise excursion the best option is to let us guide you… and you will be surprise by the wide knowledge of our tour guides.

Roman Theatre of Cartagena and arqueological sites such us such as the Casa de la Fortuna, the remains of a Roman house from the 1st century BC where you will see mosaics and paintings, but of course there are other archaeological remains from the Roman period that you can also visit in Cartagena,

Roman Forum Neighbourhood in Cartagena

located at the foot of one of the city’s small hills, the Molinete, the archaeological remains of an ancient Roman city block have been brought to light in recent years and can be visited from 2012.

Today you can walk about a thousand square meters on which have been placed an imposing iron structure of ships, with metal columns strategically placed to allow the view of the whole.

In these excavations you will find the remains of the so-called Casa del Atrio (House of the Atrium), of which its paintings stand out, many of which are in the process of restoration.

And you will also see some rooms of Roman thermal baths, with their peristyle, a patio of 600 square metres that precedes the thermal circuit.

Also noteworthy is the old Roman road from the 1st century that you will see under a nearby building, and thanks to a large glass window you will be able to see the great difference between its layout and that of the current streets that have covered it.

A tip to bear in mind is to take advantage of the possibility of visiting the aforementioned places (the Roman theatre, the forum Cartagena Bay Cruise

A different facet of your visit to Cartagena must be the bay cruise.

With a duration of about 45 minutes, you will sail through the bay of Cartagena and discover the importance it has had throughout history.

At the same time, you will see the numerous defensive batteries that are distributed throughout the mountains that surround them, among which is the canyon with the longest range among those installed on the Spanish coast, with 35 kilometers.

If you wish, you can make a stop and visit one of the coastal fortifications, the Christmas Fort.

ARQUA Museum in Cartagena

In our Visit to Cartagena there are some other things to do and visit, not only roman remains, next to the port you can visit the ARQUA, Museum of Underwater is the institution in charge of studying, valuing, investigating, preserving, disseminating and protecting the Spanish underwater cultural heritage. It is also home to the Permanent Observatory for the National Plan for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage.

These tasks are carried out in collaboration with the different regional governments and its research centres, and in cooperation with the States who partner with the UNESCO Convention.

Furthermore, the ARQUA has recently taken charge of the Odyssey’s treasure. The Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes frigate collection, which consists of more than 570,000 gold and silver coins from the late 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century.

The Naval Museum of Cartagena was opened on July 8, 1986. The original building was built under the direction of the architect Lorenzo Ros in 1926. Originall the building was used by the School of Apprentices of the Spanish Society of Naval Construction. The changed its name in 1947 to be called National Company Bazán . For some years it became the school Our Lady of the Rosary. Later the Navy recovered the building and converted it to the naval museum. The position of director was held by Captain Luis Delgado Bañón until January 8, 2011 when he retired. The current director is the captain of ship Jorge Madrid.

Recently, the museum has been moved to a new headquarters located in the city’s seafront, in the former Maritime Instruction Headquarters, a historical building from the mid-eighteenth century which was constructed by the military engineer Mateo Vodopich. The building is located in front of the Botes Basin. Since its construction in 1786, it has undergone different uses as the State Penitentiary Center (1824), Presidio (1910) or after the Spanish Civil War as Barracks for the Instruction of Sailors. Following the agreement signed in 2005 by the Ministry of Defense, the Autonomous Community of the Region of Murcia and the Polytechnic University of Cartagena the use of the building is shared between University and Naval Museum. The space dedicated to the Museum is located in the southern half of the ground floor of the building.

Finally, a visit to Cartagena won’t be complete if you don’t climb the Conception  Castle hill to see the panoramic views of the city and the bay, You can do this on foot, but the best thing to do is to take the Panoramic Lift, 45 metres high, which from Gisbert Street, east of the hill, allows you to reach the height of the castle that is home to a center for interpretation of the history of Cartagena in the Tribute Tower and other rooms of this old 13th century castle. From this medieval construction, built on a hill above the port of Cartagena to surveil and defend the city and its bay, the panoramic views are simply magnificent.


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