Cartagena: Top 10

(continuer en français) – Last updated: December 26, 2022

Cartagena de Indias, in the north of Colombia, was founded in 1533 at the time of the Spanish colonial empire. The old city derives its characteristic architecture to it, which has been tastefully preserved and restored. People usually stay only a weekend or a short week in Cartagena. While it is tempting to walk randomly through the streets, there are some places that should not be missed.

01. The old colonial houses

The flowery balconies of climbing plants elegantly decorating pastel-tinted houses are particularly eye-catching, this goes with the narrow streets resonating with the sound of the hooves of horse-drawn carriages intended for tourists but which make the atmosphere of the olden days. One feels the pleasure of getting lost in these charming streets, hesitating about the direction at every intersection.

02. Puerta del Reloj

In the old days, the slave market was held here, as the port was just outside the fortified gates, what was landed from the ships was sold here. In the 18th century the clock tower was added, giving more style to what was already the main gate in the city walls. Only accessible to pedestrians, the passage is animated by street vendors and artists.

03. Plaza de la Proclamación

Proclamation Square in reference to the Independence proclaimed and acclaimed on this square in 1811. Framed by the sober façade of the cathedral and the two rows of arcades of an administrative building, the square, which has become pedestrian, ends with two beautiful colonial houses. Although the street vendors may be insistent, visitors can still enjoy a pleasant stroll there.

04 Catedral of Santa Catalina

The Catholic Cathedral is a mixed ensemble of a classical 16th century nave and an early 20th century bell tower redesigned by a French architect. The interior is soberly decorated with a Stations of the Cross narrated by high reliefs hanging on the walls. When weddings are celebrated there, it often involves the presence of dancers in white dresses.

05. Iglesia San Pedro Claver

Atypical Jesuit church compared to the baroque style usually used by this order. It is dedicated to Pedro Claver, a 17th century Jesuit who dedicated his life to helping the African slaves for whom Cartagena was for a long time an important market. Around the square, a pedestrian area serves as a place for visitors to pass through and rest. From there, it is possible to reach the Customs Square or the ramparts.

06. Plaza de la Aduana

Under the watch of Christopher Columbus, the vast Customs Square seems to be overwhelmed by the sun during the day and dimly lit in the evening. It is now only a place of passage whereas in the past it was the centre of the city’s activity with notably the customs building where goods transited between America and Europe, the King’s share being taken there.

07. Casa de la Inquisición

The Inquisition lasted from 1610 to 1811 in Cartagena, and the court set up in this house condemned several hundred people over the period. Today three houses are grouped together to form a museum, not only of the Inquisition but also of the history of Cartagena. When Pope Francis visited the museum, the instruments of torture were discreetly removed.

08. Muralla de Cartagena

Cartagena was attacked and pillaged several times by pirates and privateers encouraged by the rival powers of Spain, England and France. The fortifications form part of the colonial landscape as we know it today. Hammered by the sun during the day, beautiful houses are dominated from there. It is a gentle walk at sunset and early night.

09. Getsemani

Situated outside the old city walls, the old working class district is also gaining in popularity as a tourist destination. Several of its streets are covered with flags or umbrellas, multiplying the murals. Many of the houses seem to turn into hostels, which can be a more economical alternative. It is possible to at least walk there for a few hours for a change.

10. Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

The walls may seem impressive at first, but in reality it is a hill whose sides were covered with stones. In spite of its presence, the city was plundered several times. Apart from a few tunnels, there is not much inside. Rather than following a bus tour of fifty people from the city centre, it is possible to go there on foot and visit alone.

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