Cartagena: From Human Sacrifice to Freedom to Gog and Magog
This is one of 137 pictures we took in Cartagena, Spain,
on Thursday March 17, the day of our first shore excursion from our cruise last month on the Norwegian Epic. It was a great pleasure that day to walk off the ship to the main road leading away from the port – a very broad, clean, bright pedestrian-only street, leading up to many other things. Aside from walking through town and looking around from high points, we focused on four main historical sites, in order: (1) Cerro del Molinete, the beautiful well-marked archeological area containing excavations of a Roman forum and also the site of an ancient Phoenician and Roman Temple, back to back; (2) the strange dark building, Monte Sacro, in the picture above; (3) the well-reconstructed Roman ampitheater in the center of town, next to a nice local free art museum and friendly cats who acted like guides to us; and (4) Castillo de la Concepcion. Both (2) and (4) were visible from (1), dominating the two closest hills, but interesting-looking buildings were atop all the far hills as well.
Going to Cerro del Molinete was a very nice experience, but Monte Sacro was basically just a loose end even at the end of our cruise. (At the Castillo, I think, they wrote the term “Cantarranas” for Monte Sacro.) At the Cerro, they recounted how that historic hill was nothing but a low-class neighborhood full of whore houses and such just a century ago, and how the modern beautiful site was the result of a lot of digging and work, still ongoing. I wondered whether Monte Sacro might be the same kind of thing, still undug.
After the Cerro, we walked towards Monte Sacro, but it began to seem odd. As I walked along one of the paths you see in the picture, Luda cried out and urged me to leave, when the second of two very odd characters started to appear. I was sad that I never got a close look or picture of the big plaque you see behind a pole where a lower trail branches off, a plaque which... well, it seemed to have a lot of Chinese characters??? As we walked down to the parking lot below, and to the main road, we also saw people in headscarves heading in the opposite direction to an enclave below. Crossing the street, we saw a big church, which proclaimed it was the center of Cartagena, and felt like a strong, defiant outer wall.
NOW that we know what to look for... most of the mystery is explained on the web, in plain Spanish, IF you know where to look. This hill was actually used as setting for a movie on Iraq! More seriously – UNDER the modern brick building, there was an ancient temple to Saturn, where human sacrifices were performed. (Also on the web are pictures of the bed used by a vagrant in the trashy interior of that modern building in the picture.) It sounds as if they might indeed excavate and beautiful this hill too in the future... but what about that (Chinese?) plaque? All this I learned just now from Luda, who showed me the Spanish web site. (“Who knows? Maybe that plaque was for the water system they used the building for in the past century..”)
Human sacrifice. This is not the first time I have run across that grim reminder of our past, a reminder which often is suppressed from sanitized textbooks. I also remember in Xian, in their main museum, the plaque which calmly and briefly discussed how routine that was in the great enlightened new Zhou dynasty (new in about 700BC, a great march forward in progress at the time). I remember how sad I was last year or so, in visiting the Stonehenge of New Hampshire (Salem, New Hampshire, in terrible repair since I saw it in the 1970’s, when the documentation and evidence was much stronger), coming face to face with the sad reality that even “our people,” the daring people of the boat civilized even in ancient megalithic times, propagated that same terrible error. And yes, we have seen such things in Hawaii and Mexico.
The histories of human sacrifice reminds me that very elementary errors in logic can have huge impacts on the fate of an entire civilization. Today’s cultures are making similar such errors in logic, just as serious and just as dangerous. The core error in this case was to assume that “psychic energy” or “mana” is conserved just like physical energy, and can simply be stolen or abused without ... risk or loss. Enough on that for now. This Temple of Saturn reminds me of the two paintings of Saturn devouring his children, which we saw just three days before that in the Prado in Madrid. It is appropriate that our ego, and the higher self of the noosphere, should reassimilate and defuse specific memories and archetypes/prototypes in the mind, but this kind of excess... is very serious and very sad. Simple category confusions can cause so much damage in so many parts of life!
Much more pleasant was our first walk that day, from center city to Cerro de Molinete, leading up the site where we saw this plaque...
As we walked off the ship onto the big pedestrian road, we saw a tourist information place on the left side of the road. They were very helpful, giving us a map and showing how to walk to reach the place where we saw this plaque. It was not entirely trivial where to enter the archeological area! We turned right after awhile onto a less inspiring side street, where the new Roman forum excavation is taking place on the left. We did not pay to enter that area, though we did look at it, but continued ahead as the guide had told us, even though it was somewhat discouraging. Two cats appeared... an interesting story... but in any case, we continued, and turned left after we passed the excavation site. And then on the left, as we climbed, we could see the great site. It was very inspiring there, either to look up to where the Temples were, or to look down from there all the way to the water, with a view dominating the whole city. But our pictures do not really capture that.
I did try to meditate on what the ancient Romans and Carthaginians were doing and feeling in that place. It was amusing at one point, when I felt I was tuning in, to hear out-of-sequence loud church bells reminding me that there is also more modern history in that place. The Romans, in defeating the threat from Punics (“the purple people”) who wanted to take over Rome itself, felt they were bringing more enlightenment and freedom to this part of the world, and defeating ancient forces of totalitarianism and superstition, providing a kind of open and enlightened order to the world. How sad the Romans must have felt later, when the new Roman forum was constructed below, with places for plebs at the bottom and an altar for the Emperor God at its top. Was it more enlightenment or just a stronger form of the same old ancient poison?
Recently a friend said... the power of the dole, of Roman citizens depending on the dole, was at the core of Rome’s degeneration and fall. Not really. That was a later stage; WHY were so many Roman citizens on the dole, after all? Not so many independent farmers were left after large landowners exploited the POLITICAL economies of scale in taking over the land, and using slaves to do the work, supported by “reforms” on Rome’s Capitol Hill very similar to what many in Washington are now moving towards.
On our way back from Monte Sacro (point 2 of our 4), we found our way first to the back door (with help from a white cat when we were a bit lost) and then the front door and paid entry of the Roman ampitheater. It was nice and clean, but such a standard site I will not elaborate here. It was easy to visualize the power of the place when it was full and colorful and new. Some of the wall slogans praising Caesar and his family reminded me a lot of things some people have been saying about Trump and his family lately. More seriously, it was interesting to read more about Caesar Augustus’s effort to promote and restore true Roman values (???) through lots of such communication efforts all over his empire. “Well, at least he brought peace.” (But to what extent does Jesus get more credit than people know, and to what extent was Augustus leading to the peace of the grave, of a path to inevitable death of his entire civilization?)
Point 4 – Castillo del Concepcion. There was a nice statue in front of the Carthaginian founder of Cartagena, whose name I already forget, predecessor of Hannibal. But inside, the museum was mainly about modern history. There was a great view, and access to ancient cisterns whose history seems not fully known. Were these cisterns there in very ancient times, somehow connected to Asclepius and healing? The museum suggested it. The peacocks were also very friendly, and we have pictures of them. They even had conversations in “meows”. We had intended to walk down at least by the cliff trail, but it was blocked off, so we took the elevator both up and down. After we took the elevator down, we were back to our usual routine of running and fast navigating through semi-familiar streets, to make the “all aboard” of the ship.