If this house has a name, it remains a mystery to me. But I liked it, especially as it was surrounded by nondescript apartment blocks. In Cartagena, it is always a good idea to look up...street level doesn't always excite, but look up a couple of floors, and often the buildings have very decorative rooftops or balconies.
Climbing down the hill on the opposite side from the ascensor, you descend into the grounds of the Roman theatre, Cartagena's prime attraction. I don't know if you're meant to pay if you decide to enter via the new museum just off Calle Mayor, but nobody asked me to show a ticket...maybe it is free, or maybe I slipped in unnoticed.
Anyway, tickets aside, the theatre is quite interesting, although you can see it has been heavily restored, clumsily in parts. If you've visited Roman theatres in Syria (the one at Bosra springs to mind) or Jordan (Amman and Jerash have good ones), then you can skip this one...but if you're in Cartagena for the day, there's no need to miss it out. Parts of the theatre are open for clamberings, and there are some exhibitions in the vaults to one side (actually part of the museum, so if you've entered via the castle, you'll be going against the flow getting in everyone's way. There looks to be a ruined church next to the theatre which I wanted to see, but couldn't find a way inside. Strangely, even though it could be a very good attraction if opened one day, there is no mention of it on any map or guidebook.
Having looked at the Rough Guide's entry for Cartagena, I'm even more surprised that they didn't even include the Roman Theatre! Have the researchers even bothered to visit Cartagena?
To enter the castle, which was built using bits and pieces looted from various Roman structures, you have to climb to the very top of the hill and pay what seemed a larger fee for such a tiny building. If you're imagining an enormous castle, think again...it is more like a tower on top of the hill, containing a small museum. So I decided against going inside, and contented myself with the sometimes spectacular 360 views of Cartagena. If you're desperate to see a bit of castle without paying, there is a small tower next to a children's playground just at the top of the Ascensor (lift).
The hill is a park, free to enter, which you can reach by climbing up many steps if you're masochistic, or by ascensor from next to the Civil War Bunker.
I really wanted to go inside this museum. But when I found it the first time, there was just ten minutes until it closed for lunch, so I decided to come back later. By the time I'd found my way back here, I only had half an hour to get back to the dreaded ship....so maybe some readers might wonder why I'm bothering to write about it at all.
Well, I'm including it here because I happen to like the enormous black and white photos advertising the museum. As well as decorating the walls of prominent buildings around town, these powerful photographs of elderly men and women covering their ears or scrunching up their eyes as if to shut out the horrors of war...they cover the walls of the museum and are really quite striking. As I prepared to take a photo, an old man with a stick happened to walk in front of one of the photos, and unbeknown to him, struck a pose.
Cartagena's bullring must have been something in the not too distant past. It was only built a century ago...but is now just a shell of its former self. Maybe bullfighting is no longer acceptable in Cartagena, so the bullring no longer operates as one, and stands empty. However, there are signs that it may be restored soon, as scaffolding covers the entrance.
Opposite is another grand building, the former Naval Hospital, now a medical school. What could be an attractive square is a rubbly car park at present...but in a couple of years, who knows.
Tucked behind the bullring is an odd little structure, looking a bit like a Muslim turbe (a tomb-type building) with a domes roof. Apparently it stands on the site of a Roman amphitheatre, but there is no mention of what it might be. Anyone know?
From the plaza, I followed the walls until I came to a small hill. I thought I might get a good view of Cartagena from the top, but the litter and a few shady characters loitering on the slopes put me off, so I continues until the walls reappeared, in a slightly run-down area. A dark yellow church made me think I was possibly in the other Cartagena across the Atlantic, but a Roman gate next door soon stamped that thought out.
The walls in this part pre-date the Romans...they were built by the original Carthaginians under the orders of Hannibal's son or nephew (or some relative anyway), and if you are interested in that sort of thing, there is an "Interpretation Centre" set into the walls a bit further on. The most impressive section of wall forms part of a park, directly opposite the bus station, while on the inside of the walls, the Cerro Despenaperros has a badly preserved tower trying not to crumble down the slopes.
Looking east, you can't fail to notice what looks like a castle on a hilltop above what might be quite an interesting residential area. I've no idea what this is, as it isn't marked on any maps, but it is obviously very old and was important at some point. The Cartagena tourist bosses obviously don't think it is worthy of restoration...and as it is quite a distance from the centre of town, I decided against investigating.
Leaving my family on Calle Mayor, I blundered through some of the backstreets behind Molinete Hill and emerged by accident in Plaza Juan XXIII, an open space with some unusual sculptures around a pool with koi carp. Part of the park bordered the walls, which have become a feature...restored and incorporated into a posh looking restaurant. Look out for the tiny figure climbing up the wall with a look of menace on his face, about to infiltrate the restaurant and maul a few posh diners. The walls end in a series of archways under which lurks a shady cafe.
Calle Mayor, the main street of Cartagena, is narrow and pedestrian and filled with restaurants and cafes. Don't forget to look up...some of the buildings are quite ecclectic and colourful. My favourite was this deep red and pink one, now the Cafe de Indias...unfortunately all the best tables were gone, and anyway there was some construction work going on just next door, so we carried on to the Cafe di Roma up the road for a streetside coffee.
As I mentioned before, Cartagena is a city of street art, and Plaza del Ayuntamiento has plenty, from the severed heads lying in the grass by the old town walls to the life size metal postman dragging his heavy sack towards Calle Mayor. On the walls, look out for the mosaic and a tiled display of Cartagena's history. Other Cartagena characters in steel sit on benches and contemplate the humans walking past....I did take photos of these sitting alongside my brother, but can't find them at the moment.
Cartagena has a very impressive Ayuntamiento (town hall)...I'm not sure what style of architecture this is, but it is very ornate and striking. It now houses a tourist information office, although it was shut on that day, so I can't tell you if the interior matches the exterior. What i didn't notice straight away was the mural on one of the sides...close up, it tends to blend in with the colours of the building, but from afar you can easily make out the profile of an old man's face. I'm assuming this has something to do with the Civil War Bunker museum, which has a series of similar black and white photos of elderly faces on its walls. From up the hill behind the Roman theatre, you also notice these photos on other buildings around the city.
Just in front of the town hall, a monument to soldiers of the Spanish army who fought in Cuba stands in a shady plaza, palm trees on all sides. It was not a very busy little square...in fact the only other people in there were old men asleep on the benches.
Cartagena is a city of street art...something it had in common with Vigo, another underrated city our cruise stopped at. If this is an initiative to make cities more attractive, I think it is working. Anyway, at the end of the waterfront, you are suddenly confronted by the tailfin of a whale waving at you from the water...it looks quite realistic from a distance. From here you also get a good view of Cartagena's naval base, with steep mountains beyond.
Many naval and military attractions belong to this route:
The Civil War shelter-museum, on the galleries excavated out the Concepción hill to serve as air-raid shelters during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
The Naval Museum.
The Submarine invented by Isaac Peral, shown on the Cartagena's seafront.
The Monument to the Heroes of Santiago de Cuba and Cavite (1923): a war memorial erected in honour of the Spanish sailors died during the war with the US navy in waters of Cavite and Santiago, off the Cuba's and Philippines’ coasts.
The Lift-Gangway near the former Bullring and the Concepcion hill.
The Regional Assembly (the Parlament of the Region of Murcia), a building with a façade which has architectural influences of the Renaissance while maintaining a modernist air.
The Carmen Conde-Antonio Moliner museum: it reconstructs the atmosphere in which these poets from Cartagena created part of their important works.
As a result of the growth of the local mining industry, the Bourgeoisie settled down in the city and began to build their own houses. There is a great amount of art nouveau buildings from early 20th century. The City Hall, the Grand Hotel, the Casino are good examples.
Other modernist or eclectic houses include the Clares House, the Aguirre Palace (which houses the Regional Museum of Modern Art), the Cervantes House , the Llagostera House, the Pedreño Palace, the Dorda House, the Zapata House and the Urban Expansion Company House.
Ruins from the Carthaginian ages: the remains of the Punic rampart (built in 227 b.C.)
Ruins of the Roman Empire: the recently restored Roman theater of Carthago Nova.
The Roman Amphitheatre (I century a.C.): the Bullring was built on the ruins. Only some of the surrounding walls and part of the rooms under the stands are still visible.
Other roman remains are the Roman colonnade, the House of Fortune, the Decumanus and the Augusteum. The Torre Ciega (Blind Tower) was built by the Romans for burials rights, and it formed part of the Necropolis.
Santa María la Vieja Cathedral, from the XIII century, was irreversibly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. It can be accessed from the Roman Theater Museum. A decorated floor of a Roman house of the I century b.C. can be found in the crypt. Also a Byzantine rampart can be found, between the Roman theater and the Cathedral.
The Concepción Castle (now Centre for Interpretation of the History of Cartagena) was reconstructed in the XIII century using big structures from the Amphitheater.
There are three important archaeological museums: the Roman Theater museum, the Municipal Archaeological Museum and ARQUA (National Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology).