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Simon Bolivar

History of Cartagena (Cartagena de Indias)

Spanish conquistadors, pirates, battles and siege – the small town of Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena) has a dark and tumultuous history and one that played an important role in Colombia’s fight for independence.

Founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena was built on the site of an abandoned Amer-indian settlement, known as Calamarí, which quickly blossomed into a prosperous town and one of the main Spanish ports on the Caribbean coast. It became a popular storehouse for treasures plundered by the Spanish from the Indians and, thus, a tempting target for buccaneers and pirates in the region.

Another factor that enabled the city to develop rapidly was the slave trade, which the King of Spain granted a highly coveted monopoly on this form of commerce and became an official slave-trading centre. Cartagena was subsequently sacked relentlessly throughout the 16th century – the most infamous siege being that led by Sir Francis Drake, who had to be bribed with a huge ransom of 10 million pesos to not raze the town to the ground.

Despite the attacks, Cartagena continued to flourish and in 1650, the Canal del Dique was built, connecting Cartagena Bay with the Río Magdalena, making the town the main gateway for the transport of merchandise into South America and the most important bastion of the Spanish overseas empire.

The Spanish built up a series of forts around the town for protection and in 1741, famous Spanish officer Blas de Lezo, who had only one arm, one leg and one eye, managed to fend off 25,000 English soldiers and their fleet of 186 ships in the greatest attack in the town’s history. He is now regarded as the savior of Cartagena, with a statue in his honor outside the San Felipe Fortress.

Independence from Spain

Cartagena was one of the first towns to proclaim independence from Spain in 1811, prompting other cities to follow suit, and war. It was only in October 1821 that Cartagena finally received liberation when the now famous Simón Bolívar’s patriot forces eventually took the city by sea. The city is known today as ‘La Heroica’, (the Heroic City) in honor of him.

Cartagena began to flourish once more, attracting myriad foreign immigrants and growing dramatically into what is today Colombia’s largest port and most important industrial center. The old walled city is still much the same with beautifully preserved stone buildings and a rich architectural heritage dating back to the town’s original settlement.

Explore Cartagena with limited time

If you are visiting our beautiful city and do not have enough time, here are a few great suggestions from

Martha Hampton

Martha Hampton
Home Curator
Founder of Cartagena Colombia Rentals & Hampton Property Rentals LLC

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