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Five Hills

I live in Cartagena, Spain’s 24th largest city, which was built on five hills and founded c. 227 BC by Hasdrubal on the site of the much older Tartessan city of Mastia. One of the hills is now under threat from a developer. Every day a couple of huge excavators hammer away at the lower slopes of Monte Sacro, chipping away at history.

Protests are being led every Friday by Javier Garcia del Toro, a professor of archaeology at Murcia University. He recently bought a toy excavator from El Corte Inglés for the politician who gave building permission for four blocks of flats. He also cleverly dished out mackerel paté to some of the protesters, claiming it was the authentic aphrodisiac Roman garum.


Last week, about 300 people turned up. Garcia del Toro made himself heard against the sound of breaking rock with a loudspeaker. Some of us went and stood by the diggers with our placards, singing ‘No nos moveran’ until the National Police arrived. No one was arrested and we all went home.

In the days of the Carthaginians, this hill was sacred to Baal-Hammon, afterwards, Kronos. Monte Sacro was once home to an altar of peace that is now in a museum in Barcelona. The beautiful ara pacis dates back to the time of Augustus. The only thing that has been found recently is a 17th-century wall, which the developer, Portmán Golf, promised to preserve. But accidents can happen when you are breaking into solid rock: the whole area needs to be excavated slowly and thoroughly by hand. The nearby hill, the Molinete, once also under threat of development, has revealed many treasures: a house with frescoes, an almost intact gym floor. One of the other hills contains one of Spain’s top tourist attractions, a Roman theatre. That was discovered only a few decades ago. But even if no more important remains exist, it is vital that Monte Sacro is saved. Otherwise Cartagena will become a four-hill city, as unthinkable as Rome only having six.

There is a Facebook group, Salvemos El Monte Sacro de Cartagena, which co-ordinates events. Tomorrow there will be another demonstration. This time it is hoped there will be enough protesters to provide a human chain around the hill. But it’s a big hill.

Comments on “Five Hills”

  1. faiz says:

    Dear Fiona, I notice the protesters all have bandages on their foreheads. Is this part of the protest? And if so what is the significance of it? Surely not a coincidence!

  2. Yes, we were showing we were wounded by what was happening to our heritage – one of the Professor´s ideas. Incidentally the toy excavator was refused by the politician. I shall soon be off to another demo. Hope there is some more garum on offer. It was a bit like the loaves and fishes the way the Professor spread round the fish pate and little toast crackers amongst the crowd.

  3. faiz says:

    thank you Fiona, my best hopes for the protests, and happy eating of the garum :) in solidarity.

  4. Thanks. No garum this time, unfortunately. Having taken Latin and Greek at school I look on this as a part of world heritage that is being destroyed rather than just a piece of purely local history. That is why I was keen to write something for an English site. I would love to see classicists and archaeologists from other countries getting involved. There are several legal irons in the fire but the law is very slow in Spain. I fear that the blocks may be built before all the legal “denuncias” go through the courts. The builder has the right planning permission but the fact that this was given may have been an offence against a more general law relating to the Spanish patrimony

  5. Camus123 says:

    Dear Fiona,
    thinking of the enormous damage that speculators have done to the mainland and especially the islands I can only wish you all the very best of luck. Is there an official webs ite, or a mayor’s home page where we could post protests?

    Best of luck
    Geoff Roberts

  6. There is a facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cartagena-Spain/Salvemos-el-Monte-Sacro-de-Cartagena/457367050223?ref=ts
    The town hall has a site at http://www.cartagena.es
    The official chiefly responsible for passing the planning permission was Joaquin Segado.
    Several newspapers have run stories which could be commented on also. http://www.laverdad.es has contained quite a few stories in the Cartagena local section.
    Thanks. I think some solidarity from people outside Spain who care about world heritage would be useful.

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