Cartagena - An ancient Spanish colonial city with views to the sea (31 May)
Interesting Facts about Cartagena
CARTAGENA DE INDIAS’ Ciudad Vieja, or Old City, is among South America’s most ancient Spanish colonial settlements. Founded in 1533, its wealth and beauty were built on the horrors of slavery, gold extraction, and sugar harvesting in Colombia’s tropical climate. Other European powers attacked the city over the centuries seeking its riches, most famously England’s Sir Frances Drake, who sacked it in 1586.
To protect this important center, Spain built one of its largest marine and land defense systems, with more than seven miles (11 km) of stone walls and ramparts along Cartagena’s harbor and adjacent areas. The largest of the outer forts is the mountainous Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, which took decades to construct. Today, the walled fortresses offer a tranquil way to explore the city and take in views of the sea. It’s easy to forget these were once vital defenses in bloody battles.
Long Colombia’s most important tourism destination, Ciudad Vieja’s streets remain a mix of gentrified districts for foreign and domestic visitors and humbler enclaves where locals work and shop. Balconies, windows, and gardens everywhere overflow with blooming tropical flowers, especially in the deepest summer months of December, January, and February. Night and day, music fills the streets with a mix of cumbia, mapalé, and other Afro-Caribbean sounds.
Tourists and locals meet in the bars, shops, and clubs that surround Plaza de Los Coches, shadowed by an imposing yellow clock tower. This plaza was once the site of the old slave market.
Cartagena has many worthy museums—Plaza de Bolívar is home to both the sprawling National Historical Museum and the exquisite Gold Museum, or Museo del Oro Zenú. The Inquisition Museum, also known as the Palacio de la Inquisición, details the hideous tortures once inflicted on victims throughout the Spanish Empire.
Nearby, overlooking the Plaza de San Pedro Claver, are the stately convent and church of San Pedro Claver. They are named for the priest—later canonized a saint—who was one of the lone souls to minister and show compassion to the slaves who arrived in the city’s port on ships. His remains are in a coffin under the altar of the church, and part of the adjacent convent is open as a museum, with displays of pre-Columbian artifacts and religious art.
Just a few minutes’ walk north is Plaza de Santa Domingo, where people dine alfresco steps from the sea. “La Gorda,” the “Fat One,” a bulbous bronze sculpture by Fernando Botero, reclines in the center of this colorful square.