Cartagena Introduction Walking Tour, Cartagena

Cartagena Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Cartagena

Situated in the southeastern corner of Spain, in the province of Murcia, the city of Cartagena is a major naval station on the Iberian Mediterranean coast. Being the first of a number of cities worldwide named Cartagena, it has one of the most fascinating histories in all of Spain, inhabited for over two millennia by several great civilizations and cultures.

The town was founded around 227 BC by the Carthaginian military general Hasdrubal the Fair as a stepping-off point for the conquest of Spain and was called initially Qart Hadasht (Phoenician for "New Town"), a name identical to Carthage. In its heyday during the Roman Empire, the city was known as Carthago Nova (the New Carthage) and Carthago Spartaria, the capital of the province of Carthaginensis.

Much of Cartagena's historical significance stemmed from its coveted defensive port. As far back as the 16th century, it was one of the most important naval ports in Spain. Cartagena has been the capital of the Spanish Navy's Maritime Department of the Mediterranean since the arrival of the Spanish Bourbons in the 18th century. It is still an important naval seaport, the main military haven of Spain, and is home to a large naval shipyard.

The confluence of civilizations left behind a unique artistic heritage, with a number of landmarks such as the Roman Theatre, an abundance of Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, and Moorish remains, and a plethora of Art Nouveau architecture. The latter, notably the City Hall, resulted from the rise of the bourgeoisie in the early 20th century.

Presently, Cartagena is established as a major cruise ship destination in the Mediterranean and an emerging cultural focus. Calle Mayor, the bustling Main Street, provides a taste of local life and culture.

Albeit relatively small, the town has 12 museums, namely the Roman Theater Museum of Cartagena, the National Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology, and the Roman Forum Molinete Museum, to mention but a few. There are also several historical churches including the Cathedral of Saint Mary the Great (Catedral de Santa Maria La Mayor) and the Castle of the Conception (Castillo de la Concepción).

Cartagena is a history buff’s dream. Those with an affinity for history in particular, but also architecture aficionados, will find plenty to explore here. But even if you're simply a traveler seeking new experiences, Cartagena will have you engaged all the same. Don't miss the opportunity to discover the stories etched in its streets and buildings, as this captivating city awaits your exploration!
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Cartagena Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Cartagena Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Spain » Cartagena (See other walking tours in Cartagena)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • City Hall
  • Museo Del Teatro Romano (Roman Theater Museum of Cartagena)
  • Catedral de Santa Maria La Mayor (Cathedral of Saint Mary the Great)
  • Roman Theatre
  • Castillo de la Concepción (Castle of the Conception)
  • National Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology
  • Museo Foro Romano Molinete (Roman Forum Molinete Museum)
  • Calle Mayor (Main Street)
City Hall

1) City Hall

The Cartagena City Hall is one of the prominent modernist landmarks in the region. Designed by the Valladolid architect Tomás Rico Valarino, this magnificent structure was constructed between 1900 and 1907. The construction of the City Hall was a response to the thriving growth that Cartagena experienced in the early 20th century. The preexisting town hall, characterized by Herrerian style and dating back to the 16th century, had become inadequate to meet the demands of the city's expansion. Hence, in 1900, work commenced on the new Town Hall, replacing the old one, and culminated in 1907.

The Cartagena City Hall boasts a unique triangular architectural design. Its façade is entirely crafted from white marble, creating a striking visual contrast with the distinctive zinc domes that adorn the roof. The exterior of the building is adorned with recurring representations of the city's emblems: the castle of the Conception from the city's coat of arms and the mural crown, bestowed upon the city by the Roman general Scipio Africanus following his conquest of Carthago Nova.

Upon entering the building, one is immediately captivated by the grand imperial staircase. It serves as the focal point around which various municipal offices, including the plenary hall and the mayor's office, are arranged. The Cartagena City Hall also boasts an impressive collection of cast iron works, such as columns and lamps, that enhance its architectural splendor. Additionally, within its halls, a remarkable array of paintings depicting illustrious figures from the city's history, dating back to the 18th century, can be found.

Despite its grandeur, the Cartagena City Hall faced a significant challenge in its history due to its foundation being built on unstable reclaimed land from the sea. This poor foundation system led to a progressive process of structural deterioration, necessitating restoration efforts. In 1995, the building was temporarily closed for extensive restoration and consolidation works.

The restoration process, however, encountered delays and legal complications related to the construction contract, which prolonged the endeavor for eleven years. Finally, in 2006, the restoration and consolidation efforts were successfully completed, and the Cartagena City Hall once again radiates the same splendor that it possessed when inaugurated a century ago. This iconic building remains a testament to the architectural heritage of Cartagena and stands as a symbol of the city's growth and progress throughout its history.
Museo Del Teatro Romano (Roman Theater Museum of Cartagena)

2) Museo Del Teatro Romano (Roman Theater Museum of Cartagena)

The Roman Theater Museum of Cartagena, designed by architect Rafael Moneo, opened its doors on July 11, 2008. This exceptional institution is dedicated to the excavation, restoration, and preservation of the Roman theater of Cartagena, unveiling an archaeological treasure that remained hidden for centuries. The discovery of this theater in 1988 sheds new light on the historical importance of Cartagena in ancient Hispania during the Roman Empire.

The Roman theater remained concealed for so long due to the constant human activity in the area. Over time, various structures were built on top of its ruins, including part of the Cartagena Cathedral. This ongoing development obscured the theater's existence and led to its absence in historical records.

Architect Rafael Moneo's project aimed not only to restore the Roman theater but also to seamlessly integrate it into the city's urban fabric. It encompassed the theater's maintenance, conservation, and educational exhibition, accompanied by the construction of an adjoining museum and research center.

While the Roman Theater Museum offers a comprehensive glimpse into this historical gem, it's essential to note that many artifacts from the theater's era are housed in the Municipal Archaeological Museum of Cartagena. The Roman Theater Museum's collection serves as a prelude to the main attraction, preparing visitors for their exploration of the Roman theater itself.

To access the museum, visitors enter the Riquelme Palace, situated in one of Cartagena's most iconic areas, close to the Cartagena Town Hall Palace. The museum spans two interconnected buildings, linked by an underground tunnel beneath the street. The Riquelme Palace houses the entrance hall, assembly room, cafeteria, museum shop, a temporary exhibition space, and a corridor detailing the theater's history. The second building hosts the museum's permanent collections and provides access to the awe-inspiring Roman theater.
Catedral de Santa Maria La Mayor (Cathedral of Saint Mary the Great)

3) Catedral de Santa Maria La Mayor (Cathedral of Saint Mary the Great)

The Cathedral of Saint Mary the Great, holds a unique and revered place in Cartagena, with a rich history that intertwines legends, faith, and architectural heritage. This historic cathedral is traditionally believed to be the site of the first church founded by Saint James, known as Santiago in Spain, during the early 1st century AD. Legend has it that Saint James landed in Cartagena on a mission to spread the Christian faith throughout Spain.

Commemorating this significant event, a statue stands in the port, honoring the apostle's landing. From here, the Region of Murcia has established its own pilgrimage route, akin to the famous Camino de Santiago, which leads pilgrims to Caravaca de la Cruz.

The cathedral's history reflects the city's fortification during the 14th century, as a defensive wall encompassed the cathedral and connected to the Castillo de la Concepción. While some remnants of the original structure, including columns and chapels, are still visible, substantial reconstruction occurred in the 16th century. Notably, Juan Bautista Antonelli built the Capilla de los Cuatro Santos, which housed the image of Nuestra Señora del Rosell, who was the city's patron at that time.

In the 17th century, the Capilla del Cristo del Socorro was added by Pedro de Colón y Portugal, the Duke of Veragua. This expansion included the construction of a dome and interior and exterior redecoration using stucco and plaster.

However, the cathedral faced a significant challenge during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, when it was nearly destroyed by aerial bombardments. Despite the damage, a small part of the cathedral was used for religious ceremonies until the late 20th century, with archaeological excavations beginning in 1958.

The cathedral has been closely intertwined with the Roman Theatre Museum, incorporating remnants of the ancient Roman theatre within its structure. An underground crypt beneath the cathedral also revealed the presence of Roman mosaics, connecting the modern structure to the city's ancient past.

Today, the Catedral de Santa Maria La Mayor has evolved into a versatile venue. It serves as an atmospheric setting for concerts during the Cartagena Mar de Músicas festival, adding another layer of cultural significance to this historic site.
Roman Theatre

4) Roman Theatre (must see)

The Roman Theater in Cartagena is a remarkable archaeological site that carries a rich history dating back to the first century BCE. It was constructed between 5 and 1 BCE, dedicated to Gaius and Lucius Caesar, the grandsons of Emperor Augustus, who intended them to be his successors.

Throughout the centuries, the theater witnessed various transformations. In the 3rd century, a market was erected above it, cleverly reusing its materials and maintaining a semi-circular layout reminiscent of the theater's orchestra. However, the market likely fell into disuse after a fire caused by the Vandals in 425 CE. Later, during the 6th century, the Byzantines established a market district on the site.

In the 13th century, the Old Cathedral of the city was constructed atop the upper cavea, further obscuring the theater's existence. It wasn't until 1988 that the first remains of the theater were rediscovered during the construction of the Centro regional de artesanía. The subsequent archaeological excavations and restoration work, completed in 2003, unveiled this ancient treasure. In 2008, a museum designed by Rafael Moneo was inaugurated, providing visitors with valuable insights into the theater's historical significance.

The Roman Theater was ingeniously carved into the rocks, particularly in its central section, where it presides over a series of vaulted galleries. This magnificent structure could accommodate around 6,000 spectators and was divided horizontally into three parts: ima, media, and summa cavea. Radial sectors were created by a network of staircases, with five in the upper section, seven in the medium and upper tiers.

Two side passages (aditus) served as entry points for the audience, revealing inscriptions dedicated to the theater's benefactors. The orchestra boasted a semicircular design and featured three rows of wooden seats for dignitaries (proedria). The stage, known as the proscenium, extended for an impressive length of 43.60 meters. The scaenae frons, the stage backdrop, was adorned with three semicircular exedras and adorned with two orders of columns. These columns boasted bases and capitals made from Luni's marble, while the shafts were crafted from pink travertine of Mula.

The stage edifice reached a towering height of 14.60 meters and featured notable elements, including three round altars dedicated to the Capitoline Triad and Apollo's associated divinities, such as the Graces, Muses, and Horae. Statues of Apollo playing the lyre and Rhea Silvia were also found nearby.

Situated behind the stage building was a portico, the porticus post scaenam, featuring a double porticoed gallery encircling a central garden. This well-preserved site allows visitors to step back in time and experience the grandeur of Roman theater and culture.
Castillo de la Concepción (Castle of the Conception)

5) Castillo de la Concepción (Castle of the Conception)

The Castle of the Conception, also known as the Asdrúbal Castle, is a medieval fortress that dates back to the 13th or 14th century, perched atop the hill of the same name that overlooks Cartagena. This castle holds significant historical and architectural importance, and it is even featured on the city's coat of arms.

The origins of the first structures on this hill have a degree of uncertainty, but historical records and recent archaeological restorations have shed light on its fascinating history. According to the Greek historian Polybius, during Roman times, a temple dedicated to the god Aesculapius stood on this hill. Evidence of this ancient past was uncovered during the recent castle restoration. The first floor of the castle was found to be constructed by repurposing Roman-made cisterns, which may have originally belonged to the temple of Aesculapius or some other Byzantine-era building.

While it was commonly believed that Cartagena had largely disappeared during the period of Muslim rule, historical sources indicate otherwise. The city had some degree of significance from the 10th century onwards, particularly in the 12th century. The remains of the city's Arab settlement have been discovered through various archaeological excavations in the old town, notably in the vicinity of the Roman theater.

A closer look at the castle's structures and ruins revealed that it concealed remnants of towers that were part of a 12th-century Muslim citadel. The castle's lantern, a surviving structure from the Arab era, was once used as a lighthouse. The layout of the Castle of Cartagena bears a striking resemblance to the castles of Aledo and Lorca, sharing common stonemason marks.

During the reign of King Alfonso, the Order of Saint Mary of Spain was established in Cartagena to bolster naval efforts against Muslim forces. However, a series of naval disasters in which most of the order's ships were lost led to the order's dissolution. Consequently, the strategic importance of the Port of Cartagena waned, and the castle remained incomplete.

The entrance to the castle was marked by a grand monumental arch flanked by two towers known as the "Puerta de la Villa," providing access to the entire walled area of the castle. The Castle of the Conception stands as a testament to Cartagena's rich and diverse history, from its ancient Roman roots to the era of Muslim rule and beyond, preserving the architectural and cultural heritage of the region.
National Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology

6) National Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology (must see)

The National Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology is a unique institution dedicated to the fascinating world of underwater archaeology. The museum boasts an extensive collection of artifacts recovered from shipwrecks, spanning from the Phoenician period to the 19th century. This treasure trove of submerged history provides invaluable insights into the maritime past of the region.

One of the museum's most remarkable acquisitions was made on December 2, 2012, when it received a significant cargo of gold and silver coins. These precious treasures were retrieved from the wreck of the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. The 14.5 tons of coins were carefully deposited in the museum to undergo cataloging, in-depth study, and, ultimately, permanent display. This extraordinary collection not only serves as a testament to the rich maritime heritage of Cartagena but also offers visitors a captivating journey through centuries of nautical history.

The National Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology provides a window into the world beneath the waves, where history is waiting to be discovered and shared. It stands as a testament to the enduring human connection with the sea and the invaluable knowledge that can be gleaned from exploring the depths of our past.
Museo Foro Romano Molinete (Roman Forum Molinete Museum)

7) Museo Foro Romano Molinete (Roman Forum Molinete Museum) (must see)

The Roman Forum Molinete Museum serves as the gateway to one of the largest urban archaeological parks in Spain. The museum's various halls house a carefully curated collection of artifacts that allow visitors to delve into the rich history of Cerro del Molinete, stretching from the present day all the way back to the ancient Carthago Nova.

During your visit to the museum, you'll have the opportunity to explore significant remnants from the glorious Roman era. These include:

The Curia (Local Senate): This area features a beautifully decorated marble pavement. It was a place where local leaders would gather for political discussions and decision-making.

The Colonial Forum: This was the heart of the city, symbolizing the hierarchy between the divine and the human at various levels. It was a central gathering place for the people of Carthago Nova.

The Sanctuary of Isis: This site was dedicated to the worship of Egyptian gods and was used for mystery cult ceremonies. It offers insights into the religious practices of the time.

Old Roads with Cart Tracks: You can see remnants of the ancient roadways and cart tracks that once crisscrossed the city, providing a glimpse into the transportation infrastructure of the Roman period.

The Port's Thermal Baths: The thermal baths were an essential part of Roman life, and you can explore their remains here. Additionally, the magnificent entrance portico with its original flooring is a sight to behold.

The Atrium Building: This building boasts high walls and pictorial decorations that provide a vivid portrayal of the grand banquets that were a part of Roman culture.

Visiting the Roman Forum Molinete Museum is not just an educational experience but also a journey back in time to the days of Carthago Nova's Roman splendor. It offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the history, culture, and architecture of this ancient city.
Calle Mayor (Main Street)

8) Calle Mayor (Main Street) (must see)

Main Street is a charming pedestrian-only avenue that offers a captivating experience of the city's vibrant essence. Whether you're an architecture enthusiast, a shopping aficionado, or someone who loves sipping coffee while observing the world pass by, this street has something for everyone.

Main Street stands as the primary retail district in Cartagena, boasting an array of shopping opportunities. As you wander down this picturesque street, you'll come across department stores, fashionable boutiques, and jewelry shops, making it a shopaholic's paradise. The blue marble tiles that pave the street are reserved for pedestrians, encouraging leisurely exploration.

The allure of Main Street extends beyond shopping. It is home to a plethora of restaurants, cafes, and bars, many of which offer outdoor terraces where you can sit and savor local cuisine while basking in the city's lively atmosphere. The architectural backdrop enhances the overall experience, with elegant Modernista-style buildings framing the street.

While Main Street is undoubtedly the heart of the action, don't forget to venture into the narrow side streets that branch off from it. These charming alleys often hide hidden gems, from quaint shops to cozy cafes, each with its unique character waiting to be discovered. So, whether you're seeking retail therapy, delectable dining, or simply a leisurely stroll, Calle Mayor is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the authentic spirit of Cartagena.

Walking Tours in Cartagena, Spain

Create Your Own Walk in Cartagena

Create Your Own Walk in Cartagena

Creating your own self-guided walk in Cartagena is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Roman Ruins Walking Tour

Roman Ruins Walking Tour

The picturesque Spanish coastal town of Cartagena is famously packed with historic monuments. The many layers of its ancient and maritime history date all the way back to its Carthaginian founding in 227 BC. While the harbor area is defended by forts, the town itself is walled and dotted with Roman ruins.

Among the prominent sites here is the Roman Theater Museum of Cartagena (Museo Del Teatro...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles