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Exploring Cartagena

Colombia day eleven

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Hat seller, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena

We had breakfast today in the courtyard of the hotel where it was already quite hot at 7.30! At 9.00 we met up with a guide, Walter, for our pre-booked city tour.

Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

We started at the old fort, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Although called a castle, it was never lived in but was built purely as a fortification to defend the city from attack by land. Meanwhile its walls kept it secure from an attack from the sea. The Spaniards used slaves from Africa to build the fort, as well as for other construction work in the city. Walter showed us a map of a naval battle, the 1741 Battle of Cartagena de Indias, when a British Admiral Edward Vernon attacked the fortress, aided by ships from the then American colonies. He was unsuccessful and rather than go back to England to face the shame of defeat, retired to America.


Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

We saw some of the narrow tunnels under the fortifications, designed to allow soldiers to repel invaders one by one at close quarters. Walter told us that locals refer to them as ‘love tunnels' as couples traditionally came here for privacy, if you see what I mean!

'Love tunnel', and cannon

From the upper part of the fort we had great views over the city of Cartagena.

View from the upper ramparts

El Convento de La Popa

Next we drove to the highest point in the city, the hill on which El Convento de La Popa is located. According to a legend, the Convent was founded by Fray Alonso Paredes, an Augustinian monk, who dreamed in which the Virgin Mary demanded that he go to the tallest point in Cartagena and build a monastery. When he did as he was instructed, he discovered that a pagan sect which worshiped an idol in the shape of a goat, Busiraco, already had a shrine on the hill. Fray Alonso Paredes flung their idol from the top of the hill and replaced it with the image of the Virgin de la Candelaria, which still stands there today.

El Convento de la Popa

Various rooms off the cloisters hold exhibits of religious art and artefacts, but also bizarrely a display of paper money. The small church holds the statue of the Candelaria above the altar.

In the church

Even more so than the fort, the hill offers great views over the city, with the wealthier and business districts on one side and poorer homes on the other.


Views over Cartagena

Old town walking tour

From here we drove back to the old town where we were dropped off for a walking tour. We started at the former barracks which later served as dungeons and today hold small handicraft shops. Walter gave us fifteen minutes to browse but five were enough to determine that we wouldn’t be buying anything here as there was little to our taste.

San Pedro Claver

Next we visited the sanctuary of San Pedro Claver, a monk who devoted his life to helping the slaves. There are those these days who point out that his main objective seems to have been converting them rather than freeing them, but the latter would probably have been a vain objective at that time and it is undeniable that he did much to improve their conditions. Wikipedia says:
'Boarding the ship, he entered the filthy and diseased holds to treat and minister to their badly treated, terrified human cargo, who had survived a voyage of several months under horrible conditions. ... After the slaves were herded from the ship and penned in nearby yards to be scrutinized by crowds of buyers, Claver joined them with medicine, food, bread, lemons.'

The main church here was built after Claver's time, and holds his body. Walter took us up a stone spiral staircase to the organ loft to look down on it.

The view down into the church, and staircase up to the loft

Stained glass in the church

The cloisters and rooms off them are older, part of the monastery where San Pedro Claver lived and worked. We saw the small chapel, the infirmary where he died, and his simple bedroom.

San Pedro Claver's cell

Painting of the saint

The original chapel, and the statue outside the church

In the square outside is a statue of San Pedro with one of the slaves he helped. Walter pointed out that unlike most statues it stands on the ground, not raised on a pedestal, to reflect the saint's humility.

Plaza de la Aduana

The larger adjoining square is Plaza de la Aduana, where the slaves would be brought on arrival in the city, to be sold along with all the other produce unloaded from the ships that moored alongside by the custom house. There’s a statue of Christopher Columbus at one end of the square.

Iglesia de San Pedro Claver from Plaza de la Aduana

The statue of Columbus, and one of the buildings around the square

Plaza de Los Cloches

The next square, Plaza de Los Cloches, was also used as a slave market. It contains a statue of the city's founder, Pedro de Heredia. This, Walter told us, is the subject of some controversy, as with similar statues elsewhere in the world. Some people feel it should be destroyed, as he was the originator of slave labour in the city. Others feel that they can’t change the past by destroying a statue and it’s important to be reminded of it.

The Plaza de Los Cloches with the statue of Pedro de Heredia

In the old town

From here Walter led us on a walk through some of the old town's streets, but we felt slightly rushed by him and couldn’t stop for as many photos as we would have liked. Nevertheless I grabbed quite a few as we walked.


In the old town

Hat seller

Art seller

Streets in the old town

We got back to our hotel at 12.30, half an hour before the time indicated in our itinerary. However we'd gained a good understanding of the layout of the old Town and had two more days to explore on our own, so we didn’t mind too much.

After a short break in our room to cool off we went down the road to the ice cream parlour. After all, we were on holiday, so why shouldn’t we have ice cream for lunch?!






In the old town

We had a little stroll, then went back to the hotel and spent the afternoon in the courtyard by the pool. I had a dip and found it very refreshing but too shallow for swimming. We also had a cold drink so I enjoyed my first coconut lemonade, a delicious milkshake-like drink.

We took a walk late afternoon to check out the possible sunset views from the city walls, as that’s a popular Cartagena activity, but it didn’t seem as if there would be any good foreground interest for sunset photos so we decided not to wait.

Coco-lemonade at the hotel, and inside the restaurant Kero

In the evening we had a good dinner in a nearby restaurant, Kero, with a friendly English-speaking owner and some excellent sea bass. We finished the evening with drinks in the lively Plaza San Domingo.

Street near the hotel at night

Posted by ToonSarah 18:25 Archived in Colombia Tagged churches night food history views fort drink monastery colombia street_photography

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What a fun day. I love the colourful clothes the ladies in your pictures are wearing. I saw similar in Cuba.

by irenevt

The women are known as palenqueras (named for the town where slaves first found their freedom), and there are lots of them in Cartagena. They pose for photos in return for money and I did pay a couple for shots but on the whole I preferred candid ones like this.

by ToonSarah

Cartagena certainly delivers. It looks like an amazing city!

by Ils1976

It's so colourful and interesting Ils a must if you get to visit Colombia!

by ToonSarah

Because of your blog I am so interested. Can't wait to read more!

by Ils1976

Brave hat seller in that first photo, I would be afraid that wind would take my merchandise! But I am glad it didn't, it makes lovely photo and a view! :)

by hennaonthetrek

It was very hot and still there Henna, no fear of wind!

by ToonSarah

Hmmm, the flag is flying...?? :D

by hennaonthetrek

A breeze, nothing more - and the flag is high up compared to the hats I guess

by ToonSarah

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