Leptis Magna, situated on the coast of Libya near Tripoli, is a Phoenician settlement but it reached its greatest splendour during the Roman Empire and, in particular, during the third century under the reign of Septimius Severus, who was born there. In effect, Severus lavished it with splendid new buildings, ordering the most beautiful construction materials to be brought from far-away places, until it became one of the most beautiful cities of the Mediterranean. However, its inhabitants were barely able to enjoy its delights for over a century as various natural catastrophes ruined the African Emperor’s dream, and by the end of the Low Empire the city had practically been abandoned. It was gradually covered by the nearby desert sands until it completely disappeared. It was rediscovered during the seventeenth century and since then it has attracted and captivated both visitors and scholars alike, as, despite its unlucky existence, it is one of the best-preserved archaelogical enclaves of the Roman world.
Our culture has fed its self-affirmation of being "Western", highlighted by the definition (delimitation) of the alternative "Oriental" or "Eastern". Nowadays part of this duality is intensely experienced. The origins of the "civilized" life lies in the East, in Egypt (Eastern Mediterranean Africa), and we have a clear historical perception of the new period that meant the civilizing vanguard that would later be imposed in the Western world, along the Mediterranean basin, fundamentally by Greece and Rome. We identify the founding of our Western civilization in them.
But this historical process, and the speech that reproduces it, always bumps with the fact that the two poles who star in the process are not so well defined (delimited), nor they are so isolated from one another. The East and the West, the "oriental" and the "western", are historically and culturally more linked, intertwined and merged, than what this binary scheme, which appears to be favored in our cultural conceptions, suggests. Think for example in the important influence the Phoenicians had as guests in this metaphoric semidetached house: Hispania became a true "East in the West". Or the role of Alexander who took the West all the way to Persia and Eastern Greece.
In the bridge and interlock of the two geographic and cultural horizons, Byzantium/Constantinople is a paradigmatic city of this reality in which both extremes meet in the bipolar nature of a two-faced Janus. Founded by the Greeks of Megara looking towards the East, occupied by the Persians, recovered by Alexander, integrated into the Roman Empire. A victim of the internal struggles for power, it was destroyed by Septimius Severus, but rebuilt again to become the capital of New Rome with Constantine in the 4th century. It further reinforces its status as a city until becoming the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. And it will reach its peak as a city in the 6th century with Justinian. In the 15th century its conquer by the Turkish will make it the Eastern capital at the doors of the West.
The landscape of the current imposing city still offers the footprints, brilliant and limited, of its complex and extraordinary history. And it is a landscape in which this vibrant cohabitation of the two worlds; united and confronted, or the other way around; which provided life and color to the Old World, is still perceivable in the extreme singularity of a unique city.
Cartagena is a melting pot of more that two hundred thousand years of history and culture, whose archaeological records have been overlapped and mixed with several cities within a continuous process going from Antiquity to the present. The historiography from the 16th to the 19th century, the relevant contributions from personalities of the size of Antonio Beltrán and Pedro San Martín in the 20th century, and the notable development of scientific research, as well as urban and underwater archaeology, in the last three decades, have currently allowed Cartagena to become an observatory from which it is possible to register and study the history of the successive Carthaginian, Roman, Late Roman, Byzantine, Medieval, Modern and Contemporary facies. In this context, the research projects such as the ones done in the Augusteum theatre, have allowed to propose the analysis of the Roman city applying new perspectives. More recently, the project of the Molinete Archaeological Park that started in 2008 is allowing for the study of an archaeological reserve of 26000 m2, which due to being in the centre of the old town has become a privileged laboratory for the study of the material history of Cartagena in Antiquity, but also in the Medieval and Contemporary periods.
This scenario of Cartagena's urban archaeology have fostered the discovery and study of relevant architectural testimonies of the Roman city. Some of these have been preserved and valued by the "Cartagena Puerto de Culturas" consortium, while the "Fundación Teatro Romano de Cartagena" have decisively facilitated an excellent project for the preservation and transformation into a museum of the roman theatre building, an effort almost finalized that has been recently recognized through the prestigious EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards 2010. The recent works in Molinete have also received the National Award for Restoration and Preservation of Cultural Goods in 2012. This way, the archaeological activity and cultural, historical and archaeological heritage of the city, a legacy from a splendorous past, has become the motor to overcome the last of the several crisis hitting the city since the 90s, proving how a well managed and exploited cultural heritage can be one of the best assets an increasingly cultivated society can rescue, maintaining their identity pride as the key formula to face the challenges posed by the 21st century.
This conference will expose the main milestones and ways of recovering and giving value to all this cultural, particularly the archaeological, heritage. In the same way, we will present a diachronic historical evolution of Cartagena from Antiquity to posterior periods (Medieval, Renaissance,...), from the view of the archaeological records, and stressing the analyses of the several arguments regarding a Punic city from the 3rd century a.C. founded by the Barca linage of Carthage to be used as capital of the political-military suzerainty of Iberia; a Roman Republic city and its first big urban and architectural equipments deriving form the exploitation of the surrounding territories; and the city from the Cesar-Augustan period and the 1st and 2nd centuries, which produced important patrons included among the big figures of the Roman State, and that began a vibrant urbanist and architectural programme, including the forum and theatre. The archaeological records will also allow us to review some of the most highlighted milestones of a Late Roman and Renaissance city, focusing particularly in its transformation into a naval base of the Spanish monarchy granted with new and elaborated defensive walls. All of this analyzed with the scope of the Mediterranean vocation that characterized the entire historical development of the city.