Cartagena is a city and municipality in Spain located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in the autonomous community of Murcia. The city, capital of the Campo de Cartagena region and the maritime province of Cartagena, is the seat of the regional parliament of Murcia, the Regional Assembly of Murcia that houses the legislative body of the autonomous community and is headquarters of the Ministry of Tourism of the Region of Murcia. It ranks 22nd on the list of most populated municipalities in Spain and 26th on the list of metropolitan areas in Spain.
From the end of the 19th century and during the 20th century, the economy of Cartagena was based on the excavation of zinc, silver and lead from the mining mountains, whose prosperity manifested with the construction of modernist building and also in the exploitation of the chemical sector (sulfur, phosphate and explosive fertilizers). At present, with the mining seams exhausted, Cartagena lives mainly from shipbuilding and repair, oil refining and the export of olive oil, fruits, citrus fruits, vegetables, esparto grass, wine and metal products.
It is also one of the main naval bases in the country, along with Rota and Ferrol, and an emerging tourist destination thanks to its historical-artistic heritage, which includes vestiges of Carthaginian, Roman, and Byzantine times as well as the modern period. In the cultural sphere, it is known for its major Carthaginian and Roman festivals and the Holy Week processions, both of which have been declared of International Tourist Interest.
Thanks to its strategic position in the Levantine Mediterranean, Cartagena has been inhabited since ancient times by various civilizations that have left a mark on its rich cultural heritage throughout its history.
Roman theatre. Its construction began at the end of the 1st century BC. It is the most visited monument and museum space in Murcia. Above the theater stand the ruins of the Cathedral of Santa María la Vieja, destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. It dates from the end of the 13th century. In July 2008, the Museum of the Roman Theater was inaugurated, the work of the architect Rafael Moneo, which shows various details of the theater, its excavation and recovery.
Augusteum. Seat of the College of Priests of Emperor Augustus in the city.
Neighborhood and Museum of the Roman Forum. A set of Roman buildings discovered in 1968. In spring 2021, the new museum of the Roman forum of Cartago Nova was inaugurated.
Punic wall. Built in 227 BC. with the founding of the city, it is one of the few remains of the Carthaginian past of the city and the only Punic wall in European territory.
House of Fortune. A Roman dwelling from the 1st century BC conserves mosaics and mural paintings.
Byzantine wall. Preserved in a basement near the theater and erroneously interpreted as a wall from the VI century, it has recently been identified as part of the closing of the portico of the Roman theater.
Castillo de la Concepción (Cartagena History Interpretation Center). Known as the “Castillo de los Patos,” was built in the 13th century. The Torres Park stretches around it, created at the beginning of the 20th century after the demolition of the houses located on the Cerro de la Concepción.
Roman amphitheater. Currently, this area is in the process of archaeological excavation.
Cathedral of Santa María la Vieja or of Our Lady of the Assumption. From the 13th century, it was renovated by Víctor Beltrí in the 19th century and partially destroyed during the Civil War.
Castles and fortresses: Atalaya, Concepción, Despeñaperros, Galeras, Moros and San Julián, among others.
Coast military batteries: Fuerte de Navidad, Santa Ana, Trincabotijas Alta and Baja, Castillitos, Roldán, La Parajola (from where the Castillo de Olite ship sank), among others.
On the outskirts of the city, you can visit the Torre Ciega, a Roman sepulchral monument, the Roman villa of Paturro in Portmán, and the Roman quarries. In the county of El Beal is the monastery of San Ginés de la Jara, built by the Franciscan Order in the 16th century.
Baroque and neoclassical route
The Campus Muralla del Mar, formerly the Marine Hospital, was one of the first works carried out after the transformation of the city into the main Spanish naval base in the Mediterranean. Today, it is the headquarters of the Polytechnic University of Cartagena. Nearby is the Autopsy Pavilion where anatomy classes used to be taught.
Other baroque or neoclassical constructions of military origin are the wall of Carlos III, the School of Midshipmen, Captaincy (made in 1740 and later renovated), the Arsenal and especially its gate, which is the only part the public can see, and the Park of Artillery, headquarters of the Military History Museum.
The Basilica de la Caridad, built in the 19th century, is one of the most important in the city as it is the temple dedicated to the patron saint of the city, the Virgen de la Caridad. Its interior, with a circular plan, is dominated by a large dome and houses a good sample of paintings and sculptures from the Spanish and Italian Baroque, as well as paintings by Manuel Ussel de Guimbarda. There are also baroque and neoclassical churches—Carmen, Santo Domingo and Santa María de Gracia.
Modernist and eclectic route
The large number of modernist buildings that were built in the city place it among the foremost in Spain in this type of art. These modernist buildings date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the bourgeoisie settled in the city due to the growth of the local mining industry. Those built by the modernist architect Víctor Beltrí are particularly noteworthy, among which are:
• The Grand Hotel
• The Aguirre Palace, headquarters of the Regional Museum of Modern Art (MURAM)
• The Maestre House
• The Llagostera House
• The Consistorial Palace (Town Hall)
• The casino
• The Casa Cervantes
Other outstanding works of modernism in Cartagena are the Casa Clares, the Pedreño Palace, the Casa Dorda or the Casa Zapata, and the Railway Station, which contains outstanding iron doors and columns on the façade.
These are some constructions made in the 19th and 20th centuries with cultural relevance:
The El Batel auditorium and conference center. As the work of José Selgas and Lucía Cano, it is a cultural infrastructure located on the edge of the port and awarded at the XII Spanish Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism in the category of Civic Symbols.
The Refuge-Museum of the Civil War. It is a bomb shelter with a capacity of more than 5000 people, recovered as an interpretation center from the Spanish Civil War.
The Peral Submarine. This is the first self-propelled submarine.
The Monument to the Heroes of Cavite and Santiago de Cuba. In 1923, it was erected in honor of the Spanish sailors who died in 1898 during the wars in Cuba and the Philippines.
The Panoramic-Elevator. This location allows access to Torres Park and the Civil War Refuge-Museum.
The headquarters of the Regional Assembly of Murcia.
Cartagena’s museum offer is diverse, although among them are those that reflect various aspects of the city’s history predominate. The main museums in Cartagena are:
Municipal Archaeological Museum “Enrique Escudero de Castro.” It is located in the expansion of the city and stands on a late Roman necropolis.
National Museum of Underwater Archeology (ARQUA). Located on the Alfonso XII dock, the new headquarters was inaugurated in November 2008. It is dedicated to the conservation and research of Spanish underwater heritage.
Regional Museum of Modern Art (MURAM), based in the Aguirre Palace and inaugurated in 2009.
Naval Museum. It dedicates its facilities to preserving and displaying the most remarkable events of the Spanish Navy in the Mediterranean Sea. It is based in the CIM building, also the headquarters of the Faculty of Business Sciences of the UPCT.
Cartagena Artillery Museum. It shares the space of the old Artillery Park with the Municipal Archive.
Carmen Conde Museum – Antonio Oliver. Located in the Cultural Center of the city, inside, in addition to the work of this couple of writers, there are numerous objects from their private collection.
Ethnographic Museum of the Campo de Cartagena. It is located in the county of Los Puertos de Santa Bárbara.
Palacio de Molina. Site of a municipal exhibition hall and municipal restoration workshop.
Likewise, every year, the cultural activity of the Night of the Museums is held, where they remain open to the public until late.
The following more traditional festivals and the most recently implemented festivals are celebrated in this municipality:
Easter in Cartagena. Declared of International Tourist Interest. The oldest of Cartagena’s celebrations and the one with the greatest number of visitors takes place every year during the ten days between Friday of Dolores and Easter Sunday. Four brotherhoods put their processions in the street, characterized by the order of their participants, the light, the color and the spectacular nature of the Cartagena thrones.
Carthaginians and Romans. Declared of International Tourist Interest. They are celebrated during the second half of September to commemorate the conquest of the ancient Carthaginian city of Qart Hadasht by the Romans. For ten days, you can fully see the history of old Cartagena.
Carnival of Cartagena. Declared of Regional Tourist Interest. It is celebrated, as is traditional in the carnivals of the Spanish geography, in February, the weekend before Ash Wednesday.
The Sea of Music. Festival of world music that has been held every July since 1995.
Jazz Festival. It has been celebrated during November since 1980.
Cartagena International Film Festival (FICC). It is celebrated during December and is formerly known as the International Naval and Sea Film Week.
Much More May (M + M). Art festival held during May.
Trovalia. International improvised oral poetry festival held in August. It replaces the National Trovo Contest.
Cuisine and restaurants
The best-known dishes in Cartagena are, without a doubt, the caldero, a rice made by fishermen prepared with rock fish, and the michirones, a stew made with dried broad beans. Both can be found anywhere in the region.
Other typical dishes are rice and rabbit, rabbit with cabañil garlic, salted fish (dried fish) and desserts such as syrup (a sweet made with dried figs), sky bacon and Calatrava bread.
Among the drinks, the Asiático stands out, whose ingredients are coffee with liquor, brandy and condensed milk; the láguena, a mixture of anise and sweet wine in equal parts; and the reparo, brandy and sweet wine in equal parts.
Liquor 43 brand has been manufactured in the city since its invention in 1946.
In bakeries, there are crepillos, a round-shaped crunchy salty wheat flour dough, as well as pasties. The most popular are those with tuna and egg and fried ones. Also well known are fried meat patties sprinkled with powdered sugar.
There are three Michelin list restaurants in the city:
Magoga, Plaza Doctor Vicente García Marcos 5, 45 – 85 EUR • Regional Cuisine, Contemporary Cuisine (One star)
El Barrio de San Roque, Jabonerías 30, 25 – 53 EUR • Traditional Cuisine
La Marquesita, Plaza de Alcolea 6, 25 – 50 EUR • Traditional Cuisine
The Ministry of Agriculture and Environment is the start of Calle Mayor, a main retail district of Cartagena. Your window shopping options include department stores, fashion boutiques and jewelry stores.
Cartagena’s coastline is one of the least urbanized in the entire Spanish Mediterranean, with only 0.67% of the coastline that can be developed. As the city is located on a very steep coastline, only two beaches are within the vicinity of the network: Cala Cortina and La Algameca Chica.
In natural settings, you can visit its two protected areas: to the west, the beaches of Cabo Tiñoso, among which are the beach of El Portús that is equipped with a nudist tourist complex, while the rest of protected beaches are more wild, including the beach of Fatares. To the east the beaches that are located in the regional park of Calblanque and Cala Reona.
In urban environments we find towards the west coast on the Mediterranean Sea the towns of La Azohía and Isla Plana. Towards the east, on the shores of the Mar Menor, are Los Urrutias, Los Nietos, Islas Menores, Mar de Cristal, Playa Honda, Playa Paraiso (with a campsite), part of La Manga del Mar Menor, which bathed by the Mediterranean Sea and finally Cabo de Palos.
Cartagena is well known for its diving. The beauty and good conservation of the seabed has made it a favorite destination for scuba diving in Spain. Places such as the marine reserve of Cabo de Palos and Islas Hormigas stand out, along with the area of Cabo Tiñoso (west of the city). The area is characterized by its great biological diversity and the good state of conservation of its bottoms. The large Posidonia meadows are remarkable as well as the coral colonies that make up the habitat of numerous plant and animal species. Likewise, you can find vestiges of the past, from Roman wrecks to ships sunk from the Civil War.
How to get to?
In Cartagena there are two railway stations, a conventional one and a narrow-gauge railway station, which connects the city with the town of Los Nietos on the Mar Menor.
In the first one, Renfe Operadora currently has only two national long-distance destinations established: Madrid, with Altaria and Alvia trains, and Barcelona, with Talgo trains. There are also Regional services that connect the city with Murcia, and Media Distancia with Valencia and Zaragoza.
The following highways have part of their route in the municipality:
AP-7 Autopista del Mediterráneo: runs between Crevillente-Cartagena-Vera.
CT-31. Urban Highway. West access from AP-7 E-15 Autopista del Mediterráneo.
CT-32. Urban Highway. East access from Los Beatos, AP-7 E-15 and RM-12.
CT-33. Urban Highway. Access to the Cartagena Dock, from A-30.
CT-34. Urban Highway. Access to the Escombreras Dock, from A-30 and CT-32.
From Murcia 35 min (49.5 km) via A-30
From Madrid 4 hr 28 min (449 km) via A-3 and A-30
Area: 558 sq. km
GPS coordinates: 37°36′N 0°59′W
Population: 216 108
Time: Central European UTC +1, in summer +2