Of the 16 25 September, the city of Cartagena, in the south of Spain, has completely changed its era. His festival The Carthaginians and the Romans brings to life for the whole population and the many visitors the important events that took place in the city during Antiquity (around 220 BC) and which shaped its wealth. Between the historical re-enactments, festivities, parades and Roman circuses, the time machine is launched!
Cartagena, a Murcian city of 175 inhabitants, may seem very small compared to its neighbors Granada or Valencia. And yet, the city has a rich 000 years of history. All you have to do is look up to see the different traces of the eras that have made it so rich: medieval castle, baroque churches, mansions from the early twentieth century ... and above all its Roman theater, pride of the Carthaginians. Because Antiquity was the most prosperous period for the city, and in particular the episode of the Second Punic War, the one which inspired this festival.
Let's go back a bit. In 220 BC. AD, Cartagena reigns over the Iberian Peninsula. The city is prosperous, and its port has become an obligatory passage for the Mediterranean. The famous strategist Hannibal is at its head and does not hide his ambitions in the face of Roman power. In 218, he took possession of the city of Sagunto and launched a march towards Rome. His troops, made up of thousands of men, riders and elephants, cross the Pyrenees and the Alps without hindrance and win several big victories. But Rome does not let itself be defeated and sends Scipio, another great character of Antiquity, to take Cartagena, the rebellious city. Emptied of its soldiers, the Iberian city will resist only 48 hours before being invaded by the armies of Scipio. In 209 BC. AD, Cartagena is definitely under the grip of Rome. But that will not mark its decline, on the contrary. Having become the capital of a Roman province, many monuments will be built there and its economic influence will continue to grow. These events took place more than twenty-two centuries ago, and yet Cartagena has not forgotten them. In 1988, the city leaders wanted to organize a big celebration linked to their history. The episode of the Second Punic War is chosen, and for a year a whole team studies the historical facts in their smallest details, as well as the exact places of the events. The Carthaginians and the Romans were born in 1989, during the second half of September. Its reconstructions, its realism, its respect for history, its special atmosphere quickly gave it a strong popularity. The festival has become in a few years the most important cultural event in the region.
The highlights of the festival
The Carthaginians and the Romans, it's twenty years of history told in ten days and three places gathered in one city. It is also more than 5 actors and extras divided into 000 groups (50 for the Romans and 25 for the Carthaginians) who participate every day in the re-enactments. The whole gives to see a multitude of spectacles.
The proclamation : it is the opening of the festival. The different costumed groups march through the city to the meeting place. A sacred fire is then lit according to the Roman rite, and will remain alive until the end of the festival. A personality from the world of Arts and Letters in Spain then reads the Pregón (proclamation), the course and the rules of the events for the next ten days. The evening ends with a big fiesta where actors and visitors mingle.
Hannibal's wedding: all the Carthaginians attend this great re-enactment ... but also participate! The ceremony seals the marriage of Hannibal with Princess Himlice (daughter of King Mucro), and by this union the friendship between the Iberian regions. Hannibal intends to go to war in a short time and makes sure before his departure that his city is not surrounded by enemies. The ceremony is sumptuous, the actors put on their richest costumes. And the visitors are the guests of the feast.
Hannibal's exit: the leader of Cartagena has finally assembled his army and is preparing to move towards Rome. A large parade of the Carthaginian army (soldier, horsemen, animals ...) crosses the streets of the city. Festive costumes have given way to war outfits, always with a great concern for historical accuracy. Everything is studied in the smallest details.
The destruction of Sagunto: Hannibal's first victory is also staged. A more sober reconstruction than the previous ones, a real lesson in history where the inhabitants of the city of Sagunto preferred to die in freedom rather than become slaves to the Carthaginians.
The Roman circus: surely the show where the most visitors flock. More than 800 actors take part in a staging linking music, color, sound and light to bring back to 15 spectators the Roman era and its mythology.
The victory of Rome: the Carthaginian arms give way to Roman shields. During a whole evening, the capture of Cartagena is reconstructed in great detail, from the arrival of the first enemy ships to the defeat of the city. The night ends with a theatrical performance of the surrender of the city, and a large musical parade of victorious Roman troops through the streets of the city.
Many other re-enactments take place every day, such as the oracle of the gods or a session of the Roman senate. The young audience is not forgotten, several activities are designed for children.
A very special camp
The popularity of the festival is also due to the existence of a campamento (encampment). The size of two football pitches, the festival camp brings to life for many visitors the habits and customs of the different ethnic groups that existed during this period of antiquity. The 50 groups of extras and actors who play in the re-enactments are each assigned a plot of the camp, always open to the public. Each group represents a civilization (Carthaginians, Romans, but also Greeks, Phoenicians, Celts, Africans ...) and decorates its plot of land accordingly. If they are actors during the evening, they get up early in the morning to improve and polish their pitch. A real battle then begins for ten days to know which group will be the most realistic and the most inventive. The participants, who are not historians, do an enormous amount of research during the year, and all the details of the clothes or objects are studied, from the shape of a helmet to the motif of a brooch. The goal is to achieve maximum historical rigor, without neglecting the imaginative character of these celebrations. Visitors can see everyone's progress every day, and experience some rather unexpected moments: tasting tapas with Scipio, sharing a local drink with a Roman general, witnessing the kidnapping of a Greek young lady ... campamento is surely the place where the time machine works best. But we must return to live in his time. After the sacred fire has been extinguished, the festival camp is the scene of a grand final fireworks display, which marks the end of the festivities. The evening ends with yet another fiesta, to the sound of music that is no longer Roman, but rather XNUMXst century.
If Cartagena is fairly calm in summer, there is a real crowd during these ten days. We therefore strongly advise you to book!
Or sleep ?
Pensión-Hospedaje Oriente, c / Jara, 27, 30201. Tel. 50-24-69. Count from 30 to 35 € for a comfortable double room, with TV, fan and balcony.
Where to eat ?
The festival camp remains the ideal place to taste tapas and other local specialties without breaking the bank, all in a very friendly atmosphere. But the city is teeming with small inexpensive restaurants.
La Tartana, Puerta de Murcia, 14. Tel. 50-00-11. A family restaurant that serves good tapas dishes for € 10.
- The official website of the festival: www.carthaginesesyromanos.com
- The site www.puertoculturas.com
- Cartagena tourist office: plaza Bastarreche, s / n, 30 2020 Cartagena. E-mail: email@example.com. Internet: www.ayto-cartagena.es.
How to get there ?
Air France serves several cities in Spain daily. Take a flight to Barcelona, then the train (8 hours) to Cartagena. Or take a flight to Alicante, then the bus to Cartagena (1 ½ hours). Or take the train from Madrid, it takes 4 hours.