History of Cartagena

Mother Earth Travel > Colombia > Cartagena > History

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.

- Marcela Liliana Jiménez

Mother Earth Travel > Colombia > Cartagena > History