Whether you’re approaching CARTAGENA from one of the numerous resorts along Mar Menor, inland from Murcia, or from Almería to the south, it’s not a pretty sight, even if the rusting mineworks that scar the landscape have their own austere appeal. It’s only when you reach the old part of town down by the port, with its narrow medieval streets, packed with bars and restaurants, that the city’s real character emerges.
Cartagena was Hannibal’s capital city on the Iberian peninsula, named after his Carthage in North Africa, and a strategic port and administrative centre for the Romans. International Nautical Week is celebrated here in June. In July, the Mar de Músicas festival presents some of the best in world music, and in November the city hosts both a nationally famous jazz festival and an International Festival of Nautical Cinema. The fiestas of Semana Santa are some of the most elaborate in Spain, with processions leaving from the church of Santa María de Gracia in the early hours of Good Friday morning.
The best way to get a feel of the city’s rich past is to stroll the streets: you’ll see a large number of modernista buildings. Most of these are the work of former Cartagenian and disciple of Gaudí, Victor Beltri (1865–1935). In particular, have a look at Casa Maestre in Plaza San Francisco; Casa Cervantes, c/Mayor 15; and the old Hotel Zapata, Plaza de España.