Cartagena de Indias was founded in 1533 by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Heredia, who actually built it at the location of an existing settlement of the indigenous Carib Indians. It soon acquired importance as the main gateway for Spain into South America, and it became the warehouse of the Spanish treasures taken from the newly discovered territories. Not surprisingly, Cartagena became a prime target for pirates, and in order to defend it against attackers, the city was turned into a fortress, surrounded by a defensive wall. The Spanish also decided to build a real fortress, which was cleverly constructed to make it difficult to attack and impossible to conquer. Initially based on a design of the Dutch engineer Ricardo, the fortress was ultimately finished by Antonio de Arévalo. The design worked.
The Castillo San Felipe, originally built in the 16th century and rebuilt in the mid-17th century, was so strong and so well located, on top of the San Lázaro Hill, that is was never taken. There were plenty of attempts, heavy battles, but in the end, the defenders always prevailed. The most famous battle was the one waged by the English admiral Edward Vernon in 1741. The British were so convinced of their victory against the Spanish, based on their much larger numbers of ship, cannons and men, that they even minted coints depicting a humiliated Blas de Lezo kneeling before Vernon. In reality, however, the Brits were defeated, and the physically handicapped Blas de Lezo, missing a leg, an arm and an eye, turned into a hero. He is still visible as a statue at the foot of the San Lázaro hill on which the fortress is built. Copies of the British coins depicting his defeat are attached to the sides of the pedestal on which his statue stands.
Ultimately, the entire Cerro de San Lázaro, the hill on which the fortification was built, was completely covered by the structure, thus effectively making any unwanted entry into the city of Cartagena from land impossible. When you approach the fortress from the side of Cartagena, you realize how massive the Castillo San Felipe is. Climbing the winding access ramp brings you to the top of the fortress. Apart from a fine view over old Cartagena as well as the modern city, you can start exploring the different batteries here, the ammunition warehouses, hospital, the belfry, and the long tunnels that cut through the fortress and could be used to transfer ammunition from one side to the next, or for escaping the enemy. The fortress was constructed in such a way that, if needed, it could destruct itself in case the enemy would be about to take over. Because of the design, this, however, never happened.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Castillo San Felipe de Barajas (Colombia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Read more about this site.