THERE aren’t many ports in Spain don’t boast a giant statue of Cristóbal Colón.
But who, you may ask, is Cristóbal Colón – to discover that while he may be known by that name in Spain, to the rest of the world he’s more well-known as Christopher Columbus.
The Spanish, however, love him by their name as much as do his Italian countrymen, and whether he had much to do with their particular port city or not – or even whether he ever visited there for that matter – the Spanish have thrown up statues to his memory all over the place for all to admire.
And in one city, Cartagena, not one but two, every August 3rd celebrating the anniversary of his setting sail on the first of four voyages to ‘discover’ America, and like many ports along the Spanish Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, using the day as an excuse to party long and hard in celebration of his achievements.
RESTORED open-air theatre built at the behest of Emperor Caesar, its remains were discovered by accident and renovated only recently.
Columbus was a Genoese sailor of Spanish-Jewish descent, unable to get backing from his home city Genoa or even the Italian Government to fund his dream of finding a new and quicker route to India. So for eight years he hounded Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella for their support.
Every approach was met with a very curt “No,” until eventually the monarchs gave in, and on August 3, 1492 Colón/Columbus sailed off from Spain’s port of Palos de la Frontera with a fleet of three ships – the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina.
And while actually looking for that new route to India, central America got in his way and he banged first into what was to later become known as the Bahamas, and soon after Cuba and Hispaniola as well, finding treasures greater than could have hoped of, and returning to Spain in triumph.
SEADREAM I and SEADREAM II will make four calls at Cartagena in 2016.
And while the Spain’s southern coast city of Cartagena coast had little to do with all this, today it boasts two prominent statues of the explorer, one in its Old Town and the other on the foreshores of the Mediterranean.
The latter depicts a huge Columbus with right arm outstretched as if pointing across the ocean to the Americas, and while he never lived there, the locals will tell you he is important to their city because of its historic connections to the sea and the fact it’s been home to the Spanish Navy since the 16th century.
Today many cruise vessels such as the mega-motor-cruisers SeaDream I and SeaDream II include Cartagena on select Mediterranean itineraries for passengers to soak up its unique ambience.
And the good folk of Cartagena prove most welcoming, particularly with their love of festivals such as the Festival of the May Flowers – one that no one seems quite sure just when it originated.
But priests, brothers and nuns from various religious orders create religious crosses out of a variety of flowers and also decorate the streets with blooms, and in the Old Town women don their traditional flouncy Spanish dresses, the men their high-waisted trousers, and flamenco dancing to the sounds of countless guitars are the order of the day (and night).
PREPARING for one of Cartagena’s many annual festivals – this one for May Day and the Festival of Flowers.
And vast amounts of Spanish food, sangria and sherry are consumed from dawn to midnight…
Even without the partying, Cartagena is a great place to visit, including its remains of a Roman theatre that was once one of the largest in Europe.
Built between 5 and 1 BC at the behest of Emperor Augustus Caesar, he dedicated it to his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius.
In the 3rd century AD a moorish Kasbah (market) was built over much of the-then collapsed theatre, and some 10 centuries later a cathedral was constructed adjacent to the site using material purloined from the ancient ruins themselves.
That cathedral was destroyed in 1939 during the Spanish Civil War, its remains laying virtually untouched until excavations began for a new regional arts and crafts centre in 1988 – those excavations unearthing the remains of original old theatre as well.
The site was then turned into a giant archeological dig, with the theatre’s exposure being completed in 2003 and a new museum built alongside.
SeaDream Yacht Club’s SeaDream I and SeaDream II will make four calls at Cartagena in 2016; details travel agents or www.seadream.com
Writen by David Ellis with Malcolm Andrews