Cartagena has a natural, strategic harbour and an ancient pre-Roman history. It lies about 100 km west of the popular tourist spot of Alicante and very close to La Manga, a holiday destination on the Mar Menor lagoon known for its golf club and professional footballer guests.
Cartagena attracts many visitors for its Romans and Carthaginians Festival, which started in 1990 and takes place every September. It commemorates the Second Punic War when the Romans took over Cartagena in while its leader Hannibal was off attacking Rome and its re-enactments last several days, ending with a tremendous firework display.
It is only recently however that Cartagena’s magnificent Roman theatre has been fully excavated and given access through a lovely museum. The first time I visited Cartagena about ten years ago, the theatre site was behind high wooden fencing, with only the odd hammering noise attracting any attention. Now it can be seen in all its splendour, a huge structure just a short stroll from the harbour and surrounded by normal, modern, day to day city life. You have to wonder what the neighbours next door think of it as they hang their washing out on their balconies looking down on the vast 2000 year old stage.
The beautiful harbour is still a major naval base but in recent years has also become a stop off point for many Mediterranean cruise ships, bringing a welcome economic boost to the city. A variety of museums showcase its history, but just walking round you can see a wide range of architecture and some beautiful art deco facades from its trade and mining prosperity in the nineteenth century, not to mention bullet hole scars in its walls from the more recent Civil War.
Cartagena is well worth a visit and if you are hungry, there are many restaurants just off the main drag with really tasty examples of the three course Spanish menu del dia for about 10 euros!