Friday, January 10, 2020
Before today, most of what I knew about Cartagena was from the 1984 movie Romancing the Stone, starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. It was a romantic comedy featuring a quiet romance novelist thrust into the adventure of her life when she goes to Colombia to try to rescue her sister who had been kidnapped by smugglers looking for a valuable emerald. Like the heroines in her novels, she meets an unlikely hero, and the story goes from there.
So…my vision of Colombia and Cartagena was of exotic birds, steamy jungles, waterfalls, mud, drug lords, crocodiles, and more. Needless to say, that vision was a bit inaccurate, though quite romantic. Indigenous people have lived around here for about 6,000 years, with the Puerto Hormiga Culture being the first documented community, from around 4000 BC. They would have enjoyed the mild climate and abundance of wildlife.
Europeans arrived in the 1500s, and Cartagena de Indias, known as the Heroic City, wasfounded on June 1, 1533, by Pedro de Heredia y Fernández, a conquistador under contract to the Spanish Queen Joanna of Castile, looking for gold and silver. The city became an important port, subject to attack by pirates and corsairs. In 1586, a defensive wall was built around the city center. This area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Our guide, Ismael, took us first to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, originally constructed in 1536 by the Spanish, and expanded in 1657 and again in 1763. Named for King Philip IV of Spain, it is the largest fortress in the Americas. In 1747, Britain sent 196 ships to fight the six in Cartegena. They were so confident of victory that they printed coins ahead of time proclaiming their heroics. It turns out the British were not defeated by Cartegenans but by Yellow Fever. They eventually gave up their quest and returned home. General Blas de Lezo is credited with defeating the English invasion fleet, and a statue of him stands outside the fortress. General de Lezo suffered many wounds during his military career, losing his left leg, right arm and left eye. He considered these scars to be medals of honor.
We stopped by Las Bóvedas, The Vaults, originally built as dungeons, and now housing many craft stores and boutiques. I wouldn’t have minded a little more time for shopping. We walked through much of El Centro, with its beautiful homes, theaters, churches and plazas. Most of El Centro’s buildings remain intact thanks to its UNESCO designation. Any renovations here must retain the historic features. Buildings in other parts of the city were razed to make way for more modern structures. There are many high rise apartment buildings along the waterfront.
My least favorite stop was at the Palacio de la Inquisición, Palace of the Inquisition. The Roman Catholic Inquisition lasted 200 years, from 1610 until Cartagena’s revolution in 1811.
San Pedro Claver, born in 1581 in Spain, came to Cartagena in 1616, where he was ordained a priest. He spent his life converting and ministering to the slave population there. It’s estimated that he baptized 300,000 slaves during his 38 years here. He was canonized by the Vatican in 1896 and proclaimed the patron saint of all Roman Catholic missions to African peoples. His remains are displayed at the Church of San Pedro de Claver in Cartagena.
After returning to ship, we enjoyed another lecture by Richard Morgan about transiting the Panama Canal. I’m looking forward to it tomorrow.