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Cartagena, Spain

Saga Sapphire blog - Captains' blogs

10th April, 2015

Having left El Ferrol we had two relaxing days at sea during which the seas were very kind to us. Each day, after breakfast, the Guest Speakers, Instructors, our Beauty Staff and Cruise Staff were busy presenting, organising, hosting and treating. The first evening started with my Welcome On Board Cocktail Party in the Britannia Lounge where I received the passengers and they were offered drinks and canapes. After my introduction speech it was time for a delicious formal dinner.

After dinner the Britannia Lounge hosted a performance by Blackpool Tower organist Dave Peterson, who played music for dancing chosen by dance professionals Ron and Christine Davies, and then it was Show Time with Explosive Productions, who performed “The Concert They Never Gave” - a tribute to the six biggest recording artists of all times. This was followed in the Drawing Room by Easy Listening with The Perfect Mood Duo and in the Cooper’s Bar by The Late Show with Dave Peterson at the piano.

The second night began with cocktail hour in the Cooper’s Bar with Dave Peterson at the piano and in the Drawing Room, where the Perfect Mood Duo entertained our guests. After Dinner the Britannia Lounge Timothy Highman & Duncan Atkins presented an affectionate tribute to the madness and mirth of Flanders and Swann, followed by Easy Listening with The Perfect Mood Duo in the Drawing Room and The Late Show with Dave Peterson at the piano in Cooper’s Bar.

This morning we arrived at 7 am at the Cartagena pilot station. Soon after the pilot boarded the ship we entered the port and were berthed just before 8 am, just a short stroll to the town centre. Cartagena is a major naval station located in the Region of Murcia, by the Mediterranean coast, south-eastern Spain. It is Region’s second largest municipality and the country’s 6th non-Province capital city. Cartagena was founded around 227 BC, the city lived its heyday during the Roman Empire, when it was known as Carthago Nova (the New Carthage) and Carthago Spartaria, capital of the province of Carthaginensis. Then it suffered from a period of ups and downs during the Umayyad invasion of Hispania, under its Arabic name of Qartayannat al-Halfa. Much of the historical weight of Cartagena in the past goes to its coveted defensive port, one of the most important in the western Mediterranean. Cartagena has been the capital of the Spanish Navy’s Maritime Department of the Mediterranean since the arrival of the Spanish Bourbons in the 18th century. As far back as the 16th century it was one of the most important naval ports in Spain, together with Ferrol in the North. It is still an important naval seaport, the main military haven of Spain, and there is a big naval shipyard. The confluence of civilizations as well as its strategic harbour, together with the rise of the local mining industry is manifested by a unique artistic heritage, with a number of landmarks such as the Roman Theatre, the second largest of the Iberian Peninsula after the one from Mérida, a lot of Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish remains and a plethora of Art Nouveau buildings, result of the bourgeoisie from the early 20th century. Cartagena is now established as a major cruise destination with an emerging cultural focus.

Our passengers could choose one of four tours today.

Elche & the Huerto del Cura visited the town of Elche (or Elx), famous throughout Spain for its ancient palm forest. Home to more than 300,000 trees the forest is said to have been planted by the Phoenicians in 300BC and part of it is now an enclosed private garden. This town is home to the delightful Huerto del Cura or Priest’s Garden, home to an abundant variety of plants and cacti. The trees are not purely aesthetic as they are still the town’s chief industry - they produce dates, and the fronds are in demand all over the country for Palm Sunday processions. Some of the attractions are the Imperial Palm, a tree with a trunk divided into eight branches and the blue-domed Baroque Basilica of St Mary, which was built between 1672 and 1784 on the site of a former mosque. The richly-decorated main doorway is the work of Nicolás de Bussy, a sculptor born in Strasbourg in 1651 who spent most of his life in Spain. This magnificent church is the setting for the most important event in the town’s religious calendar - the 'Mystery of Elche’ passion play. Performed every year on August 14 and 15, the play is recognised by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Also visited was the Municipal Park, bequeathed to the city in 1661 by landowner Nicolás Caro. This beautiful park is dotted with fountains and ponds, and, in addition to the inevitable date palms, includes bougainvillea, rosewood, magnolias, poplars, fig and banana trees, and even a rare tulip tree from Gabon.

The Villages and Valleys tour started with a drive through the foothills of the Sierra Carrascoy, heading into the province of Murcia to visit La Fuensanta, a pilgrimage centre that takes its name from a nearby holy spring, for some panoramic views of the local farms and orchards. Guests could visit the fine Baroque church, which contains a statue of Our Lady of La Fuensanta, and frescoes that depict the religious processions that take place here each year during Holy Week and in September. There was then a panoramic drive to the Valley of Ricote, the last area to be inhabited by the Moors before they were expelled from Spain in the 17th century. The valley consists of several villages of varying sizes. The tour stopped at Archena, to enjoy a typical snack consisting of local sausages, cold meats and bread served with either fruit juice, tea or coffee, followed by a panoramic drive through the valley to the village of Abarán. The last stop, before a scenic return trip, was at the ‘Noria’ or waterwheel, which dates back to 1805 although its design goes back to the Middle Ages. Raising five-and-a-half gallons of water every second, it is the largest working waterwheel in mainland Europe.

Best of Murcia began with a journey through the foothills of the Sierra Carrascoy, to the city of Murcia, capital of the province of the same name. Settled by the Moors in the 9th century and conquered by the Christians in the 13th century, this bustling city offers an array of architectural delights. Visited was the Monastery of the Virgin of Fuensanta, the Patroness of Murcia. From here there are panoramic view of the Murcian orchards, which produce more fruit and vegetables than any others in the Mediterranean. From here the tour proceeded to the city, to visit the Cathedral in the main square which was built in the three architectural styles of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Next to the Cathedral is the Bishop’s Palace. From here our guests continued to another of Murcia’s historic buildings, the Royal Casino. Located in the city centre, not far from the Cathedral, the Casino dates from 1847 and is also in a mixture of different architectural styles, with interiors modelled on Roman and Moorish buildings. Declared a National Historic Building in 1983, it was completely refurbished between 2006 and 2009, and all the original decorative features were restored. From here the tour passed through the Squares of Santo Domingo and Romea, before returning by coach to Cartagena.

The Walking Tour and the Roman Theatre discovered the highlights of Cartagena, originally settled in 223 BC. The city has flourished under Roman, Muslim and Arab rule, and today offers a vast cultural legacy. The walk started along the sea wall to the Town Hall Square and the main avenue, offering interesting modernist buildings from the beginning of the 20th century. From here it was on to the Roman Theatre, the most important archaeological site in the region. The theatre, in the heart of Cartagena, was lost for more than 1,500 years and dates back some 2,000 years to the heyday of Cartagena's period as an important Roman city. Built on one of the highest hills in the city, its tiered rows of seats were dug out of the rock so that 6,000 spectators had a view of the stage. From here there was then lots of time to explore the town independently.

Soon after the pilot boarded we left the berth. After turning the ship towards the exit channel the pilot guided us to the pilot station, where he disembarked and we set course for our next port of call, Palma de Majorca. Before the evening started there was time for a lecture entitled “Churchill in Defeat and Victory” by former Diplomat Stephen Day C.M.G., M.A.

This evening the Britannia Lounge hosted a performance by Paul Emmanuel, the man with a wonderful voice and warm personality. This was followed in the Drawing Room by Easy Listening with The Perfect Mood Duo and in Cooper’s Bar by The Late Show with Dave Peterson.

Captain Kees Spekman

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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