The port of Cartagena, on the Mediterranean Costa Cálida, has been appreciated since Carthaginians times. It is not a coincidence that this city was the main Carthaginian centre in Spain, and also the place from which Hannibal departed to start the Second Punic War. Because of its strategic position along the Murcia coastline, it was inhabited by different cultures, and each left traces of their historical and artistic developments. A visit to the city and its museums will enable us to connect with the history of a city that has a strong connection with the sea.
This maritime town that attracted the interest of Carthaginians and Romans, owes its current name to the ancient Latin name Cartago Nova. Cartagena was also Arab, until its re-conquest by Ferdinand III the Holy, who annexed it to the Kingdom of Castile.
The rich heritage of Cartagena extends to the piers of the tourist harbour. The Sea Walls, built under Charles III (18th century), mark the the border of the historical centre, with the City Hall, a jewel of early 20th century modernist architecture, at the entrance.
Going towards Parco Torres (behind the sea walls), we find the Ancient Cathedral. This is Cartagena’s most ancient church (13th century), whose remains rest on the steps of a Roman Theatre that was discovered in 1987. Built in the 1st century BC, together with the one in Merida is one of Spain’s most important. The remains found in this site can be seen in the Museum of the Roman Theatre.
Another element with a clear reference to the sea can be found right in front of the Mediterranean sea: the prototype of the submarine invented by Isaac Peral, a celebrated son of this city. The National Museum of Submarine Archaeology ARQUA ( on Paseo Alfonso XII, 22) hosts the National Centre for Underwater Research, whose discoveries improve our knowledge of ancient naval construction, commerce and navigation.
The archaeological area of Molinete, the colonnade of Morería Baja and the Bizantine walls, that are actually Roman despite their name, are further testimony of the city’s splendour in Roman times. The Augusteum and Decumano are especially worth a visit. The former holds the remains of the ancient forum, a major public building, judging from its luxury marble flooring. The latter is a site annexed to the Quarter of the Roman Forum, a tourist area where several rooms of the city’s Roman Baths are located. On the other hand, the Casa de la Fortuna, built in the 1st century BC and owned by an affluent family, provides an example of what life was like during the Roman Empire.
Inside the Torres park lies the Castle of Concepción. Built atop a hill, it has been a fortress for Carthaginians, Romans, Visigots, Arabs and Castilans and today it hosts the Centre for the Interpretation of the History of Medieval Cartagena. In fact, military defence buildings have always featured in the city. One example is Forte Navidad, built in mid 19th century and today Centre for the Interpretation of Defensive Military Architecture of Cartagena and the Mediterranean. We also recommend visiting the Refuge-Museum of Civil War, a series of galleries used during the war for protection against air raids.
In order to find Cartagena’s modernist architecture, you need to take via Mayor, which starts from Town square, and its surroundings. Here you find the Casa Cervantes and Casa Llagostera, the work of Cartagena architect Victor Beltrí, characterised by belvederes, wrought iron works and bronze relief with allegorical figures. Other representative buildings of this artistic strand are the Casinò, the Gran Hotel, the Railway Station and the Casa Maestre and Casa Dorda. These are elegant bourgeois monuments that speak of the economic development of this region, driven by mining and industry between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The modernist Aguirre palace (with a modernist building attached, hosting the Regional Museum of Modern Art MURAM) and neoclassical Pedreño palace are more aristocratic.
Also, the Punic Walls are found on Mount Aletes, one of the five hills surrounding Cartagena. The fishing quarter of Santa Lucia is also worth visiting.
Every year, the city hosts important cultural events, such as the World Music Festival “A Sea of Music” In the second half of September, historical festivals of Carthaginians and Romans re-enact the founding of the city by the Carthaginians and its Roman conquest.
The local cuisine deserves its own chapter. The landscape variety in Murcia means that at the table, garden produce meets sea and inland products. Without any doubt, in Cartagena pickles, fish, caldero" (a brothy fish risotto) and paella triumph. Salt from the many Mediterranean salt works is used to prepare pickles (tuna, or mackerel, especially) and cook fish under salt, like bream. Mullet and grouper or anglerfish soups.... come with rice cooked in the fish’s broth, which is eaten separately with garlic mayonnaise. Among the local specialities are fig bread, and "asiatico", coffee with condensed milk, cognac and cinnamon.
To taste the many regional special dishes you’ll need to visit the north west, Sierra di Moratalla, Caravaca de la Cruz and Calasparra, where Spain’s only rice with Protected Designation of Origin is produced. Rice is undoubtedly the main ingredient of a long list of recipes, such as risotto with snails or creamed with celery and turkey. Vega del Segura leads to places like Cieza, Archena (and its spa) or Molina del Segura (and its golf course), where green asparagus, beet soup or rabbit with chestnuts are some of the local delicacies.