Cartagena, or New Carthage, was founded by the Carthaginians in 227 BC as their capital city in Spain. 18 years later it was captured by the Romans and soon became one of the leading Roman towns in the province. It has a magnificent harbour – one of the finest in the Mediterranean – but by the 19th-century, it had become a port city, notorious for its low life. But how do you change the image of a city to one of high culture? By using archaeology, of course! Read all about Cartagena,  and how archaeology has made it into one of the finest Roman cities in Spain

Every year I go out to Spain to visit my brother near Almeria.  I always vow it to be a real holiday, that is no archaeology, but this year I failed in my resolutions and decided to take a day off from the serious business of doing nothing, and to visit the local Roman site at Cartagena.

Cartagena, or in Roman terms nova Carthago began off as a Carthaginian site. In 241 BC the Carthaginians were defeated by the Romans in the first Punic War as the result of which they were forced to pay a heavy indemnity.  The Carthaginians therefore decided to expand their empire in Spain, which was rich in silver, and in 227 they founded a new city at Cartagena.

Czartagena and its harbours

This map shows the magnificent position of the classical city of New Carthage, on a peninsula between the two harbours. The innermost harbour has now long silted up.

Cartagena has a magnificent harbour — said to be the finest in the Mediterranean, rather resembling a clover leaf, and around it there was good land for settlement based on five hills. At first it flourished, but the Carthaginian phase only lasted for eighteen years, for in 209 it was captured by the Romans – part of the Scipio’s campaign to defeat Hannibal by attacking his homeland base.  The Romans were successful, and thereafter the story of Cartagena is a story of a Roman town. But does anything remain of the Carthaginian empire building?

Up until 1980 there was little archaeology to see in Cartagena and the cruise ships which still dock in the superb harbour had no archaeology to show their passengers. But then Spain woke up, and spurred by EU money a wide range of archaeological sites have been discovered and magnificently presented to the public.


View of Cartagena from the port, the city still being defended by the walls built by Charles V

The nearest site to the harbour is the Roman theatre, so I decided to begin there.  However, I soon found I was lost – one always is when one first arrives in a strange town.  But eventually I found the entrance to the museum to the Roman theatre on the square facing the town hall.  When does it close?’ I asked.  ‘Not till 8’ they said: ‘but there are two museums that close at 3.  You must hurry of you want to see them’.  I bought a ticket for all five museums, or should I say sites, and set off to visit the Augusteum at the centre of the Roman town.


On to The Augusteum



7th October 2016

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