“History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies” (Alexis de Toquerville).
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to visit Cartegena with Juanjo and his family. Cartegena is a city on the Mediterranean about a 3 hour drive from Tomelloso (also Juanjo’s birthplace). It’s surrounded by mountains on three sides and because of this geographical advantage, it has served as one of the most important ports on the western side of the Mediterranean for the past 2,000 years. It has a rich naval history and has been home of the Spanish navy for the past 200 years.
For me, the most amazing aspect about Cartengena is the 2,000 year old ruins of a Roman theater located by the port. The ruins were actually found just 25 years ago during the film of the movie Seals, starring Charlie Sean. Apparently during filming they blew up a building on the area and the explosion revealed the ground underneath and the hidden ruins. The reason why it wasn’t visible is because throughout the past 2,000 years the area has been used and built upon, hiding the ruins and at the same time preserving them. In order to get to the theater, you have to first go through the museum. The museums tells the history of the area and brings you along in anticipatory fashion until you reach the theater three stories above. Each floor is filled with well preserved relics from the Romans. Among other things, there were Sandstone Capitals dating from the late 1st c. BC and a headless larger than life statue dating from the early 1st c. AC.
After this prepping they take you through a vaulted brick passageway into a room with three layers of ruins from previous civilizations! Then, after some walking you emerge into daylight and fresh air with the theater sprawled in front of you. It was an amazing sight to behold (I tried uploading pictures but for some reason it isn’t working right now). Walking through and among the theater was an amazing experience. They have been rebuilding it for the past 20 years, but a lot of it is original. A lot of the stone stairways connecting the different levels have been rebuilt, however every so often they have left the original in place, just like the way it has been for 2,000 years! It was incredible. There are a lot of ruins around the world that has been around for equally as much time and maybe even longer, but this was my first time experiencing something that old. I don’t think it is something I will ever get tired of. The experience of standing and walking through a place that has evolved and changed throughout time; with people from different cultures is astounding.
On top of that amazing experience, we also visited the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Subacuatica (The National Museum of Underwater Archaeology). While not a large museum, it was very interactive and provided in depth information about naval history in the Mediterranean, artifacts recovered in the surrounding area and information about one of the oldest ships ever recovered and studied from the sea. The history about ancient sea travel and maritime technology is extremely interesting. That advancements and ingenuity in the construction of ships in the past is fascinating. The museum hosts an amazing display of recovered ships and goods. But, the museums most amazing aspect and something that is not on display, is their finding of a 2,700 year old wooden ship right off the coast. To put it’s age in perspective, it’s 500 years before Christ!
After the museum we went to a naval museum that displayed Spain’s naval history through scale models and their advancements in technology though the years. I never realized how awesome scale models of ships were until then. The most important aspect of the museum is that it houses the greatest contributions to the modern day submarine. It has the first practical submarine every built. It was built by a Spaniard named Isaac Peral during the 1880s. For Juanjo this was one of the most amazing experiences. Since he grew up in Cartegena, he has seen this submarine change locations three times and form. It has undergone rebuilding according to Peral’s original plans and is now most similar to how it was when it was first built. For the first time ever, Juajo was not only able to get close to it, but to also touch it and see inside. He has still not washed his hand (just kidding). The inside was nothing more than emptiness, reflecting the curvature of its shell. The whole day was an amazing experience through time.
We left on Sunday, but stopped at his sisters place in a town over for lunch. It was one of the best homemade meals I have had in Spain thus far and the first time I have tried Paella. Everything was great, from the homemade appetizers to the homemade coffee flan desert. It was the best way to end a weekend immersed in Spanish history and culture.