Tourist piece on Cartagena Roman theatre

From Round Town News

The newly opened and magnificently restored Roman theatre at Cartagena is attracting large numbers of foreign and local visitors.

The 2000-year-old theatre is in the heart of the ancient city right opposite the old town hall and near the waterfront. The theatre was a focal point of social life in the opulent Roman urban area, with a large seating capacity that provided space for everyone from local dignitaries to the plebs up in the gods. The theatre was lost for well over a thousand years. After its Roman heyday Cartagena declined after being sacked by the Goths and reduced to ruins. Weeds grew where once the Romans had strolled and the theatre vanished into the ground. Eventually a market was built over the ruins and many of the stones were taken away and reused in other buildings and structures.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the ruins were uncovered again and archaeologists were stunned at the extent of the theatre. Over excavations lasting many years valuable finds were made. Then the decision was then taken to make the ruins safe and prepare them for public access. One of Spain’s most famous architects, Rafael Moneo, was entrusted with the project and he produced an innovative design for a facility which allows people to travel back into the past while preserving the dignity and historic atmosphere of the site. The entrance to the Roman Theatre and museum is right opposite the old town hall, in the former Palacio Pascual de Riquelme, itself an important historic structure. An exhibition tells the story of the discovery of the theatre, the archaeological digs and the way in which the design for the display was conceived and executed. There are lots of photographs and plans. Importantly, every information panel in the place contains full English translations. An auditorium shows a film explaining the story of the theatre and, with advance notice, this can be shown with an English soundtrack. Disabled access is excellent, with a lift between floors.

The facility is, in effect, divided into two main elements, connected by a tunnel which runs beneath the old Church of Santa Maria la Veija. As the visitor moves along, there are cases displaying many of the finds made during excavations, from the times of the Romans onwards. Islamic and Byzantine pottery and everyday pieces are on view showing the long history of the site. In one hall there is a huge statue discovered in the theatre of the Emperor Augustus, who was the first Roman Emperor and subsequently star of many a Hollywood toga spectacular. The statue is, sadly, without its head, but the folds of the Imperial toga are beautifully carved and fall in natural lines from the body. This huge statue would have presided over the city’s senate where all the important decisions were taken. The theatre itself is dedicated to two nephews of Augustus, who was born in 63BC and died in 14AD. There are richly carved pillars to admire and a series of circular altars to the Roman gods adorned with dancing girls and sacred birds. The tunnel leads beneath the old church, with massive foundations on view, and then visitors emerge into the daylight to find the theatre itself spread out below them. The semi-circle of seats, which could hold 6,000 spectators, curves around in front of the stage area where several of the columns have been re-erected and some reconstruction has been carried out to give an idea of the scale in Roman times. There are three horizontal sectors divided by five sets of stairs at the lower level and seven at the upper. Visitors can walk down the stairs into the lower areas to explore.

The design of the project is drawing rave reviews and Cartagena’s Roman Theatre has become one of Spain’s most popular historic sites. The theatre and museum is open, during the summer, from 10am to 8pm, without a break, from Monday to Saturday, and from 10am to 2pm on Sunday. Individual entrance is five euros or four euros for those who qualify for reduced rates. This is an ideal place for group visits and English language guides can be arranged. Telephone the Puerto de Culturas office on 968 500 093 for more information. A trip on the tourist boat, which provides an interesting trip around the ancient harbour leaves from the promenade near to the theatre and provides another reason to visit Cartagena. See www.cartagenapuertodeculturas.com It might be worth mentioning that gladiators did not fight in the theatre. They went to their deaths in the nearby arena. Currently this is in a dilapidated state but work will soon be under way to restore it with a new regional modern art gallery incorporated into the site.

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