Cartagena, Colombia 500 Years Later
Nothing Great is Created Quickly…
by Ron McGinty
Simply magical, to walk through the curving streets of the walled city, experiencing the five hundred year-old charm of Cartagena.
Imagine beautiful courtyard homes with hand-carved balconies that peer over cobblestone streets, or the lush bougainvillea that drape as a cascading quilt of nature.
If these antique homes could talk, they would tell of wealth, wars and religion. More importantly though, telling the story of the very beautiful, brave and proud people of Cartagena.
It all started with the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Heredia, who founded Cartagena in 1556. The city rapidly became the primary shipping port of gold, silver, and emeralds back to the Old World. The Colombian mines produced some of the most valuable emeralds in existence.
The sea port of Cartagena was one of only two in the New World allowed to trade slaves, processing well over one million. Their endeavors brought vast wealth to the city, but along with it, pirates.
To defend against attacks, a walled fortress was built around Cartagena. The wall is 15 feet thick and almost seven miles in length. Walking along the wall in the early morning, one can feel the supremacy of the wall’s colossal strength.
Sir Francis Drake, in 1586 successfully attacked the city with 30 ships and 2,300 pirates. Spain paid Sir Drake a hefty price to leave Cartagena. To keep future hostilities at bay, the city built the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, a 130-foot-high towering fortress. It is still the greatest fortress Spain ever constructed in the Americas.
Cartagena was besieged again in 1741. British Admiral Edmond Vernon arrived with the power of 23,000 men and 186 ships fortified with 2,000 cannons. The Castillo San Felipe was garrisoned by one-eyed Admiral Blas de Lezo, with only 3,000 Spanish troops and six ships. After a month-long siege, de Lezo’s resistance won.
Spain’s rule eventually ended after 250 years in 1810.
Old Cartagena’s charm is found in its narrow streets, lined with small boutique hotels, restaurants and horse drawn carriages. You are always just steps away from a historical square with street musicians and vendors.
Spain’s architectural influence was evidenced by the Palace de Inquisition, historic homes and churches.
Cartagena is a hub of museums. My favorite was the monastery and home of San Pedro Claver. The home has an aura of serenity centered around a large courtyard of lush flowers and trees. Other museums worth visiting are the Museo del Oro Zenu, the Museo Navaldel Carib, and the Convento de la Popa.
These historic sites may not take your breath away, but they will quench your thirst for knowledge. Through my three trips in 2017 to Cartagena, I met many people from various countries.
My last evening, I met three professional models from Florianópolis, Brazilat La Cervecería Restaurant. Because of their invitation, my adventures will continue in 2018 with a trip to Brazil to experience their island on the ocean.
Relaxing was easy, spending many evenings atop the wall at the Café del Mar watching the sun set and enjoying a drink. Sitting there, I would relish the brilliant sunset views and occasionally envision pirate ships on the distant horizon.
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