A Tale of Two Cruises - early winter 2009 travel blog

Roman ruins

Roman ruins

war memorial

newstand

submarine

town

town

town

town

town


We didn't know much about Cartagena and had no real expectations about what it would be like or why the ship was stopping here. Well, this town may not be on the tourist map yet, but it will be soon. Here's the story:

Things began in 227BC when Carthaginians from what is Tunisia today, built a town here. Four hundred years later they were defeated by the Romans as they swept around the Mediterranean conquering everyone. As part of their defeat, the Carthaginians were required to pay silver coins in reparations. They knew of silver ore nearby and quickly paid up. The Romans wondered how this debt could be settled so quickly and looked for those mines and pretty well cleaned them out. They named this city New Carthage in Latin, Cartagena today. When Augustus Caesar wanted to install his grandson as his successor and worried that he would not be accepted by the populace, he made a grand tour of the area and bought the locals' affection when he had an amphitheater built here. Rome fell and various other conquerors came in including the Moors from Northern Africa who turned the amphitheater into a mosque and later the Christians turned the mosque into a church. Eventually it all was forgotten and covered over.

As modern plumbing was invented, a sudden need for lead to make all the pipes caused the locals to return to those mines the Romans had taken the silver from all those years ago. Poor men who dug their holes in the right spot, suddenly found themselves wealthy from the lead mines beyond their wildest dreams. They returned to Cartagena and hired the best architects they could find to build the fanciest buildings they could imagine. Gaudi, who built some spectacular buildings in Barcelona, designed some here as well. In modern times Cartagena became a major location for the Spanish navy. The first submarine was invented here and is still on display. Numerous statues honor the exploits of the men of the sea. It was odd to see one honoring the war dead from the Spanish American War and realize that it was honoring our enemies at the time.

After Franco's dictatorship ended with his death in the 1970's, this part of Spain withered and almost died. The navy was vastly reduced in size and unemployment was rampant. When Spain became part of the European Union, funds came to the area and provided a stimulus which was obvious today. The old mansions from the lead mining days were restored. As new buildings were constructed, they ran into Roman ruins and have begun unearthing them. These ruins are vast and untouched and will be a major draw to the area when the excavations are finished. The ruins we saw today had the ruins of a mosque and the ruins of a church wedged in between the parts of the amphitheater. Stones were used and reused. In some ways the lack of attention paid to this part of the Spanish coast provides a special opportunity today to develop it responsibly. Within a twenty minute drive, the area boasts unspoiled sunny beaches that aren't lined with condos as the Costa del Sol is.

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