Cartagena

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Defining Cartagena's shape correctly is a very difficult task due to the irregularity of its outline. We could vaguely describe Cartagena as a piece of land surrounded by the Caribbean Sea except for the eastern part of the city. This piece of land closes in on itself toward the south to form, almost in the centre, a bay bearing the name of the city.

And now, with Cartagena Bay as a point of reference, we can try to orient ourselves. To the West of the bay, you will find the most modern and touristic area of the city; to the North you will find downtown and a wide residential and commercial area. To the East you'll see the most densely populated neighborhoods; and to the Southeast, you will find the industrial area of the metropolis.

Northern area

In this area you will find the Rafael Núñez International Airport, in the neighborhood of Crespo, only ten minutes away from downtown or the old part of the city and fifteen minutes away from the modern area. It must be said that this large area is that with the greatest long-term urban development. Here you will find the majestic Coralia Las Américas hotel, and several educational institutions.

If you decide you'd like to relive the history of Cartagena, go to the Walled City or Corralito de Piedra, where you will find four sectors, each one with a peculiar story to tell: San Diego, La Matuna, Getsemaní and Santo Domingo.

Downtown

Downtown is undoubtedly the heart of the city and the most evident testimony of its history. It has a varied architecture, mainly of a colonial style, but there are also republican and Italian style buildings, such as the Cathedral's bell tower.

The official entrance to downtown is through Puerta del Reloj (clock gate), which comes out onto Plaza de los Coches. A few steps from there you will find Plaza de la Aduana, next to the mayor's office, and nearby is Plaza de San Pedro, and a namesake church, as well as Museo de Arte Moderno.

Further on, you will find Plaza de Bolívar and Palacio de la Inquisición (Palace of Inquisition) to one side. If you are interested in knowing more about Cartagena's history, you can do in-depth research in the office of the Archivo Histórico (Historical Archive). In addition, across from here you will find Museo del Oro (Museum of Gold), which contains the history of the Sinú, an ancient native people. Next to the museum you'll find Palacio de Gobierno (Government House), where the Governor of the Department works. Across from the palace you'll see Cartagena's Cathedral, which dates back to the 16th century.

There is another religious relic that you should take time to admire: Santo Domingo church, in front of Santo Domingo square, which was recently decorated with the sculpture Mujer reclinada, a gift by the renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero.

You should not forget to visit Heredia theater, an architectural jewel located in front of Plaza de la Merced. A few meters from here you'll find Calle de la Factoría; on it is the Casa del Marqués de Valdehoyos, where Cartagena's Fototeca Histórica (historical photographic library) is housed.

A little bit further on, is Convento de los Padres Agustinos (Augustinian Fathers Convent), where Universidad de Cartagena operates. This University is a higher education center, opened to the public more than 120 years ago. Don't forget to visit Claustro de Santa Teresa (Santa Teresa Cloister), nowadays the Charleston hotel. It has its own square, protected by Baluarte de San Francisco (San Francisco bastion).

San Diego

It was named after Convento de San Diego (San Diego convent), nowadays the Escuela de Bellas Artes (Faculty of Fine Arts). In front of it you will find Convento de las Clarisas (convent of the nuns of the order of Saint Claire), nowadays the beautiful Hotel Santa Clara. In the surrounding area you will find Santo Toribio church, the last church built in the metropolis, and next to it, Plaza Fernández de Madrid, in honor of Cartagena's hero José Fernández de Madrid, whose statue can be seen here.

Inside the Old City, you have to go to Las Bóvedas (the vaults), a construction attached to the walls in Baluarte de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina bastion). From the top of this construction you will be able to view the fascinating Caribbean Sea.

La Matuna

La Matuna is the commercial and financial area par excellence in the city. Here you can also find affordable hotels, like San Felipe hotel, and affordable restaurants with good service.

Getsemaní neighborhood

This is one of the most representative neighborhoods in Cartagena. African people who were brought as slaves used to live here. Parque Centenario is the most prominent place in this area; built in 1911, it commemorates a century of independence. In this very same area you will find Centro de Convenciones de Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena's conventions center), Iglesia de la Tercera Orden and Claustro de San Francisco (San Francisco cloister). You will also see San Roque and de la Trinidad churches, in the square with the same name. Note that the entirety of the Old City has the same architectural styles as the area surrounded by Las Murallas (the walls).

Bocagrande

Bocagrande is the most modern area of the city, with many hotels and restaurants. It forms part of a land extension delimited by Cartagena Bay to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west, where you will find El Laguito and Castillo Grande, two renowned neighborhoods. Its particular appeal is the beaches and nightlife. All over Avenida San Martín, which is the backbone of the area, you will find several business premises, restaurants and hotels.

History of Cartagena

Cartagena de Indias. Yes, you have arrived in one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America, where you will be surprised step by step with the incredible stories of a history filled with magic and charm. It could be said that this is the city with most titles in the continent: 'Diplomatic City', 'Historical Heritage of Mankind' (given by UNESCO in 1985), 'Best Fortified City of America', 'Kingdom's Antemural', 'The Key of the West Indies', and 'Heroic City', name given by Simón Bolívar, the Liberator.

Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, in the area where the Caribbean Calamarí people lived, their name meaning 'crab'. This native population was part of a native tribe called the Mocanáes; Spanish accounts describe them as fierce and warlike, and point out that even women fought on a par with men.

A few years after it had been founded, the Spaniards designed a defense plan in which the main strategy was the construction of a walled military fortress to protect the city against the plundering of English, Dutch and French pirates.

Despite the precautions, the city was attacked many times. In 1551 the French pirate Roberto Baal forced Governor Pedro de Heredia to flee and to give him gold to avoid being at the mercy of the invaders. In 1559, the Frenchman Martín Cote also dominated the city. He took huge plunder in spite of cacique Maridalo's resistance. Another pirate attack was that of Francis Drake, who disembarked at night and took the city at dawn; he forced the inhabitants to take refuge in the neighboring village of Turbaco, burned the houses and destroyed a nave of the Cathedral. Drake forced the authorities to pay him 107.000 ducats and took some jewelry and 80 artillery pieces. And in 1568, the Englishman John Hawkins besieged the city for seven days because the governor Marín de las Alas did not want to carry out a commercial fair in the city; Hawkins could not subjugate the city.

In order to resist and protect from these attacks, during the 17th century the Spanish Crown hired the services of prominent European military engineers to run the construction of fortresses, which are nowadays one of the clearest signs of identity.

Cartagena was a slave port; Cartagena and Veracruz (México) were the only cities authorized to trade with black people. The first slaves arrived with Pedro de Heredia and they worked as cane cutters to open roads, in the desecration of tombs of the aboriginal population of Sinu, and in the construction of buildings and fortresses. The agents of the Portuguese company Cacheu distributed human 'cargos' from Cartagena for mine exploitation in Venezuela, the West Indies, the Nuevo Reino de Granada and the Viceroyalty of Perú.

On February 5th, 1610, the Catholic Monarchs established from Spain the Inquisition Holy Office Court in Cartagena de Indias by a Royal Decree issued by King Philip II. The Inquisition Palace, finished in 1770, is still there with its original features of colonial times. When Cartagena declared its complete independence from Spain on November 11th, 1811, the inquisitors were urged to leave the city. The Inquisition operated again after the Reconquest in 1815, but it disappeared definitely when Spain surrendered six years later before the patriotic troops led by Simón Bolívar. During its two centuries of existence, the court carried out twelve autos-da-fé, 767 defendants were punished and six of them were burned at the stake.

In colonial times, the Spaniards also built a series of constructions and fortresses to defend the city, such as San Sebastián de Pastelillo Fort, in Manga neighborhood, and the San Felipe de Barajas Castle, in honor of the King Philip IV. In the 18th century, the Vaults were constructed by the Spanish engineer Antonio de Arévalo. Outside the city, San Fernando and San José forts were located strategically at the entrance of the bay to entrench the pirate vessels that attacked the city.

However, if in the past Cartagena was a defensive city, nowadays it welcomes warmly and generously all its visitors and guarantees them a wonderful time there. You will undoubtedly enjoy the combination of varied architectural designs and a people attached to its color ancestors and Caribbean sounds.

 

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