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Cartagena is in the province of Murcia in the region of Valencia and Murcia. Cartagena has been an important site for centuries due to its deep natural harbour.
The old town of Cartagena is full of character. Constructed by the Carthaginians in 223BC it was Hannibal's capital city on the Iberian Peninsula. It was conquered by the Romans in 209BC.
The main archeological sites in Cartagena date from the Roman era and the key site is the Roman Theatre called the Carthago Nova. This has recently undergone a major renovation project and is an impressive monument. Building of the theatre began in the second century BC. Making the site even better are the attached ruins of the Santa Maria Cathedral, destroyed in Spain's Civil War.
Other Roman sights include the remains of an ampitheatre which was once incorporated into the bullring, a Roman street and ruins of a temple and a Bizantine wall. Visit the Museo Archeologico to view the Roman artifacts uncovered in the area.
Good views of the city can be seen from the ruins of the Castillo de la Concepcion. This castle was used by Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Arabs and Castilians - all eager to defend this important port, which even today is Spain's main naval base.
Cartagena is undergoing something of a re-invention as a tourist town and a lot of money is being spent to this end. Walk through the harbour and along the sea walls. The impressive town hall is on the seafront and this area is full of bars and restaurants and you can enjoy your drink or meal whilst looking out over the harbour and the coastal forts.
Another good area for eating is in the old town at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and Plaza Maria Jose Artes and the streets surrounding them.
Cartagena also has some fine Modernist architecture. Victor Beltri was one of the key architects in Cartagena and his works include Casa Cervantes and Casa Llagostera on Calle Major, the main shopping street. Also look out for the old Hotel Zapata on Plaza de Espana and the Casino, the Gran Hotel and the Railway Station.
Museums in Cartagena
The Navidad fortress built in the 19th century is in use now as a visitor centre for the 'Defensive Architecture of Cartagena and the Mediterranean'. This is closed to the public but the Naval Museum and National Museum for Underwater Archeology can be visited.
The Museo Archeologico has a collection of Roman artefacts and details of Cartagena's history.
Places to visit nearby
The Gulf of Mazarron south of Caragena is a scenic stretch of coast with lots of small coves and a backdrop of dunes and hills.
Orihuela is nearby and has a lovely old quarter and a Gothic cathedral with Renaissance cloisters. The charming port and seaside town of Aguilas is also nearby and worth visiting. Aguilas has a carnival which has been going for 200 years now and is included in Spain's official tourist calender (events of National tourist interest).
You can find more local travel ideas in the Valencia and Murcia guide.