Phew! A 10 mile day and my feet are about to fall off! So, after initial skepticism regarding the merits of Cartagena, I have to say that today changed my mind somewhat. It is definitely on the gritty side and much less visited by tourists, but we had a good day.
First of all, we realized that our hotel is situated on the outskirts of town, and once we headed out we found the center of the old town, which is small, but nice. There were more people there, certainly, and a few more of the things we’ve become used to – wide plazas with beautiful town hall buildings, little tourist shops selling all kinds of silly things, restaurants with tables and umbrellas out front… But even in the center, there were signs of decay and neglect, and it was easier to see here how Spain counts among one of the “PIIGS” countries. There weren’t that many people, overall, and we saw tons of buildings that were just empty and abandoned, forlorn “For Sale” signs swinging in the breeze. The weirdest thing we saw were these fake facades of buildings – the front was still standing, but the entire rest of the building was totally demolished. It gave the appearance of completion, a whole face shown to the world, but then as you walked past, you realized that the building was just a mask, an empty shell. It was totally bizarre.
Despite all those empty buildings, or maybe because of them, the street art we saw was incredible. Our guidebook had mentioned Porto and Granada as being places to see great street art, but both cities paled in comparison to what we saw today. Not in proliferation, necessarily – there wasn’t more here, it’s just better. I took lots of photos, so check those out on Flickr (I will upload them soon!!).
I definitely think that Cartagena is a more interesting place than some of the other cities we’ve seen (certainly more so than Granada), and it was nice to get to explore that a bit today.
So, what we did today: today was Marathon Museum Day – really the only point of interest here is the deep history, and we went to eight (count ‘em, EIGHT!!!!) museums to experience every last drop. They were (in order of our attendance):
The city’s Archaeological Museum
The District of the Roman Forum
The House of Fortune
The Roman Theater
The Castillo dela Concepción
The Punic Wall
The National Museum of Underwater Archaeology
It was definitely exhausting, and I can’t really feel my feet right now, but each museum was really great. It was much, much easier to feel the Romans here in Cartagena. Every other major city we’ve been to has only had a few fragments around – a Phoenician wall here, a fish salting vat there, all in some basement. But here in Cartagena, there is a massive theater, and amphitheater, random columns next to a café, Punic walls that the Romans reinforced – it’s much more similar to Arles or Nimes or even Rome.
Particular favorites among the museums were the Underwater Archaeology Museum – it was much more scientific than we thought it would be, with lots of interactive displays with touchscreens and a sort of choose-your-own-adventure presentation of information (“What was life like on a Roman boat?” “What were the religious practices of the sailors?” “What goods were the Romans transporting?”). It was really, really well done, given the scarcity of actual artifacts. The House of Fortune was also really well done – just a small Roman house with really well preserved wall paintings and mosaic floors.
Tomorrow is our last day in Spain. I can’t believe that this trip is almost over! It’s really surreal, but I have to say, I am really looking forward to being back in Rome. For now, though, I’m going to put my feet up!