Wednesday, December 5, 2012

#900 Cartagena, Colombia

If ever you wanted to imagine yourself in the heart of the Spanish empire during it's prime, the place to go is Cartagena de Indias on Colombia's Caribbean coast. A walled city with a supporting fortress, it was founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia -- the pride of the Spanish America. But it's importance meant that it was sacked and pillaged several times -- first by Frenchman Jean-Francois Roberval, and later by the notorious pirate Sir Francis Drake and again by the governor of Saint Domingue (Haiti).

A slaving port where gold and silver left the Americas for Spain (via Havana), it also housed the Inquisition Holy Office Court, but was one of the first places to declare independence from Spain. Watched over by the enormous Castle of San Felipe de Barajas fortress, it prospered and shone.

The famous areas of Cartagena include Getsemani (the old area), Bocagrande (the high rises along the beach spit), and other districts. It was the setting for Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and remains in heart of the costenas, and of most Colombians with its narrow balconied streets, colorful houses, art, restaurants, crafts and culture. 

I particularly love the metal statues doing ordinary things like playing chess, walking the dog, or eating icecream, and the dance and singing performance in the inner city parks in the afternoon is a great tradition. A museum of the Inquisition exists, along with infamous night clubs and multiple churches. The upper class side was at one stage divided from the rest with a moat, and the inner harbor is still a long sail away from the outer gates that protected Cartagena-- its inner most gap was made impassable for defensive purposes. Playa blanca amuses tourists with its white sands and party vibe, and the Islas del Rosario national park offer snorkelling and diving. A mud volcano is nearby, and the overall city vibe is exciting. 

A horse carriage at sunset or a bicycle going over a bridge above the city streets, or a stroll along the ramparts looking over the crashing waves. Beautiful, timeless, elegant, a strong old lady.


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