First – congratulations to Spain on your deserved win and your first World Cup. May you have many more successful tournaments.
No more football. From Spain’s glory of today to part of its glorious and spectacular past a few thousand years ago at Carteia – one of the most impressive archaeological sites I have seen for some time.
When a new geocache appeared a few miles away just over the border at an archaeological site, we decided to go and explore. Carteia is only open from Wednesday to Sundays, 10-2pm, so Wednesday morning saw us arrive at the car park shortly after 10am.
I wandered through the gate looking for somewhere to pay. There was no-one around so I walked into a building. ‘Hola, buenos dias,’ I said to the air. There was a reply and a smiling man came out of the back.
‘Hay que pagar?’ I asked. No, he said. It’s free. Oh goodie. But as I was walking out he called me back. It turned out it was a conducted tour and the next one was at 11am so we would have to wait. Oh well. I asked for a leaflet about the site and took it outside to read.
Sitting on the bench, I realised that if it was a conducted tour, the geocache was obviously outside the site, not inside, so we might as well go and look for it while we waited for the tour.
I went off to find the man to tell him we would be back for 11am but he had disappeared. Then he reappeared just as suddenly – telling me to wait – and off he went again. Back he came and told us to follow him. So we did.
Next, he jumped into one of those golf buggy things, and told us to sit on the back. We did that too. Then he set off at a roaring pace and I nearly fell off. Note to anyone ever getting on the back of one of those – hold on for dear life. They are very bumpy. In comparison they make a Land Rover look like a Rolls Royce. I know what a Rolls Royce is like having been given a lift some 40 miles down the M1 in one.
Suddenly we stopped. Our guide turned round to us, and told us that we needed to imagine what the area was like nearly 3000 years ago – without the oil refineries, the electricity station, and all the rest of the modern development.
In the 7th century BC, the Phoenicians settled on the nearby Cerro del Prado. Some three centuries later, their descendants established a new settlement at Carteia, on the promontory next to the river Guadarranque with total strategic control across the Straits of Gibraltar.
Carteia’s expansion came when Rome defeated Carthage in the Punic Wars, and the Romans took over the settlement, constructing the typical features of a Roman city – the forum, a temple, the baths, the wide streets, shops and houses.
The Roman soldiers married local women, but neither they nor their children were recognised as Roman citizens. Determined to seek a solution to this problem, Carteia sent an envoy to Rome, and by 171 BC, Carteia was granted the status of free colony, the first one outside Italy.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, Carteia was occupied by the Visigoths (6th century AD), the Arabs (8th century AD) until finally, in the 14th century, it was taken by the troops of Alfonso XI of Castille for Spain.
The tour round the site goes chronologically, starting with the exterior Carthaginian walls and ending in the 20th century with gun batteries from the Second World War pointing towards Gibraltar.
Our personal tour – just the two of us – was around 40/45 minutes, but normally (not including the buggy ride) you should allow around an hour.
If you are interested in archaeology and are anywhere between Gibraltar and Algeciras, it is well worth the trip.
If you are driving from Gibraltar, take the road to San Roque and after Campamento, turn off to Puente Mayorga. Follow the road to the end of the village and then over the narrow hump back bridge that crosses what looks like a Dutch canal. Keep following the road through the oil refinery along the coast until you reach the signs for Carteia.
Take the Yellow Line bus from San Roque. Bus times that fit in with site opening hours are 10am and 12noon. Return journeys from Carteia are at 12.20 and 18.05. Not sure what you would do until 18.05. Sit on the beach?
Oh and we found the cache easily.