by Don Harris | January 2004

The ancient city of Cartagena, in the province of Murcia, lies in a unique position sheltered by fortified cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. This port, located in the southwest shore of the Province of Murcia, was considered by the British admiral Lord Nelson to be the safest port in the Mediterranean.

Fortified walls -- La Morilla del Mar - built during the reign of Philip II, surround the old quarter of the city. Today the walls make a beautiful promenade punctuated with patches of bright flowers. Along the top of the Castillo de la Concepción (formerly a fortress and now a public garden), you can walk high above the city. Looking down, you can see the fishing boats arriving with their catches from the Mediterranean and far beyond in the Atlantic.
Tuna catch at Cartegena harbor

For literally thousands of years the fishermen braved the Atlantic to catch cod, which they cleaned and packed in salt for the long trip back to home port. It is here along the waterfront that the renowned family company Ricardo Fuentes E Hijos prepares top quality bacalao (salt cod) loins for shipping to us at Also along the shores they prepare for us the finest mojama, a delicacy highly coveted in Southern Spain. These lightly salted tuna loins are hung up to cure in the warm Mediterranean sun. Pungent breezes from the sea dry the fish, much as jamón serrano is cured up in the mountains not many kilometers away in the Alpujarras Mountains.

What I like most about Cartagena is her peacefulness and natural beauty. Because it is both a major naval base and a hub of maritime commerce, Cartagena is not a sleepy town. On the other hand, it has been spared the invasion of busloads of tourists, who find this ancient city "off the beaten track" and therefore hard to fit in their whirlwind itineraries. Granada and Valencia are as close as the tourists come.

Like Cádiz, on the edge of the Atlantic, Cartagena was one of the great ports of Antiquity. Although not as ancient as Cádiz, (founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC.), this magnificent natural port was first captured by the North African empire of Carthage in 221 BC and named Cartago Nova, New Carthage.

At your leisure you can absorb the layers of history, which are evident all about you in this moderately sized city of 175,000. Walk down on the dike in the harbor to visit a fascinating National Archeological Museum, which includes a section on seafaring activity during antiquity, complete with model galleys and other vessels. You can also linger at the Roman theater built in the first century BC. Along with Mérida, it is one of the most important Roman theaters in Spain.

On the other hand modern architecture is interesting too. The Ayuntamiento is a Modernist style Town Hall, graced with a sweeping marble staircase. The bullring is encompassed by handsome Moorish arches and decorated with striking Andalucían tiles.

Murcia is an often-overlooked portion of Spain. Personally, I have fond memories of our trips to the interior of the Province; especially our visit to the venerable shrine of Caravaca de la Cruz and the farm town of Calasparra encompassed with the fields of precious bomba rice. But most of all, I treasure the few hours I spent with my wife Ruth, strolling along the walls of Cartagena. It is worth the trip.

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