Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 3.8.19
Just Outside Washington

All photos courtesy the authors


The Harmony V cruised through the night, entering this strategic defensive harbor on the southeast corner of Spain, just after breakfast. In the outer harbor, we passed a major petroleum port and storage area.


As we entered the inner harbor, its importance as a naval seaport became clear -- we could see the Spanish Navy ships and the large naval shipyard. As far back as the 16th century this was one of the most important naval ports in Spain because of its strategic location.


The photo also shows the pilot boat coming to drop off the pilot to take Harmony V into the harbor. Several of our fellow travelers were subject to seasickness and were very happy when we tied up at the quay as we had rough seas on our nighttime journey.

Cartagena currently has a population of about 215,000 inhabitants, making it one of Spain’s smaller cities. However, Cartagena is one of the oldest, having been inhabited for over two millennia. It was founded around 227 BCE by the Carthaginians, hence the name. The city had its heyday during the Roman Empire, when it was key to the Roman conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

In 298 CE, Diocletian constituted a new Roman province in Hispania and settled the capital here. It remained important until it was sacked by the Vandals in 435 CE.


The mines near Cartagena provided silver and lead for all the Roman Empire, and the mining continued into the 20th C. The hill behind the port building shows traces of the mining and beyond the hill is the smokestack of an old smelter, which has been torn down.

After docking and completing the associated paperwork, we were treated to a guided walking tour of Cartagenas historic center by our local guide, Danny. After leaving the quay, we crossed Calle Pescadria, walked through the Sunday market and entered Calle Mayor, left photo. For me, the main attraction was the Palacio Consistorial (City Hall), one of the most spectacular buildings in Cartagena.

city hall

The eclectic, French style triangular building was built between 1900-1907 with abundant decorative elements: split pediments, elliptical windows, classic moldings, female heads, shields, and more, right photo.

city hall

Calle Mayor also has many sidewalk cafes, which were doing a brisk business. In addition to the many Art Nouveau buildings resulting from the city’s peak at the turn of the 20th C, Cartagena has an abundance of Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish ruins.

Next on our agenda, the Roman theater discovered under the ruins of the Cathedral de Santa Maria after the cathedral was destroyed during the Civil War.The recently restored theater has become one of the city's landmarks. We visited some other Roman remains, including the Roman Colonnade, the House of Fortune, the decumanus/cardo, the Temple of Isis and the Augusteum.

These sites are currently being excavated and partially restored, right photo. They are contributing to the increasing tourist industry in Cartagena.


Danny led us through small streets lined by attractive houses from several periods with small cafes squeezed in. Also, we visited several imposing squares with some of the Art Nouveau buildings for which Cartagena is noted.


Danny, after discussing the architecture while our group took a break, took us back to Calle Mayor and pointed out the flags on the municipal buildings that indicate the importance of the local, state, national, and EU governments in the administration of the area.

After he pointed out sharing a few features of the port area, including the Naval Museum, Danny left us to wander on our own. We went to the Naval Museum, which turned out to be closed, so we only caught a glimpse of the Peral, through the window. The Peral was the world's first electric fully capable military, battery-powered submarine. It was launched in September 1888 and had one torpedo tube with two torpedoes, and an air- regeneration system. Across the harbor from the Naval Museum is the navy base mentioned earlier, which is where most of the ship building is done. Shipbuilding is less important to the economy than some centuries ago, but it still makes a significant contribution. Energy-related activities are among the main contributors to the economy, including plastic production from the petroleum brought in at the outer port. Agriculture is another major activity in the Cartagena area with about 36 percent of the lands devoted to crops. They grow most warm weather vegetables and fruits and are a primary agricultural exporter to the UK. Tourism, which has grown significantly in recent years, is a major contributor to the economy.

The group were back on board the Harmony V for our 5:30 departure; we would cruise all night to Almeria.


Kathy and I had a glass of wine before dinner and admired the view of the rugged coastline with its ancient castles and fortifications perched on the hilltops (picture below). These fortifications reminded us of how often this land had been fought over in its more than 2000 year history.

NEXT: Cruising all night to Almeria...