Where is it – Northeastern region of Colombia on the Caribbean coast of South America
What is there to see – El Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, the walled historic old city, Las Murallas, Palacio de la Inquisicion, Plaza Bolivar, Las Bovedas, Cartagena Cathedral Random facts – Colombia is the largest emerald producer and second largest fresh-cut flowers exporter in the world Interesting trivia – Cartagena is a sister city of Manila, Philippines
We don’t know exactly what we expect to see and discover in Cartagena. Much to our surprise we find Cartagena an interesting vibrant city with a colourful past much like Manila.
Our guided tour begins with a scenic drive through a residential area called Manga. En route we witness republican architecture and several colonial mansions restored to their original splendour.
The first stop is the must-see “El Castillo San Felipe de Barajas”, a well-preserved castle/fortress built by the Spaniards in the 17th century for protection against pirates while shipping gold to Europe. Located strategically on top of a hill overlooking the city and harbour, the sentinel is said to be the most important work of Spanish engineering in any of their colonies. Aside from its complex maze of underground tunnels meant to facilitate supply and provisions as well as evacuation of inmates, the bastion features vantage points for artillery, underground galleries and gunpowder warehouses.
We visited the famed Old City, a walled city (reminds us of Intramuros) with cobblestone narrow streets and Spanish colonial homes with flower-filled courtyards and wood-beamed balconies and stone towers.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is connected by a series of bridges and divided by 17th century walls into an “historic old city” and a cosmopolitan “modern city”.
A structure in the old city quite popular to tourists is “Las Bovedas”, the vaults attached to the walls that were originally built as dungeons for military purposes and as storerooms for munitions and provisions before they became jail cells. Now they house shops well-stocked with traditional Colombian merchandise and vast array of souvenirs from hammock to postcards.
We strolled to the 18th century “Palacio de la Inquisicion”, one of the most important historical edifices in the city and an eerie grim reminder of atrocities of the Spanish colonial rule with its display of various instruments of torture like the heretic fork and the female breast squeezer. The palace served as a tribunal court that tried, judged and convicted anyone the Catholic Church viewed as a heretic, a witch or a devil. There was no tolerance – during those days you had to believe in the Roman Catholic Church, if not, you’re subjected to involuntary confession and torture.
Across the palace is the lively Plaza Bolivar, with a statue of Gen. Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan most important military and political leader who played a key role in Hispanic America’s struggle for independence from the Spanish colonial rule. At this small park shaded with trees and palms, you can purchase bottled water, fruits or beer from local vendors with whom I practise my knowledge of Spanish.
Nearby is the massive Cartagena Cathedral which dates back to the 16th century. And within sight is the San Pedro Claver Church honouring missionary St. Peter Claver, the patron saint of slaves and the first saint canonized in the Western hemisphere.
After visiting historic sites and wandering the narrow streets and some of the squares of the Old City under the hot sun we make our way to the modern residential district of “Bocagrande” (Big Mouth) and capped our day off with shopping at the Pierino Gallo.