Monday, November 07, 2011

Article: The Roman empire in the Mar Menor - Gerry's Spanish Information Blog

The Roman empire in the Mar Menor - Gerry's Spanish Information Blog

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CARTAGENA is known for its well-preserved Roman remains, monuments and treasures. It was an important harbour for the Roman Empire due to its strategic location - and it was one of the busiest commercial harbours in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact the bottom of Cartagena's coast and Cabo de Palos is full of wrecked ships which were on their way in or out the harbour and is still a real paradise for underwater archaeologists.

The villages around Cartagena and on the Mar Menor produced goods which were prized by the Romans: salt, a sauce named garum and dried salted fish. The garum from the Cartagena area was a real delicacy for the Roman who were willing to pay high prices for it due to its quality.

The sauce was a mix of herbs and marinated mackerel (scombro in Latin which is where the town name Escombreras comes from) and two of the main garum factories are believed to have stood in Portmán and Escombreras. The Mar Menor area was also an important producer of fruits and vegetables and dried salted fish.

The Cartagena area was also known as Campus Spartarius because it was full of esparto grass, one of the most popular materials to make shoes.

Unfortunately most of the Roman buildings in the Mar Menor villages have not still visible - as they are in Cartagena, but some remains and some local dishes and food provide proof that the Romans were there.


The Romans were the first to find a way to produce salt in the San Pedro del Pinatar marshes. They used the marshes to accumulate water, produce salt and dry it out and their system is still used today. Salt was an important mineral as it was used for preserving food, cooking, ruining the fields if their enemies and paying the soldiers.

In those times the Mar Menor was much deeper and was used as a harbour for large vessels during storms.

The only reminder of the Roman occupation is a villa named La Raya close to the Raya de Castilla petrol station. The remains show one quarter of the original villa. It dates from 200BC and it is believed to be part of a Roman village, the rest of which is believed to be in Pilar de la Horadada municipality

According to archaeologists, the village specialized in producing salted fish and exporting it to the Roman Empire from El Mojón's harbour.

The archaeologists found sections of walls, paintings, an altar and pieces of ceramics and pottery which are on display in the local museum for ethnology (Casa de la Rusa).


The remains in Los Alcázares stand in Oasis urbanisation in a small park off Calle Radio Baliza Óscar.

The remains date from the 1st century AC and they are believed to be two pools. It is unclear whether they were used for irrigation purposes or they were part of a Roman villa, as further excavation work still needs to be carried out. Unfortunately the site is in a poor and dangerous condition and it has not been maintained for several years.


Beautiful remains of mosaic floors were found in El Algar and taken to Cartagena's archaeology museum. The archaeologists were afraid the intensive farming techniques might damage the mosaic floors.


The village has the largest remaining Roman road in Murcia region (500 metres long and three metres wide). The road was believed to link the village - an important manufacturer of garum sauce - with the Mar Menor villages and Cartagena. It now forms part of a trail to Llano del Beal near the Peña del Águila mountain and is in good condition in some stretches. However hikers are not allowed on the path, due to the deep potholes.


In 1972 the remains of a Roman villa dating from 2nd or 3rd century BC was found near the road. Archaeologists dug up bronze coins, the head of a sculpture, pieces of ceramics and pottery, oil lamps and remains of columns.

Some of the silver, the copper and minerals from La Unión mines were also loaded in Portmán's harbour.


The presence of the Romans was so important in the area that any find creates great interest.

Four years ago a local archaeologists announced she might have found a great underwater Roman village close to La Veneziola in La Manga del Mar Menor.

Highly suspicious shadows could be seen under the water with Google Earth, but the archaeologists found that they were the remains of old drainage works and seaweed.


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