Sunday, April 25, 2010

Two weeks of museums

During the four days Solstice was on the hard (out of the water) for bottom paint and some repairs, we bought a two-week museum pass and started doing the tourist thing. The pass gave us entry to eight museums and rides on the tourist bus and tourist boat. (Cartagena has at least five additional museums, but they’re free.)

The year 227 BCE is often cited as the founding of Cartagena. That’s when the Carthaginian General Hasdrubal conquered the indigenous Iberian tribes. Since Hasdrubal built his city, other civilizations have followed—and simply built over the top of each other. They find ruins in the old city every time they start a new building project. Now they often preserve the ruins as a museum and put the new construction over the top. The Augusteum (temple in the old forum to Augustus), the Decumano (part of the Roman road between the harbor and the forum with baths), and the Casa de la Fortuna (foundations of a Roman house and some mosaics) are three of these.


The centerpiece of Cartagena’s Puerto de Culturas or Port of Cultures (the city’s tourist promotion) is the Roman Theater Museum. It’s really impressive. Hard as it is to believe that people built over the top of this without noticing—or caring—the theater wasn’t discovered in modern time until the late 20th century when they started to tear down a neighboring house. An early cathedral was built using part of the theater’s walls, and shops and houses surrounded that. The museum does an excellent job of showing development around and over the top of the theater through the ages.

The neighboring house that prompted the discovery

One of the inside displays

View of the stage from the side

Looking toward the forum

Cathedral and house by the theater

A closer look at recycled building material

But before the Romans were the Carthaginians. Through tortured derivation from the Latin for inhabitants of Carthage, things related to the Carthaginians are called Punic, and the Punic Wall Museum was one of our favorites. It had lots of explanations in English, and as a bonus, it included the crypt of a monastery that was built in the 16th century using part of the Punic wall. (We stopped by as we were walking home from the store, and John didn’t have his camera.)

Another favorite was the Civil War Shelters Museum. Cartagena was the major port for the republican navy during the Spanish Civil War and one of the last two cities to fall to Franco. It became an early target of Franco’s bombing raids, and the museum is built inside an air-raid shelter from that time. We passed it almost every day of our stay here, and it was nice to finally see inside. They’ve done an excellent job with audio-visual displays featuring survivors of the bombings.

One of the displays

The last museum we visited was Conception Castle, built on top of the hill overlooking the harbor. We’d walked up the hill before, but this time we got to take the elevator. The views are spectacular from the top of the hill. The museum itself was a little disappointing, though. The highlight was a visit to the old cisterns. They were a little spooky with the amplified sound of dripping water.

Lift up the hill


The eighth museum included in the ticket is the Christmas Fort, which you reach by taking the tourist boat. We had driven to it before, though, so we didn’t go this time. It has a lot about the military defenses of the city and a great view of the harbor.

In case you’re planning to visit Cartagena, the free museums that I know about are the Naval Museum, Artillery Museum, Archeological Museum, regional art museum, and on Saturday afternoons and maybe Sundays the Museum of Underwater Archeology (ARQUA). We’re docked right in front of ARQUA and visited soon after we arrived.

The sign for ARQUA is a popular spot for a photo.

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