Cartagena, Spain

Photo: atural harbor in Cartagena. Credit: Lisa Borre.
The large, natural harbor in Cartagena has been used since Phoenician times.

Logbook Entry

Dates: 08/16/08 – 08/24/08
Sailed from: Aguilas (Puerto del Hornillo)
Lat: 37°36’N
Long: 00°59’W

We arrived on Saturday for a one-week stay to visit local archeological sites/museums and to re-stock provisions.  We both really liked Cartagena, a small city rich with history that has not been overwhelmed by resort development.  The large, natural harbor  — a rarity on this coast — has been used continuously since the Phoenicians first settled here in the 3rd Century B.C.

Although we were disappointed to find the National Maritime Archeology Museum closed for renovation, Cartagena had plenty of other sites of interest, including several modern museums devoted to key discoveries in the past 20 years, leaving us nearly saturated with information about its ancient history.  In particular, the museum devoted to the Roman theatre, discovered in 1990, and a Punic wall, built by the Phoenicians and discovered while building a parking lot at the edge of the city in 1988.  Both museums had exceptional interpretive exhibits and were themselves interesting from an architectural standpoint.  There are several archeological digs ongoing in the town, but these are not open to the public yet.

Photo: Roman theater in Cartagena, Spain. Credit: Lisa Borre.
A Roman theatre was found in 1990 near the Castillo de la Concepción and is now open to the public along with a great museum and park.

After securing a berth at the Real Club Regattas Cartagena, we walked into town for dinner at La Patancha, a floating barge on the waterfront.  We enjoyed tapas, grilled fish and  their special chocolate cake with walnuts for dessert.  On the walk back to the boat around midnight, we saw the partial eclipse of the full moon through scattered clouds, another one of our so-called “celestial gifts” and something we hadn’t seen since being in the Caribbean in March 2007.

On our first full-day in Cartagena, we hiked to the top of the largest of seven hills in town to take in the views from the Castillo de la Concepción. From this vantage point, it was easy to understand why this harbor was so strategically important throughout history. Watch towers and castles adorn the surrounding hillsides, and the current home of the Spanish Navy occupies a protected basin inside the harbor itself.

We wound our way down the hill into the narrow streets of the old city and found La Tagliatella, a crowded Italian restaurant, for our Sunday afternoon meal: a delicious thin-crust pizza, a bottle of Spanish red wine and a “cortado” (a short cafe con leche/coffee with milk). The toppings on their special pizza were divided into sections including, carmelized onions, pesto, red pepper, mushrooms, goat cheese, and spinach. They provided a olive oil infused with herbs and peppers to drizzle over the top – yum!  (We are already looking forward to spending time in Italy.)

Photo: Pizza at La Tagliatella in Cartagena, Spain. Credit: Lisa Borre.
We took a break from archeological sites to devour this wonderful pizza at La Tagliatella, an Italian restaurant in Cartagena.

At the Punic Wall museum gift shop we found the information we’d been looking for last month in Almuñecar: the recipe for garum, a fermented fish sauce which was a delicacy during Roman times. Lisa found it printed on an apron and copied it down in her notebook. According to the recipe, the guts of tuna are fermented in the sun with herbs, spices and olive oil for two to three months. The liquid is then drained off with a strainer. The Romans ate garum as an aperitif with really good wine. We have not yet found anyone who makes or eats garum today, but it turns out that Worchester sauce has something similar in its ingredients.