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.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good Friday Procession

The Semana Santa (Holy Week) festivities in Cartagena are among the most famous in Spain. In fact, here the week actually lasts 10 days. As we often do, we procrastinated so that the processions had been going on for a week before we finally went to one. It was one of the biggest, the Good Friday evening procession.

We had seen chairs stacked lining the street in our neighborhood where the processions pass, but we decided to go to the more prosperous area by the old city hall. Not knowing how the seating worked, we stopped at a cafĂ© on the route that had tables outside and a few people obviously settled in for the procession. As we started to sit down a waitress bustled over and started speaking to us in rapid Spanish. All I caught was something about “in 15 minutes,” about the time we thought the procession was due. When I asked if she spoke English, she said, “No. Here 64 euros.” We said no thanks and continued on.

There were lots of empty chairs along Calle Mayor (Main Street), but they all had numbers on them, so we assumed they were somehow reserved. I spotted a wide raised area in front of a bank behind a row of chairs. There were some people already there, but still plenty of room for us. Although many Spanish people are rather short, so am I, and I didn’t want to get stuck without a view. It worked out well although we had to stand the whole time. Later we watched as people moved into the chairs in front of us. Then a guy came around and collected their money. We still don’t know how much they were charging, but not €64 I suspect.

As we watched the procession pass, the order became clear to us. First came the drummers followed by robed men, women and children. The faces of these groups weren’t covered, but they all wore hats or hoods, and the children gave out candy to anyone who held out their hands for it. (The boy seated in front of us left with very full pockets indeed.) Usually a musical group came next. Most were bands, but there was one marching orchestra with string instruments and bassoons.

Some of the many cute children in the procession

One of the many marching bands

Sometimes there was a military group embedded before the float group. The Spanish have lots of different varieties of military, and we have no clue about which was which. We did, however, recognize the Romans. And we surmised that the group wearing camouflage had served on active duty in one of our wars. They received the most applause of someone in the procession. A thank-you-for-your-service, perhaps. In general, the audience and the members of the procession were silent as this was a very solemn procession.

Soldiers or some kind of military in fancy dress uniforms

One of the obviously real soldiers—they got applause

Even Roman soldiers

And cute little soldiers

Various groups followed the floats. The bishop of Cartagena followed one float, and very important people in sashes (the town council?) followed another. I was particularly impressed by the women in high combs and mantillas.

Women in mantillas followed many of floats

The religious floats were immediately preceded by, first, three fully hooded guys carrying a richly embroidered banner then two long rows of hooded men with lighted staffs. We had seen the KKK-like hooded guys in posters, so we were prepared. The first group in full hoods wore solid purple, so the resemblance was less striking. After that the colors varied, and the white didn’t come until the end. Even then they weren’t in all white. Those guys are in the Easter procession. For the record, the Spanish brotherhoods wore the hoods long before the Klan adopted them. They’re supposed to hide the identity of the repentant sinner wearing them, and that they do.

The men in hoods wore many different color combinations, many including purple

The eerie white robes and hoods were near the end

The floats were lighted, decorated with flowers and supported some kind of statue. The lighted staffs of those preceding the float were decorated in a sort of thumbnail version of the float. Since it was Good Friday, the ones we saw were mostly about the crucifixion and burial of Jesus (except the Mary floats at the end). The statues were very impressive, and I found the one with Mary holding Jesus as he was taken from the cross especially moving even though I’m definitely not religious.

A fine example of the lights and flowers on the floats

Most of the floats were on wheels (hidden) and mechanized. We did notice feet at the back of one, so we suppose the men were pushing it. The last three or four floats, though, those for various Marys, were carried on the shoulders of lots and lots of men. They could only go a short distance without a rest. We watched as a bell rang and the men assumed their positions. At the second bell they all lifted, pushing against the man in front to support him and with men at the back who pushed very hard. Then as they walked, the men at the back kept pushing hard at the supports. I suppose that it was so difficult just to carry the float that the carriers needed help with the forward momentum. These guys got the only other broad crowd applause when they did the lift.

Several floats were carried by men

You can see that float-bearing is a tough job

The procession lasted nearly three hours, and we were pretty tired of standing when it ended. It was worth it, though, and I’m glad we didn’t miss it.