El Centro (Old City), Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (Fortress of San Felipe de Barajas), begun 1536 and enlarged in 1657 and 1762, Cartagena, Colombia

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (Fortress of San Felipe de Barajas), begun 1536 and enlarged in 1657 and 1762, Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena de Indias (generally shortened in English to “Cartagena“), Colombia’s seaport in the Bolivar department on the Caribbean Sea, is really two cities in one.  The old walled district, known as “El Centro“, is filled with the distinctive sound of horse-drawn carriages resonating on cobblestone streets, vestiges of Spanish colonialism sheltered from the encroachment of time by the massive ramparts which surround it (and can be climbed and walked upon).  The dynamic newly developed area of Bocagranda is the modern center, filled with waterfront hotels, casinos, tempting boutiques and restaurants.  Each complements the other, creating a cosmopolitan appealing port to visit. 

Constructed for defensive purposes, the colonial-era Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (Fortress of San Felipe de Barajas) — one of the oldest buildings in the country — is situated on the eastern hillside edge of El Centro on San Lazaro Hill.  Construction began in 1536 and it was enlarged in 1657 and 1762.  The well-preserved engineering marvel features a complex maze of tunnels, rich history, and the opportunity to experience gorgeous views of the city.  It was here that Spanish Admiral Don Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta (3 February 1689 – 7 September 1741)  led the Spaniards in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias (1741) and resisted a siege by a combined British force under the command of Admiral Vernon.  The Admiral had sent word of the impending battle back to the King George II of England via a fast sailing ship, predicting a glorious defeat of the Spanish.  The King had a new coin minted depicting the defeat of Admiral Don Blas, with the inscription, “The Spanish pride pulled down by Admiral Vernon”.  Months later the English learned of the actual outcome of the attempted siege — an “egg on the face” moment…  By May 12, 1741, the last of the British ships and men were gone from Cartagena de Indias.  It is estimated that 18,000 men were lost to disease of enemy action, and 50 ships were destroyed or disabled.  Of 3,500 American Colonial (British) troops, scarcely 300 returned home.  It is little wonder that King George II then forbade anyone to speak or write about the defeat.

The Spanish erected a large statue of Admiral Don Blas at the entrance to Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas with a replica of the English coin on the pedestal to remind all Colombians of their victory and the continued Spanish rule of the area.

Convento & Iglesia de San Pedro Claver (San Pedro Claver Cathedral & Convent), begun in the first half of the 1600s, Cartagena, Colombia

Convento & Iglesia de San Pedro Claver (San Pedro Claver Cathedral & Convent), begun in the first half of the 1600s, Cartagena, Colombia

Old city walls, Cartagena, Colombia

Old city walls, Cartagena, Colombia

Typical residential balcony, Cartagena, Colombia

Typical residential balcony, Cartagena, Colombia

Residences in the Old City with beautifully decorated balconies viewed from atop the Old City wall, Cartagena, Colombia

Residences in the Old City with beautifully decorated balconies viewed from atop the Old City wall, Cartagena, Colombia

View of the new high rises in the Bocagrande neighborhood and the old defensive cannons atop the Old City wall, Cartagena, Colombia

View of the new high rises in the Bocagrande neighborhood and the old defensive cannons atop the Old City wall, Cartagena, Colombia

Fernando Botero Angulo (born 19 April 1932) is a figurative artist and sculptor from Medellín, Colombia. His signature style, also known as “Boterismo”, depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume, which can represent political criticism or humor, depending on the piece. He is considered the most recognized and quoted living artist from Latin America, and his art can be found in highly visible places around the world, such as Park Avenue in New York City and the Champs-Élysées in Paris. — Wikipedia

“La Gordita” bronze sculpture by Colombian born Fernando Botero, across from the Church of Santo Domingo in Santo Domingo Plaza, Cartagena, Colombia

The Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, officially Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria, is a Colombian Catholic cathedral church cult under the invocation of St. Catherine of Alexandria.  It is located in the historic center of Cartagena de Indias.

Bell tower of Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Cartagena, Colombia

Bell tower of Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Cartagena, Colombia

“The Palace of Inquisition, as it is known today, is actually a conjunction of three tall houses and one short house, the latter of which has disappeared, constructed in 1770 to serve as headquarters to the Court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, which had been established in Cartagena de Indias since 1610.  The buildings feature architectural elements inherited from southern Spain, such as the hallway, the cistern and the viewpoint…”  [Based in Spain, the Catholic Church had three outposts in the New World to supervise its Inquisition — in Mexico City, Cartagena de Indias, and Lima, Peru.]

The

The “Palace of Inquisition” constructed in 1770 as headquarters to the Court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, established in Cartagena since 1610, Cartagena, Colombia

“In 1610, the Court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition was established in Cartagena de Indias, which operated for 211 years with certain interruptions, and which had under its jurisdiction the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo, Santafe, and the Diocese of Santiago de Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama, Popayan, Santa Marta, Venezuela and — of course — Cartagena.  In Cartagena, the conditions and necessity to establish a court were provided by the importance of the port, which served as main entrance for all kinds of goods (forbidden books), African slaves, merchants, foreigners from all over the world, who brought with them their heretic cultures and ‘bad customs which attacked our faith’.  Therefore, the erection of the Court in Cartagena was an indispensible step to secure control over the islands, the mainland, and their peoples; giving the Court the nature of controlling body over the economic, political, and cultural aspects of this vast territory.'” — explanatory text at the Museum of the Palace of Inquisition 

The Museum was very interesting, as most of us were completely unaware that the Spanish Inquisition had courts operating in the New World.  Many of the stories told in the Museum of people accused of being heretics (anyone could anonymously denounce another person), their trials, and gruesome punishments — hand crushing, breast mutilations, stretching on the rack, beheading, etc. — were heart rending.

Beautifully decorated residential balcony, Old City, Cartagena, Colombia

Beautifully decorated residential balcony, Old City, Cartagena, Colombia

“Panama” hats for sale on the sidewalk in Old City, Cartagena, Colombia

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