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Colombia: Cartagena de Indias

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Cartagena de Indias | Colombia | Americas

[Visited: February 2009]

An indigenous settlement used to be here before San Pedro de Heredia founded Cartagena de Indias in 1533. It soon developed and gained importance. Within decades, Cartagena was the major assembly point for the Spanish for the treasures they plundered in their newly found colonies in South America. Its main purpose was a trading port for gold and slaves. Consequently, it gained importance as the gateway for South America, but at the same time, as a prime target for pirates and foreign powers. Since the city became very prosperous, the appearance of the city was affected as well. The city was attacked, and sacked, several times, probably most infamously by Francis Drake who destroyed around a quarter of the city in 1586, including the cathedral. In order to defend the newly found wealth and prevent more disastrous attacks, the city needed to be defended. A wall was erected that surrounded the city, and various fortresses built to make conquering this important city next to impossible.

Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Crossing a street in Cartagena in the late afternoon

Its location near the mouth of the Magdalena river ensured the continued importance of Cartagena de Indias and the city continued to play a crucial role in the Spanish Empire. Eventually, the spirit of the people of Cartagena turned against the Spanish and they declared independence in 1810 as one of the first towns in the Americas, only to be reconquered a few years later. It was Simón Bolívar himself who not only liberated the city from the Spanish for good in 1821, but he also nicknamed the city La Heróica. Its success attracted people from many different backgrounds. Nowadays, the city is a major magnet for visitors. Horse-drawn carriages ply the streets, carrying tourists on a tour through the city. Souvenir sellers walk the streets in search of buyers, and there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. Much of the defensive walls still stand, and on top of part of them, people stroll before choosing a place to have dinner. Yes, the city has become very touristy, probably the most visited place of Colombia.

Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Sunset over the cupola of San Pedro and a statue of Pegasus

My first exploration of Cartagena was in the late afternoon, and since I would be staying longer, I decided to just walk the streets of the colonial town, that was designated a World Heritage Site a long time ago, haphazardly. When I approached the Puerta del Reloj, the monumental statues in the Parque del Centenario and the road leading up to the gate immediately gave me a feeling of rich history of this city. The historic city centre has a perfect size for exploration on foot, and the best time to do so is either early in the morning or the last hours before sunset, when a golden light shines through the straight and winding streets of Cartagena, making the colourful houses and the flowers hanging from their balconies stand out. Criss-crossing the streets of this picturesque city took me to old churches, small squares, on top of the wall, in quiet streets, and the monument for India Catalina, the indigenous woman who worked as a translator for the Spanish conquerors who would ultimately eliminate her people. Even though the city is flooded with tourists, it is still possible to avoid the crowds and discover quiet spots in Cartagena.

Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): House with flowers in the old part of Cartagena
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Typical street in the colonial town of Cartagena
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Door with lanterns in Cartagena
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Tower on the wall defending Cartagena de Indias
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Clock Tower Gate or Puerta del Reloj in the early morning light
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): India Catalina, a statue in commemoration of the indigenous population living in Cartagena upon the arrival of the Spanish
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Church in Cartagena: close-up of the belfry
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Lantern casting a long shadow in the early morning in Cartagena
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Balconies are embellished by flowers in Cartagena
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Two streets meeting in the colonial town of Cartagena
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Iglesia de San Pedro
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Cupola of the Iglesia de San Pedro with the Naval Museum
Picture of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia): Parque de Bolívar of Cartagena de Indias

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