Carthagene (Espagne): Archaeologists unearth more of the history of Cartagena

Cartagena may have been a large Roman weapons factory

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It sometimes seems that Cartagena has so much history that it’s hard to know what to do with it all, and more prime examples of the wealth of archaeological heritage in the city are currently being unearthed in the Plaza de la Merced.

27437 archaeologists unearth more of the history of cartagena 1 largeThe second dig in the Plaza de la Merced is only in its early stages, but already the Decumanus Maximus (the main east-to-west street) has been located and a possible monument to nymphs has been found. Below the nymphaeum are the remains of a Punic home, whose destruction is thought to date from the time of the Roman conquest of the city by Scipio Africanus in 209 BC. 

Among the surprises found by archaeologists are a portico on the left-hand side of the Decumanus and what may have been a monumental fountain on the western side of the excavation, and it is believed that these may have been part of a public square. The fountain includes sculpted representations of nymphs, and the theme of water is neatly connected to the alternative name of Plaza de la Merced: Plaza del Lago.

The Punic house was first located four metres below ground level last year and was a large home, including a kitchen and a food storage room.

27437 archaeologists unearth more of the history of cartagena 2 largeThe term Punic is often used to describe remains dating from the period just before the Romans invaded: this word refers to the Carthaginians who were engaged in the Punic Wars with the Romans. Their ancestry was the Phoenicians, a great trading nation which had been forced out of its homeland and had re-settled in Carthage on the African coast, gradually mixing with African nationals in a multicultural trading melting pot to become a culture called the "Carthaginians" by outsiders.

The word Punic is the Lation word for Phoenician. It can be a bit confusing for visitors to start with, but briefly, the Carthaginians were engaged in a major battle over a many years with the Romans for control of shipping and trade routes right around the Mediterranean.( A good place to find out more about this part of Cartagena's history is the Punic Wall Interpretation Centre)

Gradually the Romans forced them back away from Italy and then along the Fench coast, until finally they were squeezed into the lower southern corner of Spain, south of the Ebro River through a prolonged series of wars, split into two major sections: the Punic Wars. Part of the occupied area included Cartagena, and it was only once Hannibal marched down the coast and sacked Sagunto, before heading off across the Alps to attack Rome directly, that the second phase of the Punic Wars began, the final result being that Scipio marched up the coast and took Cartagena and ultimately the Carthaginians were crushed.

This year more amphorae and crockery dating from the Carthaginian settlement (227 to 209 BC) have been discovered, helping the archaeologists to build up a better picture of the way of life in Cartagena before the arrival of the Romans.

27437 archaeologists unearth more of the history of cartagena 3 largeLuis García, the archaeologist leading the dig, believes that when Scipio entered the city of Cartagena he found approximately 10,000 Carthaginian slaves, among them around a thousand who were responsible for making weapons for the Carthaginian troops. The Romans spared their lives in return for a promise that they would continue to manufacture arms, effectively turning the city into an important munitions factory. This theory is backed up by the discovery of relatively advanced metal-working equipment such as grinders and files.

Visiting the site on Monday José López, the Mayor of Cartagena, recognized the importance of the findings in Plaza de la Merced and explained that his intention is for trees to be transplanted in order for further digs to be possible in order to expose the breadth of remains below the plaza. Eventually, he added, the idea is to adapt the current layout of the plaza in order to preserve the archaeological heritage while at the same time allowing the square to be used for other events during the year.