Cartagena – Fortress City

With its colonial buildings, and architectural treasures, Cartagena is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and being one of Colombia’s safest areas, It the country’s most popular tourist destination.

Founded in 1533, it was one of the first Spanish cities in the New World and served as one of the main ports through which the continent’s treasures were sent away to Spain.

So it’s not surprising that the city proved a target for English pirates prowling the Caribbean.  A Spanish galleon, the San Jose , was supposedly sunk 50kms from the harbour,  by an English convoy in 1708, and is thought  to have been carrying a booty worth more than US$3 billion!

Pirates not only attacked  Spanish galleons – , the city of Cartagena suffered several sieges in the 16th century.  Sir Francis Drake led the most famous raid in 1586, setting fire to the cathedral and holding the town hostage for more than a 100 days before extracting a hefty ransom – 10 million pesos.

A massive fortress was then built around the city  to stop the pirate attacks

Construction of the Cartagena Las Murrallas fort  began towards the end of the 16th century, after the attack by Francis Drake. The project took two centuries to complete due to repeated damage from storms and pirate attacks.

The biggest attack was led by Edward Vernon in 1741. The successful defence of the city was led by Don Blas de Lezo, Spanish officer had already lost an arm, a leg, and an eye  in other battles.  With only 2,500 poorly trained men, Don Blas defended the city against 25,000 English soldiers and their fleet of 186 ships.  The Spaniard lost his other leg in the fighting and died soon after. He is now regarded as savior of Cartagena.

The fortress became  greatest and strongest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in their colonies.It was impregnable and was never taken, despite numerous attempts to storm it.

Only in 1796 was it finally finished, just 25 years before the Spaniards were eventually expelled.ftom Colombia.

The fortress is a remarkable  piece of engineering

A complex system of tunnels was built to connect strategic points of the fortress to distribute provisions and to facilitate evacuation.

The tunnels were built in such a way that sound reverberated. You could hear the slightest sound of the approaching enemy’s feet . It also made it easy for internal communication.

The CARTAGENA SANTO DOMINGO CHURCH is the oldest church in Cartagena.  It was built in 16thcentury.

Interesting are the graves, one has the crossed bones that indicate this is the grave of a pirate. It’s a symbolic reminder of Cartagena’s colonial past.