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Cartagena, Spain

National Museum of Underwater Archeology

An impressive display of ships and artifacts from the ancient Mediterranean maritime trade. 

This amazing museum, the first underwater archeology museum in Spain, is housed in two buildings right on the harbour in Cartagena, directly opposite where the cruise ships dock. 

The two buildings for an impressive modern structure, linked below ground level and designed to create an underwater effect. Inside, this remarkable space contains exhibits explaining the fascinating process of underwater archaeology itself, and an eclectic collection of artifacts relating to historic ships used in the ancient Mediterranean maritime trade.

The particular emphasis is on the Phoenicians and Romans, though it displays artifacts from medieval and more modern wrecks. Hanging from the ceiling is a mock up of the framework of a Roman boat, and also on display is a fascinating reconstruction of an ancient Phoenician ship discovered just down the coast at Puerto de Mazarron. 

Some of the best features are the reconstructed cross sections of ships showing how the vessels were constructed and how cargoes were stowed. There are some very detailed miniature dioramas showing scenes of port activity and model vessels from various eras. 

The last display is about the Spanish frigate Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which sank off Portugal in 1804. The wreck spawned an important legal case between the Spanish government and the treasure hunting company Odyssy Marine Exploration, which resulted in the return of about $500 million worth of plundered artifacts to Spain, including a wealth of traditional Spanish coins that are on display at the  museum.

Know Before You Go

The entrance fee covers both buildings (when a temporary exhibition is on) and is a bargain at 3 Euros (free for 65+). As with most museums in Cartagena, it is closed on Mondays.

On the top floor of the permanent exhibition building is a cafeteria and restaurant overlooking the harbour.

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