Cartagena de Indias, as it is officially called, issteeped in history and one of the most interesting cities in theWestern Hemisphere. Located on Colombia's Caribbean coast, Cartagena'sfounding dates to 1533 and is credited to Don Pedro de Heredia.Thehistoric Old City is still surrounded by massive walls. At one time,there were two entrances into the well-protected harbor. One of them,Boca Grande, was blocked up by the Spaniards after an attack by theEnglish in 1741. Today, access into the bay is only possible via BocaChica, which is flanked by two ancient forts. During the days whenpirates preyed on the Spanish Main, a massive chain between the twoforts was able to protect the entrance to the bay and the city.
Themost impressive of Cartagena's fortifications is the formidable SanFelipe de Barajas fortress. Its massive walls rise 135 feet from sealevel. Begun in 1657, the fort was captured and destroyed by the Frenchin 1697. In the following century it was rebuilt into the impressivecomplex that we see today. In spite of these daunting fortifications,Cartagena was challenged again and again by enemies, including SirFrancis Drake and Sir Edward Vernon. During the wars of independence,the city was captured in 1815 by Spanish loyalist troops after aprolonged siege. In 1821, the patriots succeeded in regaining controlover the city.
Of main interest to visitors is the Old City, wherecolonial houses line narrow, cobblestone streets. It was here in ElCentro where high officials and the nobility had their grand houses. Inthe central square, Plaza Bolivar, stands the equestrian statue ofSimon Bolivar, revered as liberator. Facing the square is the18th-century Palace of the Inquisition, a fine example of colonialbaroque architecture. Also of interest is the Church of San PedroClaver. Built by the Jesuits in 1603, the church was later dedicated toSan Pedro Claver, a monk who devoted his life to caring for the sickand the old among the black slaves brought to the city. San PedroClaver was canonized 235 years after his death in 1654.
Popa Hill,with its monastery at the summit, offers a fine view of the harbor andthe city. Las Bovedas, once serving as defensive bulwarks, are now thesite of colorful handicraft shops.
Exploring Cartagena's historic center you will find yourself transported back into the time of the Spanish Main.