The Molineti hill
After this I decided to visit the forum, an exercise which proved to be both more frustrating and more interesting than I had expected. The forum lies diagonally across the city, in the north west, and I tried to cut across diagonally — and inevitably got lost. I thought I saw what looked like an extensive excavation area, but I enquired of some passing Spaniards in my halting English, “Where is the forum?” and they said: “It is up the hill”, which turned out to be quite wrong – the Romans did not put their forums on top of hills. But it proved to be extremely interesting, nevertheless.
This is a hill called the Molineti, which means Windmill Hill: there is a round windmill on top, and it forms the base for a most magnificent archaeological park. This was one of the five hills on which Cartagena is based – two less than Rome – and there are marvellous views. And to the south, I saw what I was looking for, that is the excavations in the area of the forum. I could see some actual excavations in progress and beside them there was an interesting roofed construction which looked as if it might conceal something interesting. I must hurry down to investigate.
First of all however, the top of the hill was to be explored. When the Carthaginian settlement was formed, Polybius tells us that this was the site of Hasdrubal’s Palace – Hasdrubal being the founder of the city, and the father of Hannibal. Were there any remains?The north side of the ridge is crossed by a mass of walls.
The latest is a renaissance wall built by Charles V; then there is a Roman wall, and underneath it a double wall with casements very like that at the Punic Wall Museum, but apparently it is uncertain whether they were in fact Carthaginian or were actually built by the Romans.
However just off the top there are two temples which are extremely interesting. The larger is a Roman temple in the classical Greek style, and beside it on the uphill side was a smaller structure, the Sanctuary of Atargatis.
This is said to be Carthaginian, though it was reconstructed in the Roman period, and reading between the lines, the excavators had some difficulty in sorting out what was Carthaginian and what was Roman. But if it is Carthaginian, it is extremely interesting: Carthaginian temples are rare and their religion is controversial – did they really sacrifice children on a regular basis? (Probably not, this is probably Roman propaganda).
The temple seems to have been more of a bathing and dining establishment than a temple with the inner room being arranged as a Roman triclinium, or dining room, with couches round the side and an altar in the corner, while the outer room may have been used for bathing, carried out in two small side rooms in Roman times, and a central plunge pool in Punic times. In the late second century BC a floor was laid down with an impermeable hydraulic mortar and a Latin inscription dedicated to Atargatis, a Syrian goddess to whom the whole complex might have been dedicated. Did bathing and dining play a bigger role in Carthaginian religion than we would normally expect?
On the downhill site was a rather larger temple of the Roman period, though it had been much eroded and the visible layout was mostly reconstruction. It stands above the forum, and there is a much eroded stairway leading up to it, and it has suggested that it may have been a rather detached Capitolium, that is the main temple.
There was therefore much of interest to see on the hilltop. But having examined the archaeology and admired the view, it was time to descend and find out what was going on in the area of the forum.
On to the Area of the Forum