Although there is an enormous amount to see in Cartagena covering almost 2500 years, the town’s history can also be seen through its walls! Two remnants of wall, both preserved in museums, hark back to the very founding of the city and, several hundred years later, to a short renaissance at the end of the Roman Empire.
Firstly, there is the Punic Wall and its museum. Paradoxically, the remnants of the Punic Wall are preserved in a very modern building to the left of Calle San Diego, just before Plaza Bastarreche. There is a small entrance fee and the museum is open, Tuesday to Sunday, from 10.00am to 5.30pm in winter and to 7.00pm from mid-March to early November. From July to mid-September, it is open an hour longer and also on Mondays, although, of course, these details can change.
The Carthaginians who built the Punic Wall (Punic is derived from the Latin for a Carthaginian) came from Carthage, sited on the present city of Tunis in North Africa by the Phoenicians. Following defeat by the Romans in the central Mediterranean, the Carthaginians turned their attention to the Iberian Peninsula as a potential source of wealth including precious metals. The Carthaginian general Hasdrubal founded Cartagena, then known as Qart-Hadast, around 228 BC. Some suggest that, under the Carthaginians, the city housed around 15 to 20,000 people with an urban infrastructure which would include ordered and paved streets, a forum, temples and an acropolis (fortress) including the royal palace.
The main remains from the period are from the wall which protected the city in the east. The wall was a significant structure which was well known in the ancient world. It consisted of two parallel walls, separated by a gap of 5 metres. The outer wall was formed of massive sandstone blocks brought from quarries to the north-west of Cartagena. It is estimated that the whole structure was 10 to 12 metres high and was built in the Greek “casement” style. There were cross-walls dividing the internal space into rooms (as well as strengthening the construction) and the whole structure had three levels. The ground floor was used for stables, the upper floor as accommodation and storage for the defenders, with the ramparts on the very top.
Inside the museum, there is an audio-visual room in which a 10 minute video expounds the history of the times of the Carthaginians, followed by information on the building of the wall and the later Roman assault. Outside this room is a display about the city of Qart-Hadast and its subsequent conquest by the Roman general Publius Scipio in 209 BC, some years after another Carthaginian, Hannibal, had set off from it to cross the Alps with his army and elephants in an ultimately vain attempt to challenge the might of Rome. From here, you can also look down into the area of the remains of the Punic Wall before you descend to see them at closer quarters. You can quite clearly see the two outer walls of the structure and the cross-walls between them. We are sure, that, like us, you will find the remains impressive.
You are also able to walk across the width of the wall and descend stairs into an entirely different archaeological find which, though much more modern than the wall, is just as fascinating if slightly more macabre – a crypt from about the 17th Century! During excavations, the archaeologists came across the crypt of the Brotherhood of San José, with 110 niches in its walls. The small holes in the wall with their bones and skulls are quite striking! There are also remains of old wall paintings.
The Byzantine Wall Museum
This museum is very close to the remarkable Roman Theatre. To get to it, walk along Calle Cuatro Santos on the landward side of the Roman Theatre (running also behind the Castle), which eventually runs into Calle San Diego on which the Punic Wall Museum is located. The building, which you can easily miss, is on the corner, a little way up and on the right of Calle Doctor Martinez, a few yards past the Edificio Muralla Bizantina in the direction of the Roman Theatre. The museum is located in the basement of a building which houses temporary exhibitions for the city. Entry when we visited was free and opening times 10.30am to 1.30pm Tuesday to Saturday.
While the western part of the Roman Empire had collapsed in the 5th Century, that in the East, centered on the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul but originally known as Byzantium) had continued to thrive. In the mid-6th Century, the Byzantines looked to recover the lost lands of the western empire. In 552 AD, the Emperor Justinian took advantage of a civil war among the Visigoths, who had occupied Spain including Cartagena, to send an army and occupy a coastal territory in south-east Spain, from Cadiz to near Valencia, which, with the Balearic Islands, formed the “new” province of Spania. Malaga and Cartagena were the two main towns of this province, with the latter exercising a role as a military and administrative centre. Carthago Spartaria, as Cartagena then became known, remained under Byzantine control for 70 years before, around 621-3 AD it was taken and sacked by the Visigoths.
Excavations on the site of the museum began in 1983. Initially, the remains of walls and of ceramic materials from this era caused the archaeologists to suggest that the great walls protecting Byzantine Carthago Spartaria had been found. However, it is now thought that the wall remains in the cellar of the museum correspond to the portico which once led to the garden of the Roman Theatre. In the second half of the 6th Century AD it was modified as part of the wall to protect the fortified area on the hill behind.
In the museum, the remains of the wall can be seen clearly over several metres of length and are around 2 to 3 metres in height, but there are other fascinating remains to view as well, including those of a Roman house from the 1st Century BC. The house was demolished to allow the building of the Roman Theatre and its surrounding structures. You can now see the base of two large rooms with decorated mosaic floors. The coloured stone incrustations indicate the house would have been a high social class residence.
Article by Clive and Rosie Palmer who have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. These can be seen at and obtained from, www.lulu.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Clive and Rosie’s book, Exploring Murcia, Days Out, is available to buy from the CHM/Costa Cálida Chronicle office on Camposol B, Best Wishes (who also stock other of their books including the follow-up “Exploring Murcia, More Days Out”), or phone Patti on 968 433 978.