Cartagena, Spain

Cartagena, Spain
—  Municipality  —


Coat of arms
Motto: Muy noble, muy leal y siempre heroica ciudad de Cartagena
Cartagena is located in Spain
Location in Spain
Coordinates: 37°36′N 0°59′W / 37.6°N 0.983°W / 37.6; -0.983Coordinates: 37°36′N 0°59′W / 37.6°N 0.983°W / 37.6; -0.983
Country  Spain
Autonomous community  Murcia
Province Murcia
Comarca Campo de Cartagena
Judicial district Cartagena
 - Mayor Pilar Barreiro (2007) (PP)
 - Total 558.3 km2 (215.6 sq mi)
Elevation 10 m (33 ft)
Highest elevation 50 m (164 ft)
Lowest elevation 0 m (0 ft)
Population (2011)
 - Total 218,210
 - Density 390.8/km2 (1,012.3/sq mi)
Demonym Cartageneros
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 - Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Postal code 302xx and 303xx
Official language(s)
Website Official website

Cartagena (Spanish pronunciation: [kartaˈxena]) is a Spanish city and a major naval station located in the Region of Murcia, by the Mediterranean coast, south-eastern Spain. As of January 2011, it has a population of 218,210 inhabitants[1] being the Region’s second largest municipality and the country’s 6th non-Province capital city.

Cartagena has been inhabited for nearly three millennia, being founded around 227 BC[2] as Qart Hadasht during the Phoenician conquest. The city lived its heyday during the Roman Empire, when it was known as Carthago Nova (the New Carthage) and Carthago Spartaria, capital of the province of Carthaginensis. Then it suffered a period of ups and downs during the Umayyad invasion of Hispania, under its Arabic name of Qartayannat al-Halfa.

Much of the historical weight of Cartagena in the past goes to its coveted defensive port, one of the most important in the western Mediterranean. Cartagena has been the capital of the Spanish Navy's Maritime Department of the Mediterranean since the arrival of the Spanish Bourbons in the 18th century. As far back as the 16th century it was one of the most important naval ports in Spain, together with Ferrol in the North. It is still an important naval seaport, the main military haven of Spain, and there is a big naval shipyard.

The confluence of civilizations as well as its strategic harbour, together the rise of the local mining industry is manifested by a unique artistic heritage, with a number of landmarks such as the Roman Theatre, the second largest of the Iberian Peninsula after the one from Mérida, a lot of Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish remains and a plethora of Art Nouveau buildings, result of the bourgeoisie from the early 20th century. Cartagena is now established as a major cruiser destination[3] in the Mediterranean and an emerging cultural focus.

It is the first of a number of cities which eventually have been named Cartagena, most notably Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena of the West Indies) in Colombia.


Geography and climate

Geography and relief

The city of Cartagena is located in the southeastern region of Spain in the Region of Murcia. The Cartagena region can be viewed as a great plane inclined slightly in the direction NW-SE, bordered at the north and the northwest by pre-coastal mountain ranges (Carrascoy, El Puerto, Los Villares, Columbares and Escalona), and at the south and southwest by coastal mountain ranges (El Algarrobo, La Muela, Pelayo, Gorda, La Fausilla y Minera, with its last spurs in Cape Palos). The dominant geology of the region is metamorphic (slate, marble) and sedimentary (limestone).

the city is located just at the end of the new AP-7 motorway.

Panoramic view of Cartagena.

The Old Town is limited by five small hills (Molinete, Monte Sacro, Monte de San José, Despeñaperros and Monte de la Concepción) following the example of Rome. In the past there was an inner sea between the hills called the Estero that eventually dried up. On this site the "Ensanche" (Expansion or New Town) was built at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The urban area is delimited or crossed by several watercourses, some of which go deep into the urban network during great part of their courses.


Cartagena has a warm, semi-arid climate. Its location near the ocean moderates the temperature, and annual precipitation typically does not surpass 300 mm (12 in). The annual average temperature goes up to around 20°C. The coldest month is January with an average of 12°C. In August, the warmest month, the average temperature is 26°C. The wind is an important climatic factor in the region. .


Despite the intense mining, tourist and industrial exploitation that the area has suffered for centuries, the territory around Cartagena city hosts an extraordinary natural wealth and diversity, with a large number of botanical endemic species. Part of its area is subject to different levels of legal protection.


Tetraclinis articulata.

Cartagena’s coastal mountains have a concentration of one of the largest botanical biodiversities of the Iberian Peninsula. There are both European and African species present, especially the Iberian-African starvation only present in the southern coasts of Spain (mostly in the provinces of Murcia and Almería), together with North Africa. Among these, there stands out the tetraclinis articulata or Sandarac (sabina mora o ciprés de Cartagena—literally Cartagena's cypress in Spanish) endemic to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Malta, and Cartagena, growing at relatively low altitudes in a hot, dry subtropical Mediterranean climate. Some species are seriously endangered like the siempreviva de Cartagena (Limonium carthaginense), the rabogato del Mar Menor (Sideritis marmironensis), the Zamarrilla de Cartagena (Teucrium carthaginense), the manzanilla de escombreras (Anthemis Chrysantha), the garbancillo de Tallante (Stragalus nitidiflorus) and the jara de Cartagena (Cistus heterophyllus carthaginensis).


Coral reefs in Cartagena

Between the animal species it is necessary to emphasize some threatened or endangered ones like the peregrine falcon, the Eurasian eagle-owl, the golden eagle and the Bonelli's eagle, the Spur-thighed Tortoise, the Greater Horseshoe Bat and, mainly, the Spanish toothcarp, an endemic fish from south-eastern Spain. In addition, the presence of the common chameleon (the only chameleon in Europe) has been documented for about 30 years, although it is not clear if it is a native or introduced species. Besides the previous ones, there are also present the greater flamingo, the red fox, the European rabbit, the European badger, the Beech marten, the common genet, the wildcat and the wild boar.

Protected areas

Natural Park of Calblanque.
  • Mar Menor, a salty lagoon separated from the Mediterranean sea by a sand bar 22 km in length and with a variable width from 100 to 1200m. It has a surface area of nearly 170 km², a coastal length of 70 km, and warm and clear water with relatively high salinity, which does not exceed 7m in depth. It belongs to four municipalities including Cartagena. In 1994 it was included on the list of the Ramsar Convention (nº706) for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands. It is also a one of the Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI) by the United Nations. Its five volcanic islands (Perdiguera, Mayor or del Barón, del Ciervo, Redonda and del Sujeto) just like the Carmolí and San Ginés mountains, the Hita and Amoladora beaches, the Lo Poyo salt marsh and the salt mines of Marchamalo are protected as well.
  • Calblanque, Monte de las Cenizas and Peña del Águila, declared a Natural Park and Site of Community Importance (SCI).
  • Sierra de la Muela, Cabo Tiñoso and Roldán mountain, Natural Park, Site of Community Importance and Special Protection Area (SPA).
  • Sierra de la Fausilla, Special Protection Area
  • Islands and Islets of the Mediterranean coast, including Grossa Island (belonging to the municipality of San Javier, Hormigas Islands, Palomas Islands and Escombreras Islands, some of them also designed as Special Protection Area.


Ancient history

Carthaginian walls of Carthago Nova (Spain) s.III bC.

The town was originally named Mastia. Possessing one of the best harbors in the Western Mediterranean, it was re-founded by the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal in 228 BC as Qart Hadasht ("New City"), identically named to Carthage, for the purpose of serving as a stepping-off point for the conquest of Spain. The Roman general Scipio Africanus conquered it in 209 BC and renamed it as Carthago Nova (literally, New New City) to distinguish it from the mother city. Julius Caesar gave the town Latin Rights, and Octavian renamed it in his honor as the colony Colonia Victrix Iulia Nova Carthago or Colonia Vrbs Iulia Nova Carthago (C.V.I.N.C.) depending on the source.

In AD 298 Diocletian constituted a new Roman province in Hispania called Carthaginensis and settled the capital in this city. It remained important until it was destroyed by the Vandals in AD 435. During the Roman period, it was the site of major silver mines, yielding revenue of 25,000 drachmae daily. It was known also for the production of garum, a fermented fish sauce, and for esparto grass[4] which granted it a new name, Cartago Spartaria.

Middle Ages

The demise and fall Roman sovereignty caused the city to go into decline and it was occupied successively by the Vandals (409-425), the Visigoths (425-551 and 624-714) and the Byzantines (551-624), who made it the capital of Spania, the Byzantine Empire's westernmost province). Cartagena went re-conquered by the Visigoths until the Muslim conquest in AD 714, under the name of Qartayannat-al-Halfa. It was subsequently ruled by Umayyads (714-756), the Caliphate of Cordova (756-1031), the Taifa of Denia (1031–1076), the Taifa of Saragossa (1076–1081), the Taifa of Tortosa (1081–1092), the Almoravids (1092–1145), the Almohads (1145–1229) and the Taifa of Murcia (1229–1245) before the Castilian conquest in 1245, when it finally handed to the Christian rule, with its current name. King Alfonso X of Castile (Alfonso the Wise) recaptured the city and restored the Bishopric of Cartagena. He created the Order of Saint Mary of Spain in 1270 in purpose of the naval defense of the Crown of Castile, establishing its headquarters in Cartagena. In 1296 it annexed to the Kingdom of Aragon. Cartagena and Spain in general then entered a period of great decadence and decay, despite a short economic revival in the 16th century, but it din’t fully recover until the 18th century when it became a leading naval port.

Modern history

In 1728 Cartagena became the capital of the Spanish Navy's Maritime Department of the Mediterranean and the city was heavily fortified with the construction of a modern Castle in the place of a former Moorish Kasbah, several barracks and a huge arsenal. In a relatively short period of time the population of the city grew from around 10,000 to 50,000 inhabitants.

In 1757, during the Seven Years War, a French naval force was forced to take shelter in the port. A squadron under Duquesne sent to reinforce them was attacked and defeated by a British squadron under Henry Osborn at the Battle of Cartagena. In 1873 the city formed a federalist government and was the center of the Cantonal Revolution, governmental forces besiege the city for several months. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) Cartagena was one of the primary strongholds of the Republican Government and held out against the forces of General Franco longer than any other city in Spain, being the last of its cities to surrender. The city saw its industrial activity increased during the 1950s, resulting in more prosperity and this trend continued until a general decline in manufacturing throughout Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s.


At the moment Cartagena comprises part of the autonomous community of the Region of Murcia, and is the seat of the Regional Assembly (Murcia’s parliament). It is also capital of the maritime province of Cartagena which was granted by the Royal Decree of October 5, 1607 under the reign of Philip III.


According the Municipal census as of January 2011, Cartagena has 218,210 inhabitants, ranking 24th in Spain in terms of population. Spanish municipality by population (6th among the non-capitals). 182,021 people live in the urban area and 39,840 in the several satellite quarters. According to the official population data, 14.73% of the population of the municipality had a foreign nationality. Its metropolitan area includes the municipalities of La Unión, Fuente Álamo de Murcia, Los Alcázares, San Javier, Torre Pacheco and San Pedro del Pinatar, and have a sum of 332,035 inhabitants.

Demographic evolution of Cartagena since 1842

Fuente: INE[5]

Nota: The municipal extension varies from the 1857 census and the previous one because of the annexion of La Palma and La Unión segregated.

Main sights

Cartagena's City Hall

Thanks to its strategic position on the Mediterranean, Cartagena has been inhabited by many different cultures which have left their mark on its rich cultural heritage during a glorious and turbulent history. The “Cartagena, Port of Cultures” initiative was created to allow visitors to enjoy a wide range of activities and visits, discovering the cultural wealth and rich history of the city. It’s one of the several projects to energize the tourist possibilities of this potential major cultural destination, frequently overshadowed by the mass-tourism due to the proximity of several holiday resorts, and the refinery and the industrial development which yielded a bad reputation to the city because of pollution, now fortunately eradicated.

Archaeological sites

The Roman Theatre of Carthago Nova and Cathedral ruins of Cartagena.

Although there are some ruins from the Carthaginian ages, like the remains of the Punic rampart (built in 227 BC with the foundation of the city), most of its oldest monuments date from the ages of the Roman Empire when Cartagena flourished. Among its numerous Roman remains stands out the recently restored Roman theatre of Carthago Nova, that is one of the landmarks of the city. Its building works started at the end of the 2st century BC. The Roman Theatre museum was officially opened for the first time recently.

Other Roman remains could be found on several buildings and centres for interpretation, including the Roman colonnade, the House of Fortune, the decumanus and the Augusteum. The Torre Ciega was built by the Romans for burials rights, and it formed part of the Necropolis.

The Roman Amphitheatre (1st century AD) lies where the now abandoned Bullring was built, but only some of the surrounding walls and part of the rooms under the stands are still visible.

Besides the Roman heritage, the archaeological sights include the remains of the Santa María la Vieja Cathedral irreversibly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. It dates from the end of the 13th century. A decorated floor of a Roman house of the 1st century BC can be found in the crypt.

Also a Byzantine rampart can be found, closer the Roman theatre and the Cathedral.

The Concepción Castle (now Centre for Interpretation of the History of Cartagena) was reconstructed in the 13th century using big structures from the Amphitheater. Apart from the Roman Theatre museum, there are two important archaeological museums as well, including the Municipal Archaeological museum and the also recently opened Arqua (National Museum of Maritime Archaeology).

Baroque and Neo-classical buildings

Original Charles III rampart

The Campus Muralla del Mar an old military hospital was one of the first works carried out after the transformation of the city into the main Spanish naval base in the Mediterranean, and is now the seat of the Polytechnic University. In the vicinity there is the Autopsy theater, which is where anatomy classes used to be given. The touristic rehabilitation offers the patrimonial interpretation of the nearby buildings at the time of its construction.

These buildings prove the big military importance of Cartagena. Other Several baroque or neo-classical buildings of military origin include the Charles III rampart, the Arsenal, the Midshipman's Barracks (academy and naval barracks), the Naval Headquarter Palace (built in 1740 and subsequently reformed) and the Artillery Headquarters which also houses the Military Museum. There are many baroque or neo-classical Churches in Cartagena that worth a visit, including the churches of El Carmen, Santo Domingoand of Santa Maria de Gracia.

The Molina House with an austere appearance houses the Centre of Arts and Craft.

Modernist and eclectic buildings

The Gran Hotel

Cartegena is home to numerous art nouveau buildings from early 20th century, when the Bourgeoisie settled down in the city due to the growth of the local mining industry.

The include the City Hall, the Grand Hotel, the Casino (all of them among the city's landmarks). The Railway Station has some outstanding iron doors and columns on the façade, and inside can still be seen the original ticket office, doorframe, ceiling and the lamps. Other modernist or eclectic houses include the Clares House, the Aguirre Palace (which houses the Regional Museum of Modern Art), the Cervantes House (relatively big in comparison with other modernist buildings), the Llagostera House, the Pedreño Palace, the Dorda House, the Zapata House and the Urban Expansion Company House. Several charming lively streets cover this area, like Calle Mayor (High street), the major pedestrian and commercial street of the city, full of boutiques and bars with typical "tapas", the Carmen Street, the Puertas de Murcia street and many more.

The Caridad church is one of the most important churches in the city, since it is dedicated to the patron saint of Cartagena. The interior is dominated by a dome, similar to the Roman pantheon of Agrippa. There are also several outstanding sculptures by the famous murcian sculptor Francisco Salzillo and his school.

Contemporary sights

The Civil War shelter-museum lies on the galleries excavated out the Concepción hill (where is the Castle) to serve as air-raid shelters during the Spanish Civil War. Many naval and military attractions belong to this route like the Naval Museum and the world-famous Peral Submarine invented by Isaac Peral (born in Cartagena) that was launched in 1888 as one of the first U-Boats ever. It is shown on the Cartagena's promenade.

The Monument to the Heroes of Santiago de Cuba and Cavite (1923) is a war memorial erected in honour of the Spanish sailors who died in combat with the US Navy in waters off Cavite and Santiago off the Philippine and Cuban coasts.

Other attractions include the Lift-Gangway near the former Bullring and the Concepcion hill, the Regional Assembly (the Parliament of the Region of Murcia) which façade has architectural influences of the Renaissance while maintaining a modernist air (typical in the Levant), and the Carmen Conde-Antonio Moliner museum that reconstructs the atmosphere in which these poets from Cartagena created part of their important works.


Public beach at El Portus.

Although the city itself is only a port, within the city limits lies part of La Manga del Mar Menor (the other part belonging to the municipality of San Javier) which encompasses the Mar Menor. Cartagena also includes part of the Murcian Mediterranean Coast. Cartagena holds the distinction of being the Spanish town with the most beaches (10) certified “Q for Quality” by the ICTE (Instituto para la Calidad Turística Española). These beaches are: Cala Cortina, Islas Menores, playa Honda beach, Mar de Cristal, Cala del Pino, Cavanna beach, Barco Perdido beach, El Galúa beach, Levante beach and La Gola beach.

The wild El Portús beach is also near Cartagena’s municipal district.


  • Cartagena's Holy Week, declared of international touristic interest
  • Carthaginians and Romans, declared of national touristic interest. The main festivities of the city, a colourful Carthaginian and Roman parade full of events that reminds the famous Punic Wars and the conquest of the city by both Empires.
  • Cartagena celebrates the day the very first majoress was declared they have parties to celebrate and they invite strangers into their house.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ [3]
  4. ^ Hammond, N.G.L. & Scullard, H.H. (Eds.) (1970). The Oxford Classical Dictionary (p. 209). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-869117-3.
  5. ^ INEbase. Variaciones intercensales. Alteraciones de los municipios en los censos de población desde 1842. En línea: Consultado 17-06-2011. Cuando se dispone del dato de población de hecho y de derecho se ha tomado la cifra más alta.

External links

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