Cartagena de Indias, Queen of the Caribbean Coast

March 28, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

Cartagena de Indias, Queen of the Caribbean Coast

Of all the cities of the world I have visited, Cartagena is without doubt the most colorful -- figuratively and literally. The city was founded in 1533 by the Spanish explorer Pedro de Heredia. It had an ideal natural port which resulted in its becoming the major gateway for Spanish exploration and conquest of the South American continent. It also became one of the principle ports from where looted gold and goods from the continent were exported to Spain. As such, it became a tempting target for pirates and buccaneers during the 16th and 17th centuries. The most infamous of these was the Englishman Sir Francis Drake who sacked the port in 1586. It was in response to these attacks that the Spanish built both the fortress walls around what is today called the Old City, as well as the imposing Castillo de Felipe de Barajas on a hill overlooking the city. Shelley and I spent several days here soaking up the tropical warmth, the historic atmosphere, the vibrant colors, and the life of its streets. 

A family takes a break near a guard tower on the thick fortress walls called Las Murallas, which surround the Old Town. Construction began on the walls towards the end of the 16th century and weren't finally completed until 1796, just fifteen years before Colombians declared their independence from Spain in 1811.

The walls were constructed using bocks of coral, stone and brick; most of the labor was provided by African slaves. 

The Plaza de la Aduana is the largest and oldest square in the Old City. The Royal Customs House, shown here, is a classic example of Spanish colonial architecture. It now serves as the City Hall.

The Puerto del Reloj was once the main entrance to the Old City. The large four-sided clock tower was added in 1888. The space in the foreground is Plaza de los Coches, which was once the site of the slave market. The statue of the city's founder Pedro de Heredia is in the middle of the plaza.

Just outside the Puerta del Reloj is the spacious Parque del Centenario which was constructed in 1911 to celebrate the centennial of Colombia's independence from Spain.

Cartagena is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Caribbean coast. Las Bóvedas is one of the busiest tourist markets in the city. While we were there, I counted no fewer than fifteen large buses shuttling tour groups and cruise ship passengers to and from this market.

Hats and T's, some of Cartagena's tourist "merch" are on display here. These also include colorful original paintings of city scenes as well as reproductions of some of the iconic works of Fernando Botero, Colombia's most famous contemporary visual artist.

Pictures within the picture.

I just liked the play of light and shadow over the frames and artwork displayed outside one of the shops along the street.

One of Colombia's more notorious personalities also has his own memorabilia for sale. Although Don Pablo met his demise in 1993, he seems to have become a cultural icon. 

I made this image of one of Cartagena's more famous night clubs, Cafe Havana, which lies just outside the walled Old City in the Getsemaní district. The large portraits caught my eye, but I had to wait a few minutes for the man to walk into the frame to add a much needed human element to the image.

I enjoy cycling, so bikes often catch my eye, as did the colors and the English signage in this scene.

The historic Cathedral of Cartagena was originally constructed in 1575 but was heavily damaged by Francis Drake in 1586. As the story goes, the Spanish stored their plundered gold here thinking that any self-respecting pirate would respect the sanctity of the church and pass it by. Unfortunately, Sir Francis had different ideas. Reconstruction of the cathedral was not finished until 1612. and the ornate bell tower was added during the restoration in 1912.

Inglesia de Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo offers a serene and shady escape from the Caribbean sun and busy streets of the city. Constructed between 1666 and 1732, the church's baroque pink and gold alter is the only one of its kind in Cartagena.

The Old City is a labyrinth of narrow streets and colorful buildings.

We enjoyed just wandering the streets, stopping occasionally to check out a shop, get a drink, or make a few photographs.

Seafood was one of the specialties of the city.

Golden hour afternoon light in Plaza de Bolívar. The statue of Símon Bolívar, or El Libertador, as he is popularly known, looks down on the tranquil scene. Bolívar is a revered figure in most of South America and particularly in Colombia for his leading role in liberating the continent from Spanish rule in 1811.

While sitting on a bench in Plaza de Bolívar, I had just attached my 18mm wide-angle lens to my camera when a group of young people in formal wear walked quickly by. This was a grab shot, I didn't have time to even look through the viewfinder. Behind them is the ornate doorway to what is called the Palacio de la Inquisición. It is said to be one of the most beautiful colonial-style buildings in the city. Unfortunately, behind its ornate exterior, the local church authorities conducted the repressive and bloody Inquisition, tribunals against "heretics" during the 1600's. It is now a municipal museum. Although it was the result of random chance, I liked the combination of the stylish couple against the ornate doorway in the background and their blurred movement within a bubble of distortion.

One of the alternative modes of transport available for sightseers in the Old City.

The Lovers Serenade: At sunset, hundreds of people, residents and tourists alike, walk and mingle along the seafront fortress walls in the Old City. This solo trumpeter seemed to be serenading the couples gathered around him.

After watching the sunset from the Old City walls, we passed an outdoor wedding reception at one of the hotels. These two beautiful young ladies were from a group that was getting ready to perform at the reception. I asked them if I could take their photo, and they obliged with a smile and a pose.

Even at night the city glows with color.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is the massive colonial-era fortress that overlooks the Old City. It was constructed after the city suffered numerous attacks by pirates, buccaneers and the English. Construction began in 1657, and after several expansions and improvements, was it completed in 1762. Despite numerous attempts to storm and take the fortress by French and English forces during the 18th century, the bastion was never taken. The defenses were built with a capacity of 62 heavy cannons, water cisterns, sentry boxes, a hospital, protective quarters for the defenders, as well as a series of ramps to facilitate movement of men and equipment from one level to another.

Shelley inspects part of the system of tunnels under the periphery of the fort. These were designed to be filled with explosives that could be detonated under any enemy who attempted to enter the bastion.  

The Colombian flag flies above the ramparts of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas overlooking Cartagena.

 The new city, on the other hand, continues to expand beyond the old fortress walls that can be seen in the center right of this photo.

The new city rises up beyond what was once the old port of Cartagena.

Welcome back to the 21st century!









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