|Cartagena is the closest city to Playa Paraiso.
It is an easy 15 - 20 minute drive along the motorway (follow the signs) and is well worth a visit. Do not be put off by the rather scruffy appearance of the buildings and the industrial sites as you approach the city.
There is a wealth of history and architecture to see as well as the attractive port area where there is a mixture of old and new buildings. The ancient city of Cartagena was founded by the Carthaginians in the year 227BC. It rapidly became a main trading port and at one time was widely recognised as being one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world.
It has always been a major port due to its natural harbour and its strategic position on the Mediterranean coast and has played an important role in the history of the region and of Spain itself.
The city is surrounded by five hills which in theory made the city easy to defend. Many of the forts, castles and guns built for this purpose can still be seen today.
These days Cartagena is still sustained by its role as a seaport and large naval base with many related buildings scattered throughout the city such as the Naval Headquarters, Artillery Headquarters, Dockyard Gate and the Midshipman's School There is also a very good naval museum.
| In the port area you can see the Peral Submarine,
the first practical submarine ever built. The designer was born in Cartagena
and launched the submarine there in 1888. There are several cafes/bars fronting
the port and it is very relaxing to sit there with a drink and watch the
comings and goings in the harbour.
You can take a trip around the harbour with Barco Turístico (Tourist Catamaran) and find about the history of the harbour, local stories and legends. The trip lasts about 45 minutes and there is an English commentary, albeit rather 'Janet and John'. We were disappointed not to learn any of the "words that only sailors use" as promised at the start of the trip!
Although much of Cartagena's Roman history has long gone, there are sites that have been excavated, such as the Roman Amphitheatre (dated 1st Century BC) parts of which have been dugout from under the Bullring that was erected over it in 1854.
Work is ongoing to restore many of the other important buildings in the city and some are now open to the public and well worth a visit. This includes Concepción Castle which sits above the harbour on top of Concepción Hill (the highest of the five hills in the city) and can be accessed by a scenic lift and rather exposed, wobbly walkway. For those of you who do not like heights, I would suggest that you walk up instead.
The air raid shelters which were carved out of the hill, and used mainly during the Spanish Civil War, can also be accessed via the lift.
The views once you reach the Castle are spectacular. On a clear day you can see all over the city and there are labelled line drawings displayed along each aspect to help you distinguish all the important landmarks. Inside the castle itself (don't be deceived by the name it is actually quite small and built in the shape of a square) there are different types of displays depicting the history of the city. You can also walk through Torres Park below the Castle where peacocks are often to be found wondering around.
Whilst close to Concepción Hill you can visit the Roman Theatre that was discovered by accident in 1987. The Theatre dates from the 1st century BC and was once considered the finest in Spain. Items such as sculptures, reliefs and altar stones that were found at this site can be seen in the Municipal Archaeological Museum.
Other places which we understand are worthy of a visit (to be honest they are still on our 'to visit' list so we do not have any first hand knowledge) include the remains of Cartagena's 13th Century Cathedral of Santa Maria, the remains of the Punic Ramparts (the city was walled as a result of the Punic Wars), the Crypt of San José Hermitage which is located in the Punic Walls Interpretation Centre and Fortuna House which has the remains of two dwellings either side of a stretch of Roman road and has some exquisite paintings on the walls and floors.
|For or more information and an excellent street map
of Cartagena do visit one of the two friendly tourist offices. They are located
either close to the bus station at the end of Calle San Diego or on the road
opposite the port, Paseo de Alfonso XII.
We must also add a note about shopping. There are many excellent shops in Cartagena including El Corte Inglés, a very large and up market department store. There are signs all over the city directing you to it, so it is easy to find. There is also a sizeable Carrefour and Eroski.
In late 2006 a large retail park opened. This is on your right as you enter the city from Playa Paraiso. Shops (and they all seem to be enormous) include Decathlon (sports), Media Mart (computers, TVs, and domestic electrical appliances) and Leroy Merlin. This last shop is an expanded version of Homebase and B&Q selling everything from very large 12 kw generators down to screws and doorknobs. We went on the day it opened and it was full of very excited, noisy Spanish people!
If you are exhausted by all this sightseeing (and maybe shopping) there are many parks and shaded squares, particularly in the old part of the town, were you can take a break. Possibly even more appealing, there are many good bars and restaurants were you can sit and eat/drink and watch the world go by.
Cartagena is an especially welcoming place. The Cartagenians seem enthusiastic and proud of their city and their history is very well presented. (The less said about their driving the better.)
The Spanish love a good festival and an example is the Carthaginians & Romans Festival which takes every year in September/October. There is a lot of serious dressing up, boat races, eating, concerts, processions, fireworks and the occasional parachutist landing on your head.
So check at the tourist information centres and see what's happening when you are around.
Train service from Los Nietos to Cartagena - Aerial Photographs of Cartagena
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(c)2007 C Edwards