From the 18th Century, a series of gun batteries were built around Cartagena Bay from Cabo Tiñoso to Cabo Negrete to defend the port from attack. Two of the most magnificent remnants, albeit from later times in the 20th Century, are to be found at opposite sides of the bay – at Cabo Tiñoso and near Portman.
When we first came to the Mazarrón area, one of the most talked about local features was “the guns”. The guns of Cabo Tiñoso are indeed a unique feature and, in all truth, one to marvel at. They provide a fascinating day out. The drive to the guns is also amidst beautiful scenery, even if the final road to them is narrow, winding, and, at times, perched on a hillside. Recently, the authorities in Cartagena have fully realized that they have a major tourist attraction in the guns, and worthwhile efforts have been made to improve parking near to them, to create clear walkways around them, and, more generally, to clean up the environment in which they are situated. The guns themselves have been repainted and the graffiti banished.
To get to the guns, you take the road which goes from Mazarrón over the hills via Tallante to Cartagena, turning off at the roundabout with a lighthouse on it, and with a petrol station on the left hand side of the road, to head past El Mojón and through Isla Plana. Not far after passing through Los Madriles and its campsite, keep on this road and avoid going down to La Azohía. About a kilometre further on, turn right to go through Campillo de Adentro. Here you seem to be miles from anywhere, but the scenery is remarkable – tranquil farmlands in a basin entirely surrounded by mountains. With the sun shining, it really has the appearance of paradise.
A little further on, the fun really starts as you follow a narrow military road. Today, the road, has become increasingly well used by visitors to the remarkable installations on the crest of the peninsula above, although you will be unlucky to meet too many vehicles coming in the opposite direction, unless at a peak holiday season weekend. There are occasional passing places. This road gives some magnificent views of the picturesque valley below as you ascend, and descend, but please do not to get too carried away by them while driving. There are some large rocks in places at the side of the road to act as a barrier against the steep hillside plummeting down beyond, but there are also places where there is nothing. Sightseeing for the driver is best left until the car is parked!
At the top of the road, when it divides, you turn left to the guns. It is still, however, a little way to the fortifications, just before which there are parking areas, plus a sign which tells you that it is still a kilometre to the batteries from this point. From here, you can fully marvel at the views down to the Mediterranean below and at the fortifications which stretch seemingly endlessly along the ridge. These massive installations were built in the years around 1930. They were abandoned by the military in the late 20th Century.
The Cabo Tiñoso military buildings are extensive and built in an ornate, attractive, castellated style. You can look inside a number of them, though some indicate that you should not do so. The highlights of the visit, however, are the guns, some of which are truly enormous. Admire these huge metal objects before wandering a few yards in one direction to look out over shimmering waters of the Bay of Mazarrón and then retrace your steps and go a little further in the opposite direction to look over Cartagena’s huge bay. You seem to be almost on top of the world up here though the actual altitude is a rather more modest 800 feet. You may be able to see evidence of fish farms in the water below. The guns are now even more impressive than when we first saw them, having been repainted black and with footpaths between them and newly planted open areas making the whole area far more attractive than previously.
Even if you get no further than the beginning of the built up area of the guns, do look at the various buildings there with their signs for the warehouse, workshop and “central”. Beyond the guns, as you wander down the headland, are numerous other ruined buildings and it is fascinating to speculate on their original purpose – accommodation blocks, canteens, bars, officers’ messes etc.
One rumour is that the area and guns were used for some scenes in the Guns of Navarone film. Whether or not they were, we do not know (though the general view is that they were not), but they are certainly impressive enough to have been. You can easily spend an hour or considerably more wandering looking at the buildings and going from one gun battery to another. Another rumour, is that these massive guns were never fired in anger, which seems incredible, given that the very bloody struggle of the Spanish Civil War erupted not long after their building. Others, however, say that they were indeed fired in April 1936 by the Republican forces at a group of Nationalist cruisers. What is certain is that they were manufactured and supplied by the British company Vickers and we have seen photographs of them in the Military Museum in Cartagena, being manufactured at Vickers’ factory in Barrow-in-Furness during 1927 and 1928. Other photographs showed the guns being fired, whether during commissioning, or for practice, or even on that occasion in 1936.
At the other side of Cartagena Bay, near Portman, are two identical big guns at the Battery of Las Cenizas. Although, in our view, this battery cannot compare for architectural interest and extravagance with that over the other side of the bay, the entrance to it is as ornate as at Cabo Tiñoso, if not even more so. Indeed, according to one description, the neoclassic style of the entrance there was inspired by the Temple of the White Soldiers in the Mayan ruins of Chichen-Itza (Mexico). It will not disappoint!
These guns are more difficult to reach than those at Cabo Tiñoso. You have to drive up the hill from Portman on the road toward La Manga and the Mar Menor, with there being a large rough parking area to the left of the subsidiary road to Llano del Beal on to which you turn just after the top of the hill from Portman. However, you then have a 6 kilometre or so round walk to the guns! Although it is well signed (it is an official Murcian short distance footpath, the PR MU2), it is a relentless slog up the old military road to reach the guns which are at a height of almost 1000 feet. So, if you do decide to go, be prepared for a strenuous walk!
The rewards are worthwhile. If there are only two large Vickers’ guns to be seen (dating from 1930), plus various related buildings, they are impressive and, like their Cabo Tiñoso counterparts, had a range of some 35 kilometres. Also, the views as you wind your way up the military road are ever changing and expansive when you are not in among the trees. Portman and its heavily polluted bay are visible on a number of occasions, as is the Mar Menor in the opposite direction. Once you reach the battery itself, from the cliff top area on which it is situated, you get magnificent views of the coastal scenery in all directions. You can spend quite some time walking around the area of the guns and taking in the views.
Perhaps the reason for the absence of any guns other than the two jumbo-sized ones at Las Cenizas, is to be found at the bottom of the hill in Portman. Here, there was a collection of smaller guns (the Battery of La Chapa) near to the lighthouse which was visible at times as you walked up the military road to Las Cenizas. The guns have long since vanished, but the emplacements and related buildings are all still there and, again, can be visited.
Part based upon extracts from the book “Exploring Murcia – Mazarrón” by Clive and Rosie Palmer, available from www.lulu.com, the Best Wishes shop on Camposol, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org