Cartagena, Spain

Cartagena is located along the Mediterranean Sea in southeastern Spain. The city is nestled between five mounts and a sheltered bay. It is also filled with modern-day appeal and amenities plus a treasure trove of over 2,000 years of history. Use this travel guide as a walking tour starting at the harbor pier. You do not want to miss a single important place to experience.

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1 Welcome to Cartagena, Spain

You are arriving by cruise ship into Cartagena, one of Spain’s most delightful coastal destinations. This city of 220,000 people was founded in the third century BC. You are about to explore Roman ruins dating back before the birth of Christ. See evidence of the nations who exchanged control during the Middle Ages. Witness battle scars from the 18th and 20th centuries. Enjoy the facades of ornate Modernista architecture. Stroll along the promenade between 18th century defensive walls and this picturesque harbor. Take your first step toward creating a lasting memory.

Paseo Alfonso XII, 8, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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2 Walls of Charles III in Cartagena, Spain

Charles III, while the King of Spain from 1759 until 1788, ordered the construction of a wall encircling Cartagena. The defense was designed by Mateo Vodopich. When Muralla de Carlos III was finished, the rampart measured over three miles in length. The best preserved section is Muralla del Mar meaning the Sea Wall. Most of the other curtain walls were removed along with the three original gates into the city.

Muelle Alfonso XII, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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3 Staircase Over Walls of Charles III in Cartagena, Spain

If you want to get over the Wall of Charles III from the harbor, there is a double staircase located at the end of the main pier. However, a better path to begin your walking tour of Cartagena is to turn left (west) and follow Paseo Alfonso XIII. This waterfront street leads to several major landmarks worth visiting. Above the door of the building in the background is the name Armada Española Servicios Generales. This is a temporary residence for visiting seaman, marines and naval officers provided by the Spanish Navy.

Calle Muralla del Mar, 13, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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4 El Zulo Sculpture in Cartagena, Spain

Along the harbor in Plaza Del Puerto de Cartagena is this dramatic bronze sculpture of a man sitting with his head buried between his knees. His nakedness represents everyone’s vulnerability to terrorism. The two ton, 19.5 foot statue is the work of Spanish sculptor Víctor Ochoa. The former architect turned artist specializes in very large monuments like this one dedicated to the victims of terrorism.

Plaza Del Puerto De Cartagena, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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5 Old Regatta Club in Cartagena, Spain

The Regatta Club of Cartagena was founded in 1905 by a few young sailing enthusiasts. Two years later, these ingenious lads invited King Alfonso XIII to be the club’s honorary president. His acceptance gave them royal status. As membership quickly grew, they built this clubhouse at the end of a pier in 1912. Architect Mario Spottorno created the simple yet distinguished design. The club’s headquarters moved in 1985. In 2001, this property of cultural interest was destroyed by fire. The Antiguo Club de Regatas de Cartagena was rebuilt in 2006.

Antiguo Club de Regatas, Pz Heroes de Cavite, 3, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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6 Naval Museum in Cartagena, Spain

The Naval Museum of Cartagena was established in 1986. Among the collection are model and actual ships, submarines and planes plus naval armaments, flags, equipment and personal effects of sailors. There are also exhibits in Spanish and English about major battles involving the Spanish Navy (Armada Española). Museo Naval shares the CIM building along the waterfront with Polytechnic University. This was a prison when it was built in 1785. In the foreground is The Whale’s Tail (Cola de Ballena). The 24 ton steel sculpture, created by Fernando Sáenz de Elorrieta in 2007, measures 15.5 feet high and 26 feet wide.

Museo Naval de Cartagena, Paseo Alfonso XII, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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7 The Aduana in Cartagena, Spain

In Spanish, the word aduana means customs. The Customs House in Cartagena was built in 1930. Its Modernista design was created by architect Maese Velasco.

Calle Real, 1, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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8 Heroes of Cavite and Cuba in Cartagena, Spain

The Spanish-American War was a series of naval engagements in the Caribbean for three months in 1898. Over 400 Spanish sailors were killed during the battles of Cavite and Santiago de Cuba. This monument was erected in 1923 to honor their sacrifice. The marble obelisk is 49 feet tall. The sculptures were created by Julio González-Pola. Two of Spain’s concessions at the end of the war were Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Plaza Héroes de Cavite, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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9 Replacement Soldier Statue in Cartagena, Spain

Lining both sides of Plaza Héroes de Cavite is a promenade with wooden benches. One of them is occupied by this forlorn fellow with a duffle bag at his feet. Go ahead … sit next to him, drape your arm over his shoulder and console the young man. He represents an Army soldier from the Infantry Regiment ‘España 18’ who fought during the Spanish-American War. The sculpture was created by Fernando Sáenz de Elorrieta. Nearby is another full-size bronze titled Replacement Navy Sailor.

Plaza Héroes de Cavite, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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10 Palacio Consistorial Clock Tower in Cartagena, Spain

From Plaza Héroes de Cavite you will see this marvelous clock tower. It is part of the triangle-shaped Palacio Consistorial (Cartagena’s City Hall). Enter this iron door for one of two tourist information centers in the city. The other office is located in Plaza Almirante Bastarreche. The staff at the Oficina de Turismo de Cartagena can help optimize your visit. You do not want to miss a single highlight of what they call the “Port of Cultures.”

Plaza Ayuntamiento, 1, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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11 Palacio Consistorial Main Façade in Cartagena, Spain

You are standing in Plaza del Ayuntamiento and admiring the main façade of Palacio Consistorial, Cartagena’s City Hall. Exquisite details are carved into white Macael marble and Villalba granite. The relief on top featuring the Castle of La Concepción is Cartagena’s coat of arms. Encircling it is a zinc covered dome. This architectural high point of Cartagena was finished in 1907 during the peak of the Belle Époque (Beautiful Era) in France. It is the masterful Modernista design of Tomás Rico Valarino while he was the city’s municipal architect. The tour inside is well worth the small price of admission.

Plaza Ayuntamiento, 1, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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12 Roman Theatre Museum in Cartagena, Spain

As you pass this pink façade on Plaza del Ayuntamiento, do not mistake it for just an outdoor café. This is the Roman Theatre Museum. Museo del Teatro Romano deserves to be at the top of your must-see list. Inside are Roman artifacts found from their 634 year reign over the city from 209 BC until 425 AD. The interactive displays explain the history of the Roman occupation. Then follow the tunnel to the historical highlight of Cartagena: the ruins of the ancient Roman Theatre.

Plaza Ayuntamiento, 9, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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13 Roman Theatre of Cartago Nova in Cartagena, Spain

After the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in 209 BC during the Second Punic War, they renamed the city Carthago Nova. It grew in strategic importance and wealth thanks to silver and lead mining and active trade in the port. When Julius Caesar proclaimed it to be a Roman colony in 44 BC, the city gained further status and success. While Augustus was Emperor of the Roman Empire (27 BC to 14 AD), he heavily invested in prestigious infrastructure. The Roman Theatre of Cartago Nova was built during this era. It is hard to understand how this archeological gem from 4 BC was buried for 1,800 years until discovered in 1987. Now sit on one of the 6,000 seats within the 288 foot wide theatre. Imagine hearing music from the orchestra pit. Pretend to watch a grand performance on stage. Marvel at the remnants of pink marble columns that once supported a 53 foot magnificent structure. This is an incredible experience!

Plaza Ayuntamiento, 9, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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14 Cathedral Ruins Adjacent to Roman Theatre in Cartagena, Spain

In 1245, seven years before becoming the King of Castile and León, Prince Alfonso defeated the Moors and claimed Cartagena. He then declared the city to be a Christian Diocese. This prompted the construction of Cartagena Cathedral. It was rebuilt and expanded in the 16th century, late 17th century and early 20th century. During the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939), the Cathedral of Santa María la Vieja was destroyed. It remains in ruins. The building’s shell is adjacent to the Roman Theatre. This positioning is a coincidence because the former amphitheater was buried and unknown when the cathedral was first constructed during the 13th century.

Plaza Ayuntamiento, 9, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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15 Puerta de la Villa at Concepción Castle in Cartagena, Spain

The Vandals overpowered the Romans in 435 AD. For the next 800 years, rule over the city changed hands no less than a dozen times. Soon after it was conquered by King Alfonso X of Castile in 1245, he ordered the building of a large keep at the summit of Mount Asclepio (now Cerro de la Concepción). Stones from the adjacent Roman Theater were plundered for its construction. This arch is Puerta de la Villa, the entrance to Castillo de la Concepción in Torres Park. The locals call it Castillo de los Patos (Castle of the Ducks).

Calle Concepción, 57, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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16 Plaza Puerta de la Villa at Concepción Castle in Cartagena, Spain

You can reach Concepción Castle either by taking the Panoramic Lift or by walking up the hill from the archway. On your path is this terrace named Plaza Puerta de la Villa. Linger here to savor the elevated view of the Roman Theatre, the city and the harbor. When you reach the summit, you will learn the castle is gone. No, your trek was not in vain. In its place is the Interpretation Centre of the History of Cartagena. You can also admire Torre Linterna. This stone lighthouse was built by the Arabs during the 9th century.

Calle Concepción, 57, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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17 Geography of Cartagena, Spain

Cartagena is located in a large plain called Campo de Cartagena. The region is shaped by five mountains in the north, another five in the south and the Mediterranean Sea. The historic center of the city is further defined by hills. Cartagena also has a natural, deep-water port. The oval-shaped harbor is nestled in an inlet of Cartagena Bay. This combination of geological features has made Cartagena an attractive location for civilizations for over 2,500 years.

Calle Concepción, 57, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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18 Mayor Alfonso Torres Monument in Cartagena, Spain

This monument is located at the entrance of Torres Park. Both are a tribute to Alfonso Torres. While the major of the city from 1923 to 1930, he spearheaded numerous public works projects including creating parks, improving sanitation and building a system to supply fresh water. He was so popular that residents voted him as Cartagena’s favorite son. After the fall of Spain’s dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera in 1930, Torres became a leading member of the Spanish Renovation party in defense of monarch Alfonso XIII. In 1936, Torres and others planned a coup d’état against the Second Spanish Republic government. After the insurrection failed, he was arrested and executed. These events coincided with the start of the Spanish Civil War. The battles between the Republicans and Nationalists lasted until 1939.

Monument to Alfonso Torres, Plaza Puerta de la Villa, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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19 Calle Mayor in Cartagena, Spain

After visiting Palacio Consistorial, the Roman Theatre and Concepción Castle, return to Plaza del Ayuntamiento. At the north end is the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment. This building is the start of Calle Mayor, a main retail district of Cartagena. Your window shopping options include department stores, fashion boutiques and jewelry stores. The street’s blue marble tiles are reserved for pedestrians. So take your time exploring the shops, restaurants, cafes and bars tucked inside elegant Modernista buildings. The narrow side streets are equally worth exploring.

Calle Mayor, 1, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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20 Casa Clares in Cartagena, Spain

Visiting Cartagena’s historic landmarks is exhilarating. Equally exciting is walking along the streets while admiring the charm, particularly along Calle del Aire. The former residences are warm and inviting. Facades are enhanced with ornate decorations and simple flowerboxes. A classic example is Casa Clare. This is the stunning Modernista design of architects Mario Spottorno and Sanz de Andino. Clare’s House was built in 1907 during the city’s golden age.

Calle Aire, 4, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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21 Bells of Santa María de Gracia Church in Cartagena, Spain

During the 18th century, the only Catholic churches in Cartagena were the cathedral and chapels attached to monasteries. Construction of the Church of Santa María de Gracia began in 1713. Work continued for 66 years before finishing in 1779. The Baroque edifice was rebuilt twice after being partially destroyed during battles in 1873 and 1936. The façade is rather bland except for this bell tower.

Calle Aire, 26D, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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22 Nave of Santa María de Gracia Church in Cartagena, Spain

Above the altar at Santa María de Gracia Church is the image of the Virgin of Rosell. According to legend, this 13th century sculpture was found floating by a fisherman named Ros. Flanking it are the Four Saints of Cartagena carved by Francisco Salzillo. In addition to this main presbytery, there are two additional naves and eight chapels.

Calle Aire, 26D, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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23 Roman Colonnade in Cartagena, Spain

Cartagena has several Roman ruins dating from their occupation from 209 BC until 425 AD. Many major sites are still being excavated. Occasionally, remnants of this era are discovered by accident. The Roman Colonnade was uncovered in 1957 during routine sewer maintenance. At the base of the eight columns are limestone slabs. These were part of the Roman road adjacent to the ancient building.

Calle Morería Baja, 26, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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24 Gran Hotel of Cartagena in Cartagena, Spain

Cartagena is blessed with many gorgeous buildings thanks to the talents of two architects at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century: Tomás Rico Valarino and Víctor Beltrí. Their designs combined Modernism and Art Nouveau. Some people call the style Eclectic. Both of them worked on the Gran Hotel. This spectacular façade was crafted in 1912 from Macael marble, granite and bricks plus crowned with a zinc dome. This is now an office building. Several more examples from these famous designers can be savored along Calle Mayor. Walking tours for architecture aficionados are available.

Calle Jara, 31, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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25 Dome of Basilica of Charity in Cartagena, Spain

Hospital de la Caridad (Hospital of Charity) was formed in 1693. A church was added in 1744. Nearly 150 years later, it was replaced with the current Neoclassical design by architect Tomás de Tallarie. In 2012, the Catholic church was designated as a minor basilica. Inside is the revered sculpture of Virgen de la Caridad. Sculptor Giacomo Colombo was commissioned by the hospital to create the religious carving in 1723. The Virgin of Charity is a patroness of Cartagena.

Calle de la Caridad, 15, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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26 History of Molinete Archaeological Park in Cartagena, Spain

Molinete Archaeological Park is another showcase of Cartagena’s history. This hill was called Mount Ciudadela de Asdrúbal when Carthaginian General Hasdrubal the Fair built his palace here between 227 and 221 BC. During the Roman period (209 BC to 425 AD), they constructed a large temple near the staircase seen in the middle of the photo. In the mid-16th century, the area was encircled by a curtainwall with bastions named the Wall of Charles V. By the 18th century, this had become Barrio Prohibido (Prohibited District). This impoverished neighborhood was plagued by rowdy bars, drunken sailors and prostitution. After the residents were evicted and many of their homes were destroyed in the 1970s, archeological work began in earnst. This was the foundation of today’s Molinete Archaeological Park. You will enjoy reading more history from signs in English as you explore the 6.5 acre Molinete Parque Arqueologico.

Cerro Del Molinete, Calle Pólvora, 30203 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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27 Flour Mill at Molinete Archaeological Park in Cartagena, Spain

For nearly five hundred years beginning in the Middle Ages, numerous windmills were built at the summit of Molinete Hill. They powered millstones for grinding grain into flour. Their huge sails rotated as needed to catch the changing wind direction. Their presence created the current name for the hill: Cerro del Molinete meaning Mill Hill. This stone mill was built in the 18th century. It is one of the two left standing.

Cerro Del Molinete, Calle Pólvora, 30203 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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28 Roman Forum Molinete Archaeological Park in Cartagena, Spain

The Romans constructed a forum on the lower terrace of Molinete Hill starting in the 1st century AD. Included in the complex was a basilica, an atrium, baths, government buildings, shops and elite residences plus a large rectangular plaza. Remnants such as these columns are put on display outside and beneath a glass canopy as they are discovered during ongoing excavation of the ruins.

Cerro Del Molinete, Calle Pólvora, 30203 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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29 Sacred Mountain in Cartagena, Spain

In 227 BC, General Hasdrubal the Fair founded Qart Hadasht (today’s Cartagena). The Carthaginians maintained control of the city until 209 BC. During this 18 year period, the Baal Hammon temple was built on top of Sacred Mountain (Monte Sacro). Baʿal Ḥammon was the Carthaginian weather deity and king of the gods. During the Roman period, the temple was dedicated to Cronus, leader of the Titans. All that remains is an abandoned mill and military observation tower. Yet plans are underway for an archeological excavation.

Monte Sacro, Calle Rosario, 65-53, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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30 Arsenal de Cartagena in Cartagena, Spain

Cartagena’s location on the Mediterranean Sea has been a major port since the 2nd century BC. Since the early 18th century, it has also been a strategic site for the Spanish Navy. Construction of the Cartagena Naval Base began in 1731 and was finished fifty years later. The Arsenal de Cartagena operates in the Mediterranean Maritime Zone, one of four area commands of the Spanish Navy. This yellow clock tower is camera worthy. But do not expect to get beyond the front gates. Tourists are restricted from the base.

Calle Real, 26, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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31 Pergolas at Plaza del Ray in Cartagena, Spain

When the urban architect firm Bernardino Arquitectos was commissioned to revitalize Plaza del Ray across from Arsenal de Cartagena, they created an innovative design. Thirteen steel structures were erected in 2010 to simulate an abstract grove of trees. Practically, the pergolas provide shade from the sun. Visually, they create a square with an exciting and welcoming flair.

Plaza del Rey, 8, 30201 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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32 Zapata House in Cartagena, Spain

Unlike most examples of Modernista architecture in Cartagena, the crenelated tower of the Zapata House resembles a castle. Casa Zapata was built in 1910 based on a design by architect Víctor Beltrí. Inside is the Santa Joaquina de Vedruna School operated by the Carmelites of Cartagena. The Catholic grade school and high school was established in 1942.

Plaza de España, 9, 30204 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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33 Puente Quitapellejos in Cartagena, Spain

Puente Quitapellejos is a bridge built in 2011 for traffic and pedestrians leading into La Concepción neighborhood. The footbridge section has wooden planks with a 29.5 foot high arch. It spans the Rambla of Benipila, a manmade ravine designed to drain excessive rain and avoid floods. The bridge is part of Calle Pío XII. You can follow this road to reach Atalaya Castle seen in the background.

Puente Quitapellejos, Calle Pío XII, 30204 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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34 Atalaya Castle in Cartagena, Spain

The 794 foot elevation of this hill overlooking Cartagena and its harbor has made it an ideal location for sentries since the Middle Ages. In Spanish, the name of the mount and fortress is Atalaya meaning watchtower. Fuerte de la Atalaya was built in 1777 during the massive fortification of Cartagena ordered by Spanish King Carlos III. The citadel is shaped as an isosceles trapezoid. The design includes six bastions. You can visit Atalaya Castle. However, reaching it can be challenging and much of the structure is in poor condition.

Pasaje Castle Atalaya, 1, 30205 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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35 Old Bullring and Autopsy Pavilion in Cartagena, Spain

This photo captures two interesting yet very distinct landmarks. On the right is a bullring constructed in 1854. When it was abandoned after the last bullfight in 1986, archeologists discovered a Roman amphitheater from the 1st century BC below the foundation. While excavation is underway, metal scaffolding braces the sides of the old bullring. On the left is the Pabellón de Autopsias. This means Autopsy Pavilion. The hexagonal building was commissioned by the Royal Hospital de Marina in 1768 and then used as a training center for surgeons. It has been an exhibition hall for young artists since 2008.

1 Calle Dr. Fleming, 1, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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36 Panoramic Lift in Cartagena, Spain

After visiting the Amphitheatre and the Civil War Air Raid Shelters Museum, there is a very fast and scenic way to ascend the 150 foot hill to the Castle of the Conception and Torres Park. Since the Panoramic Lift opened in 2004, tourists have been delighted by the views of historic sites from within the glass elevator. In Spanish, the name is Ascensor Panorámico.

Calle Gisbert, 10, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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37 National Museum of Underwater Archeology in Cartagena, Spain

If you are fascinated by the history of ships in the Mediterranean, then consider visiting the National Museum of Underwater Archeology. Inside two buildings are maritime artifacts from the Phoenicians and Romans, through the Middle Ages and the Spanish Age of Exploration and into modern times. Displays also include fascinating dioramas plus several full-size ship replicas.

Paseo Alfonso XII, 22, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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38 Explore the Bay and Coastline in Cartagena, Spain

There is no question you enjoyed your walking tour of Cartagena. If you have extra time, extend your pleasure by sea. A popular option is a sightseeing trip around the bay. One of the best operators is Barco Turístico. The one-hour ride departs from Muelle de Alfonso XII and shows you many historic sites along the coastline. You can also hop off to explore the Christmas Fort (Fuerte de Navidad). Perhaps a half or full day of fishing is your idea of fun. Also consider renting a motorboat, sailboat or houseboat for an afternoon of adventure. Or lodge in a catamaran sailboat.

Paseo Alfonso XII, 24, 30202 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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39 Christmas Fort and Lighthouse in Cartagena, Spain

As the capabilities of naval warfare evolved, so did the defenses of Cartagena’s harbor. Christmas Fort began with a hexagonal tower in the 16th century, became a coastal battery in 1740 and was significantly expanded in 1860. At its peak, the fort was armed with 16 pieces of artillery. Many of them are still in place within the casemates. Fuerte de Navidad was abandoned in 1941. It is now a tourist attraction. During your visit, you will witness the lifestyle of the men stationed here. You can reach Christmas Fort by car or tourist boat. In the foreground is the 49 foot tall Dique de la Navidad Lighthouse. The Christmas Lighthouse was built on the breakwater in 1892.

Pasaje Faro Navidad, 2, 30394 Cartagena, Murcia, Spain
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40 Battery of San Juan de la Podadera in Cartagena, Spain

At the southern end of a headland defining Cartagena Bay is Punta de la Podadera. This promontory, with an elevation of 115 feet, was selected for the Battery of San Juan de la Podadera. The initial coastal battery became operational with four guns in 1686. The defense was strengthened two centuries later as part of Cartagena’s widespread Defense Plan of 1860. In 1883, La Podadera was equipped with two, Krupp 260 mm guns. The artillery was capable of reaching an enemy ship 7.5 miles away. The military facility was decommissioned in 1940 after the end of the Spanish Civil War.

Bateria de la Parajola, 30394 Algameca, Murcia, Spain
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