Why Visit Cartagena, Spain?
- Impressive and readily accessible Roman ruins.
- Rich ancient history.
- Beautiful Art Nouveau architecture lining streets of marble.
- Easily walkable.
- Spanish charm and culture without crowds.
Our repeat Disney TransAtlantic Cruise brought us here for the first time. Here is what we found.
Cartagena credits Hannibal of Carthage with its founding. Others say it was actually his uncle. This city of New Carthage was to be a staging area for Carthage to conquer Spain, and then for Hannibal to take his elephants over the Alps to invade Rome.
Within 20 years, Rome conquered Cartagena and it became an important sea port. The Romans left a heavy footprint which is still visible to this day. After the fall of Rome, the city faded into obscurity for centuries.
Almost 400 years ago, Spain made Cartagena headquarters of its Mediterranean fleet and it has remained so since. Mining brought wealth at the turn of the 20th century.
Ancient Roman ruins dot the city Outside of Rome, these are the most impressive that I have seen. The three main sites are the Casa de la Fortuna, the amphitheater, and the forum.
Tours through each of these can be taken for a small entrance fee. If you have the time and the interest, then each is well worth while. With the exception of the Casa de la Fortuna, you can easily view the sites without the tours. We chose to skip the tours, so, we missed the 1st century Roman home, Casa de la Fortuna.
The 6000 seat Roman Amphitheater is impeccably well preserved. The entrance and museum are located on Calle Mayor to the west of town. Excellent views from above can be seen from top of the hill at the Parque Alfonso Torres on the east of town.
Archeological digs continue at the Roman Forum. I watched while the archeologists meticulously worked.
The forum lies along the north side of downtown along Calle Honda. You can peak in here through the slats of the fence.
A short detour up a hill into the Parque Arqueological Cerro del Molinete offers great unobstructed views.
The park itself is nice. Flowers line the paths and lead to more ruins and abandoned windmills
Calle Mayor/Main Street is a pedestrian only promenade that stretches for over a mile along the west side of downtown. The entire street, along with the adjoining side streets, are paved with marble. The beauty is stunning.
Art Nouveau and Modernista architecture line the street. Locals go about their normal days filling coffee shops and tapas bars. You can find tourist shops, but this brilliant stretch caters to its residents. Our family thoroughly enjoyed strolling along and taking it all in.
On Calle Honda to the north, Casa Maestra evokes the Modernista architectural style of Anton Gaudi. It stands on the broad Plaza de San Francisco with huge trees providing shade. It is now abandoned, but the facade, reminiscent of Casa Mila in Barcelona, is worth a look.
For 4 Euros, the panoramic elevator saves your legs and takes you to the top of the hill in the center of Cartagena. The elevator reminds you of the famous elevator in Lisbon, Portugal; although this one is not as visually interesting.
Parque Alfonso Torres
The prominent hill in the middle of Cartagena is called Alfonso Torres Park. This park houses the Castillo de la Concepcion, the Museum of the Spanish Civil War, a nice trail, and a wonderful panorama of the city, including a look directly over the Roman Amphitheater.
Old Bull Ring
Last used in 1986, Roman ruins have been found beneath it, and now, it too is an archeological site. It is closed off to the public. You can peak inside, though in one of the corners. You will also find great views from the Parque Alfonso Torres.
An Easy Walk
From our cruise ship, I walked a little over 2 miles/3.2 km and saw everything. If you skip the Parque Arqueological Cerro del Molinete with elevated views of the forum and take the elevator to the top of Parque Alfonso Torres, then you travel closer to 1.5 miles/2.5 km. Easy!
Heading out from the cruise terminal, turn left/ west on Paseo Alfonso XII. Take a right at the Monumento a los Heroes de Cavite. Follow Calle Mayor past the Palacio Consistorial. Enjoy your walk!
In about a kilometer, turn right on Calle Honda. Or, continue on for as long as you wish, After entering Calle Honda, almost immediately look to the left for the entrance to the Roman Forum, or through the fence for a free glimpse. Veer to the left on Calle Balcones Azules for more views and for access to the Parque Arqueologico Cerro del Molinete.
After visiting the park, retrace your steps, cross Calles Balcones Azules and Calle Honda into the Plaza de San Francisco. On the left side of the plaza is the Casa Maestra. Crossing diagonally through the plaza, continue east. You will pass the Augusteum, a museum of Roman artifacts.
Turn right on Calle Gisbert and head back toward the harbor. You will see the Panoramic elevator ahead and the bullring to the left of it. Walking access to the Parque Torres is just a little further on the right.
After visiting these sites, walk down Calle Gisbert to Paseo Alfonso XII. Turn right and proceed back to your ship.
Cartagena does not attract the crowds of Barcelona or other popular cruise and vacation destinations. I never felt like I was in a tourist trap or even surrounded by tourists. I heard several residents asking about the crowds and laughing about the “Mickey Mouse Ship.” Several local children posed for photos in front the Disney Magic.
Overall Impression of Cartagena
Cartagena provided a nice last port on our second Disney Transatlantic Cruise, before disembarking in Barcelona. We appreciated the history, the beauty, the vibe, and how easy it was to navigate. Our whole family enjoyed a relaxed day in this beautiful Spanish city.
I really cannot believe that more people have not discovered Cartagena. If you are touring southern Spain, or are taking a Spanish cruise, try not to miss the Roman Ruins and Marble Streets of Cartagena, Spain.