Tag Archives: Cartagena de Indias

Off to Great Places in Cartagena de Indias

“You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.”  The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss

We arrived promptly at el Museo del Naval de Carib at 1:15 where we met Irsis, our English-speaking guide from the previous day. It was he who had suggested that we take the city tour which included several of the scenic sights in this phenomenal port city. Plus he could offer it at 20% off the price quoted to us by a previous vendor. So, after having a complimentary coffee that was heavily sugared, we departed through one of the gates in the city’s walls to meet the bus which would be our chariot for the remainder of the day.

“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away.” Ibid.

Our chariotWe were greatly pleased when we saw our tour bus painted in gaudy colors with Bob Marley and the Wailers blaring out of the open sides; it was nothing so much as a rolling Sesame Street colored boom box. Firmly ensconced in our open aired seats we departed, taking a jaunt around the Parque Centenario en route to barrio Bocagrande, the richest barrio in this city of 1.2 million built along the powdery white sand beach of Cartagena’s harbor. As we tootled around collecting the rest of the paid passengers we gawked at the shops, many similar to tony venues in the States. With our full complement of lookie-loos we turned towards our first destination of the day, the waterfront at the city’s marina. Colombia’s navy and army maintain bases in the port area while, in the commercial area, the gantry cranes stand ready to on or off load containerized cargos from ocean-going transports. Small parks abutting the malecon appear in less congested areas.  Berthing privileges are also extended to the massive cruise liners that make ports-of-call in Cartagena.  To our chagrin, we observed their disgorged passengers as they followed their leader’s standard literally blocking the city’s narrow streets like a flock of demented goslings. the harbor area

 

 “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So … Get on your way!” Ibid.

Our next stop, and the main reason we had joined the tour, was a visit to the Cerro de Popa which would allow us an elevated view of the city, the harbor, the scattered islands and the waterways that enveloped the old walled city of Cartagena.  The name literally means Convent of the Stern referring to the similarity between the 492-foot hillock and the back end of a ship.  Perched at the top and overlooking the city with its white walls reflecting the sun’s rays is a picturesque colonial church (circa 1611) and a convent.Cerro de Popa

We learned that during the early years of the colony, around 1535, a clandestine shrine existed upon the hill which was used by the indigenous inhabitants and African slaves to worship the deity Buziriaco, which, history records, resembled a goat. Legend has it that an Augustinian priest received, in a dream, an order from the Virgin Mary to erect a monastery on the site. Having traveled to the hill of La Popa the padre discovered the goat shrine and promptly pitched it down the mount. This must have come as an immense relief to the indigenous Indians and black slaves, as normal retribution for such sacrilege by the Spanish involved nasty torture or hideous death and, on a bad day, both. Pitching the goat shrine down the hill was bupkis.

Ultimately, the ride to the top of the mountain was more memorable for the grinding of gears and the acrid odor of charred motor oil issuing from the antiquated engine of our glitzy boom-box bus than the Convent itself but inside was housed a memorable, dazzling altar encrusted in 22-carat gold leaf – a rather impressive upgrade from the now defunct Buziriaco goat shrine.gold encrusted shrine

We made two more stops prior to the finale, the first presented an absolutely impressive venue, the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas which we decided deserved another more lengthy visit and a later post all its own and the second stop to a sculpture of a pair of high-top sneakers that had little visual or historic note which we hereby omit.

“Things may happen and often do to people as brainy and footsy as you.”, Ibid.

the old Officers'  BarracksOur chariot came to its last stop in front of the old Officers’ Quarters, later converted into a prison and now in a revitalized iteration as a Latinized mini-strip mall. Approximately twenty small tiendas selling Colombian handicrafts, a combination of beautifully worked goods and shoddy souvenirs, were housed in the stuccoed and gaily painted barracks. During the half hour we were allotted, we wandered through six or seven shops before selecting a bolsa, a cloth bag, in black with a brightly colored embroidered and appliqued red parrot on the front to use as a packing organizer.street vendor in traditional Colombian dress

“Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left. And, will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)”, Ibid.

And so, five hours later and $36 lighter we were dropped off on a side street inside the walled city. We perambulated over to what has become one of our favorite eateries, Ilsabe, for a pleasant meal and emerged after dark to stroll the narrow streets decorated for the holidays, the lights in gay profusion from balconies, statues and enormous Christmas trees that decorated almost every park and plaza. It was a wonderful way to end a raucous and informative day in the city by the sea.clock tower lighted up

We are indebted to Dr. Seuss, ne: Theodore Gisselle, for his marvelous creation The Places You’ll Go, published January 22, 1990 by Random House Publishing Co. While it was the last book he was to write it was the first book that truly inspired us in our visions of travel.

By Richard and Anita

Cartagena de Indias: Before, During and After The Conquistadors

Map of Cartagena, Colombia available at www.google.com/search?q=cartagena+map+colombia

Map of Cartagena, Colombia available at http://www.google.com/search?q=cartagena+map+colombia

Cartagena de Indias, Colombia is a jewel of a city sprawled on the Caribbean coast with a fascinating history that, like a trilogy, can be divided into life before the Spaniards, life with the Spaniards and life after the Spaniards.

Life before the invasion and land grab by the Spanish appears to have been rather idyllic in many respects for the original Meso-Americans drawn to this area as early as 4000 BCE by the mild climate and profusion of wildlife.  Here they built villages and engaged in a life as hunter-gatherers as well as some uniquely sophisticated irrigation and farming practices. Some agriculturalists had a belief system that viewed the world as a weaving of land, plants and water upon which the animals and people lived.  Potters made both everyday and ceremonial ceramics and goldsmiths (the Sinú people) devised several methods for making some pretty awesome jewelry for those in the upper echelons of their society. Of course, the elite of all the tribes engaged in some strutting to make sure that everyone knew they had riches.  Also practiced was intermittent warfare, with some tribes indulging in the art of barbecuing their adversaries. But by and large, life was good.pre-columbian gold artifact Cartagena pre-columbian gold from the god museum Cartagena

In 1501 CE, when the Spanish first landed in Cartagena Bay, the land was inhabited by several different tribes of people from the Karib (also spelled Carib) language group, who were found throughout the islands of the Caribbean Sea. The Spanish found the southern Caribbean coast around Cartagena unattractive to colonizers and departed elsewhere, leaving the Karibs in peace for another three decades.

portrait of Pedro de Heridia, 1533

portrait of Pedro de Heridia, 1533

When the Spanish returned in 1533, there were 200 settlers led by Pedro de Heredia and the Sinú people were forcibly displaced or enslaved while their ancestors’ tombs were looted for gold.   After their plundering was complete, many of the Spanish inhabitants scattered to the countryside to begin new lives as farmers. However, Cartagena was given a second opportunity to prosper a short time later when the city was successfully established as one of the great royal treasure repositories for the riches stripped from the peoples of Latin America.  As a renowned and flourishing outpost it became a major trading port for precious metals, pearls and emeralds. Gold, silver and emeralds from the mines in New Granada (later to be named Colombia) and Peru as well as pearls from the coastal waters were loaded onto the galleons bound for Spain via Havana.

With its fame and glory the now prosperous Cartagena was turned into an attractive plunder site for pirates and buccaneers – French and English privateers – licensed by their respective kings.  Now it became the turn of the Spanish to be threatened, then attacked; their cities and forts sacked and pillaged and their people killed. The pirates quickly closed on the victim with a strike in 1563 by the French nobleman Jean-François Roberval followed quickly by Martin Coat for the British crown.  Cartagena’s defenses were repaired and strengthened after each incident but the work proved to be ineffectual.  In 1586 Sir Francis Drake arrived with a massive fleet, quickly took the city and exacted a stiff ransom from the Governor after destroying a quarter to the city. (See also our posts featuring Sir Francis Drake having his wily way in Panama at Fuerte San Lorenzo and Casco Viejo, the original capital of Panama.)

sentry post overlooking the Caribbean Sea

sentry post overlooking the Caribbean Sea

After this disaster, Spain poured millions every year into the city for its protection.  Planning of the walls and forts began in earnest during the 17th century; the Spanish Crown paid for the services of prominent European military engineers to construct fortresses.  The last successful incursion on Cartagena was in 1697 by the French pirates Sir Bernard Desjean and Jean Baptiste Ducasse but by 1710 the walls were rebuilt, the forts reorganized and restored,  the public services restored and the buildings reopened.

Today the walls that surround Cartagena’s old town are its most significant, identifiable feature and a part of what makes the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The engineering works took 208 years and ended with some 6.8 miles of walls surrounding the city, including the fort, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, named in honor of Spain’s King Philip IV. The Castillo was constructed to repel land attacks and was an anchor of the city’s defenses. Numerous attempts to storm the reinforced fort were mounted, but it was never penetrated.P1050344 (800x545)

Cartagena WallsCastillo de San Felipe de BarajasSpain had one more infamous chapter to play in Cartagena’s history for, in addition to its prominence as a shipping port for the dispersion of the New World’s wealth to the Old World it, along with Veracruz, Mexico, became one of two licensed trade ports for African slaves in Central and South America. The first slaves were transported by Pedro de Heredia, who you may recall was the founder of the city in 1533, and were used as cane cutters to open roads, as laborers to loot and destroy the tombs of the aboriginal population of Sinú and to construct buildings and fortresses.  Slavery was abolished in Colombia in 1851.Three races

Colombia made several attempts to declare its independence from Spain and was finally successful in the final war for independence in 1821 led by Simon Bolívar.  It is the admixture of three races, the indigenous Meso-American Karibs, the Caucasian Spanish and the descendants of the African slaves, which gives Cartagena an ethnic richness. Several people have told us that those from Cartagena think of themselves first as citizens of this city because of its distinctive kaleidoscope of civilizations, heritage and history  and then as citizens of Colombia.

By Richard and Anita