by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:2nd April 2024

Rich history along the Mediterranean’s Costa Cálida

We’re now discovering the charming port city of Cartagena in the southeast of Spain on the Costa Cálida. Cartagena’s historic coastal town is within the Murcia region. It is perfect for a mini-break or a day trip from Murcia.

We’re visiting Cartagena as part of our Spanish road trip. So far, our chosen route has taken us south through the back roads of Spain from Bilbao, where we disembarked our Brittany Ferry. Gary and I then headed to Pamplona, Zaragoza, Teruel, the Palm Tree Groves of Elche, and visited the beautiful city of Murcia.

We couldn’t resist visiting the ancient city of Cartagena for a few hours before picking up the coastal route southwest to meet up with my family in Mojácar. After a few nights in Mojácar, we hit the road again and explored Granada before journeying back north, to Toledo, Valladolid, Astorga, and Burgos.

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Where is Cartagena?

How to get to Cartagena

- By Air
Start creating your own Spanish adventure and discover the delightful port city of Cartagena, which is just 31km (20 miles) from Murcia airport.

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Where to stay in Cartagena

Sercotel Carlos III

The hotel Sercotel Carlos III is centrally located, just 500 metres from the historic Old Town and many of the significant sights of Cartagena.

The rooms are very comfortable, modern, and clean. Cartagena harbour is just a 15-minute walk away, and Cortina Beach is 3km (1.8 miles) around the bay.

Alternatively, pop your dates in the search box and discover further options for all budgets.

Brief history of Cartagena

Carthaginian and Roman roots

The picturesque port city of Cartagena is situated in the southeast of Spain along the Mediterranean coast. This charming city can trace its heritage back over 2,000 years to 227 BC when the Carthaginians founded the settlement.

Although it wasn’t too long, and the Romans arrived in 209 BC. Today, Cartagena derives its name from the Latin Cartago Nova.

a close-up of the stage of the roman theatre in cartagena with it's ancient stone columns
Ruins from the Roman Theatre

Cartagena flourished during the Roman Empire's dominance, and it was towards the end of the 2nd century BC that the Roman theatre of Carthago Nova was built. Incredibly, the remains of the Roman theatre were only rediscovered in 1987.

Covering part of the Roman Theatre are the ruins of Santa María la Vieja Cathedral (Cartagena Cathedral), which unfortunately was devastatingly destroyed in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War.

a bronze statue of a seated 18th century solder on a wooden bench in cartegena in southern spain
‘The Replacement Soldier’

Due to its prominent maritime location, Cartagena has witnessed many battles over the centuries. Its coastal position led to the city becoming a prime site for the military and Spanish Navy. The Arsenal de Cartagena was bult in 1782. Today, a fascinating naval museum can be visited in the old naval offices in Paseo de Alfonso XII.

There are so many sculptures to admire in Cartagena that you can even share a bench with one of the city’s tactile figures. The bronze named Replacement Soldier is a tribute to the thousands of young people who came to Cartagena and risked their lives in military service.

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Strolling the port of Cartagena

A glance into naval history
When we arrived at the charming port enclave of Cartagena on the Mediterranean coast the historic streets were bathed in the morning sunshine. We easily parked up, in the harbour car park, and it was a just a short hop to the ancient Old Town.
The whale tail installation in the water next to the old harbourmaster's building on the edge of Cartagena Harbour in historic Murcia in southern Spain
Cartagena harbour and Whale’s Tail

However, before exploring the Old Town of Cartagena, we had a pleasant stroll around the port and marina.

Just a little piece of advice; is that Cartagena is a stopping point for cruise ships, so it may be worth scheduling your time around them if you prefer fewer crowds.

The historic square stone building under a deep blue sky on cartegena's harbour edge that now houses cartagena naval museum
Cartagena Naval Museum
Within a reasonably short walk along the harbour front, there are some striking historic buildings, beautiful sculptures, and artwork. Take a little time to discover these delights. Don’t miss the 24-ton Whale Tail in the port basin of Cartagena, which signifies the mammal’s migration in this region.
A row of iron canons lined up on cartegena's harbour edge in front of the cartagena naval museum
Cannons in front of Cartagena Naval Museum
Overlooking Botes Basin in the port is the Cartagena Naval Museum. This museum was opened in July 1986 and is home to a number of Spanish naval exhibits. Just in front of the museum are twelve cannons, mainly from decommissioned Spanish fleet of the 18th and 19th centuries.
a bronze figure of a seated man, naked and helpless, hugging his legs and with his head down at the end of the esplanade of héroes de cavite in cartagena, spain
The Cache - bronze sculpture of Cartagena’s victims of terrorism
Just on the harbour front is a vast, hollow bronze sculpture named ‘The Cache’ that stands 4.8 metres tall and weighs two tons. This magnificent sculpture of a naked man in a foetal position was created by Victor Ochoa and is in honour of Cartagena’s victims of terrorism.

There are so many incredible places to discover in Spain and I love planning road trips. I often use the DK Eyewitness books, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into searching for more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Spanish road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.

An enriching welcome in Cartagena

Touching tales to be told
As we wend our way towards the historic lanes of Cartagena’s Old Town, we pass by the ancient ramparts of the 18th century Muralla del Mar ('Sea Wall'), built by Charles III of Spain, and overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.
the monument to the heroes of cavite and santiago de cuba surrounded by palm trees in cartegena in southern spain
Monument to the Heroes of Cavite and Santiago de Cuba

We then amble into Plaza Héroes de Cavite and admire the striking Monument to the Heroes of Cavite and Santiago de Cuba. Two battles fought in 1898 in the Spanish-American War.

Plaza Héroes de Cavite is a lovely square where you can sit, relax, and watch the world pass by.

a bronze statue of a lone sailor, with his kit bag over his shoulder, walking the path from cartagena's harbour towards the town.
‘Replacement Navy Sailor’
The classically styled cartagena city hall under deep blue skies in cartegena in southern spain
Cartagena City Hall

Before exploring the Old Town, we stumbled upon another touching sculpture, ‘Replacement Navy Sailor’. The life-size statue pays tribute to the young who performed military service and were conscripted into the Spanish Navy.

Just nearby this tribute is the Modernist ‘Palacio consistorial de Cartagena’, the City Hall built in the Art Nouveau style in the early 20th century.

Tempted to?

Discover more of historic Spain and tour its picturesque countryside in the north, or head south to explore the Sierra Nevada National Park just south of Granada.

You can do it all on a road trip; Rental Cars searches multiple well-known car hire brands and discovers the deals that suit you the best.

Exploring the historic streets of Cartagena

Discover the Modernist architecture

The central historic lanes in Cartagena are pedestrianised, so you don’t have to worry about glancing skywards to admire the striking architecture.

One of the main attractions to Cartagena is the ancient Roman Theatre of Carthago Nova. The Roman Theatre was built between 5 and 1 BC. As mentioned, the remains of this early Roman Theatre were only rediscovered in 1987.

the edge of the seating and the stage at the roman amphitheatre in cartagena in southern spain
Cartagena Roman Theatre

In the 3rd century, a market was built over the theatre, and the space was then used in various forms, including a Byzantine market in the 6th century. Then, during the 13th century, Cartagena’s old cathedral was erected upon it.

Excavations were completed on the site in 2003, and the Cartagena Roman Theatre Museum opened in 2008.

the ornate facade of the modernist casa maestre built in 1905 in central cartagena in southern spain
Casa Maestre
the corner view of the exterior of the modernist gran hotel in cartagena in southern spain
The Gran Hotel
There are so many stunning pieces of architecture to be found around the delightful streets and squares of Cartagena.

One that especially caught our eye in Plaza de San Francisco was Casa Maestre. The design was apparently inspired by Gaudi's Casa Calvet and built in the elaborate styles of Baroque and Rococo. Today, the façade is the only reminder of the original design.

The Gran Hotel on the corner of Plaza San Sebastian is one of Cartagena’s Art Nouveau gems. This exquisite building was completed in 1916 by the architect Víctor Beltrí after the death of the original designer, Tomás Rico, in 1912.

Unfortunately, today, only the facade remains from the original building; the inside was demolished and is now home to offices.
The terracotta coloured ornate modernist facade of the casino de cartagena on calle mayor in cartagena in southern spain
Casino de Cartagena
A cream-coloured ornate modernist facade of casa cervantes on calle mayor in cartagena in southern spain
Casa Cervantes

Take an amble along Calle Mayor, which leads north from Plaza del Ayuntamiento square. Along this bustling street, you’ll spot many examples of Modernist architecture, including Casino de Cartagena, which was remodelled by Victor Beltri in 1897 and has a striking blood-red façade.

Nearby is Casa Cervantes, which was also designed by the Cartagena architect Víctor Beltrí. This beautiful building is characterised by elegant glass and wrought-iron balconies.

Cartagena is a delightful city to visit and wouldn’t hesitate to return.

Tourist Information

If you’re planning to explore Spain, ensure you check out the Visit Spain official tourism website. It is overflowing with helpful information covering every region of this beautiful country from north, south, east, and west.

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