Winding cobbled streets flanked with astounding colourful Spanish colonial architecture decorated with intricately carved balconies with blooming colourful flowers facing lovely squares, Cartagena in Colombia is absolutely the most beautiful and most photographed city on the planet.
Filled with sun and steeped with history, this lovely colonial city was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia. Its strategic position had made it an important seaport by the mid 16th century. It was one of the few South American ports that were used as storehouse of enormous amount of gold, silver and other treasures that the Spanish had plundered from the West Indies before it can be shipped to Spain. A popular port for plunderers and pirates because of the immense wealth it held, and the center of the infamous slave trade shipping human cargoes to mine fields and plantations of South America, it was constantly ransacked and looted by different groups of buccaneers from far and wide.
Suffering from several sackings and invasions, the Spanish crown continually poured in large sums of money to the city either to pay ransom or to strengthen its defence. Built to fend off philanders, thick walls were erected and series of fortress were built. The most impressive of these forts is the Castillo de San de Barjas. Began in 1639 and completed on 1789 (over 150 years!) and built on red brick and concrete, the fort was designed such that it can still fire from another part even if one part fell to invaders.
Despite the city’s significant role in the Spanish empire, it was the first of those in Colombia and Venezuela to gain independence from the colonial power. For more than 275 years under the Spanish rule, it gained absolute independence from Spain in 1811 and was used by the patriotic Simone Bolivar as base for his launch to liberate Venezuela. It was then incorporated into Colombia in 1821 after its sad plight when a Spanish general re-conquest it and inflicted ferocious reprisals to the population which left the city almost destroyed and in ruins. Suffering from famine and cholera outbreaks, the city now called Cartagena of Colombia became a ghost town and was in the brink of disappearing in the mid of the 19th century. It was only in the 20th century with the improvement of communications and infrastructure that the city regained its former glory.
Cartagena in Colombia – The city
The city is currently a delightful combination of the past and present. The old part of the city is dominated by the 400-year-old Spanish colonial edifices clustered along brick streets and encircled by thick stone walls stretching for more than two miles. Standing high and mighty, this structure has attracted throngs of tourists to step on its brick pathways, explore its underground pit with narrow maze of tunnels leading to several chambers, and wonder delightfully at the intricately designed colonial architecture against the caress of soft breeze coming from the Caribbean Sea. It may be ironical to note that this delightful sight signifies the troubled pirating past of the city.
Cartagena in Colombia – The hotels
Urban development in recent years has unveiled upscale modern skyscrapers housing luxurious hotels, elegant casinos, trendy shops, gourmet restaurants, and wide array of shopping malls. Renowned neighbourhoods scatter around this modern part of the city, some sitting close to the beautiful beaches rendering spectacular views and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Sitting beside its old counterpart, this modern section of the city has developed camaraderie with its opposite component creating a beautiful amalgam of past and future.
A metropolis of contrasts and sunshine, Cartagena in Colombia is a city that will always look back at its past.