Day 3 |
Apr 06, 2012

Cartagena, Colombia 

By Claire Allum, Archaeologist

Co-ordinates: 10° 24” N 075° 30” W
Weather: overcast but bright, hot and humid
Air Temperature: 32 C / 90 F

I awoke exited to be visiting Cartagena de Indias. I had thoroughly enjoyed my visit in 2011, as part of a Silver Explorer voyage, despite pouring rain and 30cm-deep puddles in parts of the city. I hoped to revisit some of the most interesting places, plus see things I had previously missed. Cartagena is, I think, one of the most beautiful, interesting and culturally vibrant walled colonial city centres in South America. The city centre and fort were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

The weather was hot and humid by 9:00 am. Our guide, Martin, explained that this is normally the case at the beginning of Colombia’s rainy season, or winter. He told me that Cartagena will “cook” until it rains. Luckily the bus was air-conditioned. We made our way along Cartagena’s causeways and bridges to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas.

The fort dominates Cartagena’s colonial area. Its massive, steeply angled walls have a hill as their base. Ramparts rise high above the streets below. We spent an hour exploring the edifice that had been constructed over a 200-year period. After every attack, new defenses were erected until by the mid-1700s the fort was considered impregnable. For me, the most interesting parts were the interior tunnels that riddled the structure and the long, subterranean escape tunnel that surfaced some distance outside the fortress walls.

After Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, Martin took us to Las Bovedas, the “dungeons.” These thickly walled structures had been used as military barracks and a munitions depot. Today they are filled with handicraft shops. I bought several pieces of jewelry—reproductions of beautiful gold work made by local indigenous people before the arrival of Spanish conquistadors.

During the late morning we walked through the narrow, picturesque streets of colonial Cartagena, admiring its elegant architecture. The streets are clean and the houses beautifully cared for, brightly painted in pastel colours and with balconies overflowing with flowers.

The tour ended with a visit to the Casa Roman, a house built in the 1930s in an Arabic style. The owners, who still live in the house, open it up once or twice a year to the public. It is a surrealistic experience to wander through the cool rooms with their gracefully tiled floors and walls, Middle-Eastern shaped windows and collections of boxes and dolls. A small, but lovely back garden with flowers and hummingbirds completes the experience.

Back at the Silver Explorer I had a delicious lunch in The Restaurant before heading back to my suite to compose a recap for the evening. At 5:00 pm I presented a lecture on “Henry Morgan,” and, as promised, wore my pirate hat for the occasion. At 6:45 pm I gave a very short presentation on Sir Francis Drake and the book written about his West Indies Campaign in 1585-1586. It included the ransacking of Santiago, Cape Verde; Santo Domingo; Cartagena; and San Augustine, plus the earliest published maps of all these Spanish settlements.

Tomorrow the Silver Explorer is vising Santa Marta, another Colombian colonial city. I am already anticipating the fascinating and interesting things I will see.