15 December 2022

The main Roman monuments of Cartagena

The location and geographical features have conditioned the development and life of Cartagena since its origins. The city's natural port, delimited by the island of Escombreras and the hill of La Torrosa, is flanked by five small hills, as a natural protection. The Monte de la Concepción, the Cerro del Molinete, the Monte de San José, the Monte Sacro and the Cerro de Despeñaperros surround the city and offer unbeatable views of the bay of Cartagena and its cliffs. The entrance to Cartagena was controlled from the top of the hills by means of castles and coastal batteries built in the 18th and 19th centuries.

This strategic location has been the object of desire of the various civilisations that aspired to dominate the Mediterranean. With more than 3,000 years of history, Cartagena has a past and a heritage that are unique in the world. A glorious past that shows the importance of the city and that can be perceived through the buildings and monuments of the different periods of its history.

The city was founded in 227 BC under the name of Qart-Hadast by the Carthaginian general Asdrubal, aware of the privileged enclave of the terrain and taking advantage of the hills as impregnable natural defences. Barely two decades later, the famous Hannibal declared war on Rome, setting out from Cartagena on a legendary elephant expedition across the Alps. Seizing the moment in 209 BC, the Romans, led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Scipio, made a surprise attack and conquered Cartagena.

Carthago-Nova, the history of Roman Cartagena

From that moment on, the city was renamed Carthago-Nova and became one of the nerve centres and control points for port traffic in the Mediterranean. For years the city of Cartagena was under the control of the Romans, who commercially exploited the wealth of the silver and lead mines in the surrounding area. Before the fall of the Roman Empire (476) and the control of the city by the Visigoths, the city of Cartagena experienced several attacks and sackings. Nevertheless, the legacy of the Romans is notorious in the city and is one of the reasons to visit Cartagena at any time of the year.

The Roman Theatre of Cartagena

The Roman Theatre of Cartagena is one of the jewels of Roman art in Spain. This building was erected between 5 and 1 BC, and was in use until the 3rd century. With a capacity for 7000 spectators, it is hard to believe that it was hidden and ignored for so many years.

Its discovery is quite recent since it took place in 1988 thanks to the investigations of the archaeologist Sebastián Ramallo from the University of Murcia. With the fall of the Roman Empire the theatre was abandoned and the neighbours used its stones and materials for the construction of a new neighbourhood in the vicinity of the theatre. A few centuries later, the Cathedral of Santa María la Vieja was built there. The existence of the theatre came into consideration when a Regional Crafts Centre was being built.

The discovery and excavations of the theatre were progressively developed in parallel with the Museum of the Roman Theatre of Cartagena, the work of the renowned architect Rafael Moneo. Moneo envisaged the Roman Theatre as the last room of the museum, putting the finishing touch to the visit and surprising those who visit the different rooms of the site. The restoration, completed barely a decade ago, was carried out with the aim of easily distinguishing the original materials from the new ones. Such is the importance and beauty of the theatre that it is currently the most visited monument in Cartagena with more than 250,000 visitors a year.

It can be visited every day of the week except Mondays when it is closed. The Museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm (6pm in winter) and on Sundays from 10am to 2pm. Tickets for the museum and theatre can be purchased from 3 euros (school children), 5 euros (reduced ticket for the unemployed, pensioners, families, students...) and 6 euros for general admission. It is located in the city centre next to the Port of Cartagena and is accessed from the Town Hall Square. The Roman Theatre is one of the most common reasons for anyone who decides to visit Cartagena and the museum itself organises interesting, dramatized tours of the different museums, constructions and archaeological sites.

The House of Fortune in Cartagena

From the Plaza de Risueño in the city centre we can access the so-called Casa de la Fortuna. This is a site from the Roman period where we can see the remains of a stretch of Roman road and on either side of it the remains of two houses dating from the 1st century BC. An inscription on the pavement of the courtyard gives the site its name. The most outstanding features are the frescoes preserved in the dining room of the house. However, the pavements, the walls with the entrance threshold and the decorated pavements of the Opus signimum type also stand out.

A visit to the Casa de la Fortuna is the best way to travel back to Roman times and see what the layout of the house was like and how the rooms were decorated. The mosaics and frescoes in the interior allow us to understand the importance of symbolism and mythology for the Romans. The Casa de la Fortuna organises workshops for children and other activities that can be consulted on its website. It is open all year round in the mornings (from 10 am to 3 pm) and the general admission price is 2.5 euros. 

The Augusteum is located next to the House of Fortune and is a spectacular archaeological complex that also dates back to the 1st century BC. The complex consists of two public buildings, one of which is believed to have been a centre dedicated to the cult of the first Roman emperor Octavian Augustus. Among the highlights of the site are the marble floors of the pavement, which demonstrate the decorative richness of the surroundings. It is located very close to the forum, which was the real nerve centre of ancient Carthage Nova. 

A visit to the Augusteum allows you to imagine the layout of the temple, with its portico and entrance courtyard, as well as the sculpture of the emperor who was worshipped. Like the House of Fortune, this monument can be visited in the morning (10 am to 3 pm) every month of the year. General admission is 2.5 euros and reduced admission is 2 euros.

As you walk around Cartagena and its surroundings you will discover countless places you would never have imagined. There are so many places to visit in La Manga, Cartagena and Murcia capital, and so many tourism options: cultural, sporting, relaxing, family... All this, together with the good weather all year round, makes the Region of Murcia one of the favourite destinations for family holidays for people from all over Europe.