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Cartagena History: A City with a Story to Tell

Spanish conquistadors, pirates, battles, and siege – the City of Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena) has a dark and tumultuous history that involved fighting for Colombia’s independence. There’s so much to see and learn about our beautiful city by the sea! Established in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena was originally a settlement that became an important trading destination and one of the main Spanish ports on the Caribbean coast. It soon became a popular storehouse for treasures plundered by the Spanish from the Indigenous people, making it a tempting target for buccaneers and pirates in the region.

Cartagena was repeatedly sacked throughout the 16th century, most famously by Sir Francis Drake, who had to be bribed with 10 million pesos to not raze the town completely. Despite these attacks, Cartagena continued to flourish. In 1650, the Canal del Dique was built, connecting Cartagena Bay with the Río Magdalena. This development made the town the main gateway for the transport of merchandise into South America and the most important bastion of the Spanish overseas empire.

The Fortified City

The Spanish built a series of forts around the town for protection. In 1741, the 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, which was erected in 2009.

Another significant but blemished factor that accelerated Cartagena’s development was the slave trade. The King of Spain granted a highly coveted monopoly on this form of commerce, making Cartagena an official slave-trading center.

Independence from Spain

Cartagena was one of the first cities to declare independence from Spain. Other towns followed their lead, and this conflict lasted until 1821 when Simón Bolívar won what is now understood as the Battle of Cartagena. The city is known today as ‘La Heroica’ (the Heroic City) in honor of him.

Modern Cartagena

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 and tourist destination. 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. This historical charm, combined with modern amenities, makes Cartagena a must-visit destination for history buffs and tourists alike.

The vibrant culture of Cartagena today is a testament to its rich and diverse past. Visitors can explore the cobbled streets of the walled city, visit the imposing Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, and take a stroll along the historic city walls. Each corner of Cartagena tells a story, from its colonial architecture to its bustling markets and colorful street art.

Experience the Legacy and History of Cartagena

Exploring Cartagena is like stepping back in time. The city’s historical sites are well-preserved and offer a glimpse into its storied past. The Palace of the Inquisition, with its exhibits on the Spanish Inquisition, and the Gold Museum, showcasing pre-Columbian artifacts, are just a few of the must-see attractions. Additionally, the vibrant nightlife and delicious cuisine reflect the city’s rich cultural heritage.

For those interested in learning more about Cartagena’s history, guided tours are available, offering in-depth insights and stories from knowledgeable guides. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or just looking to enjoy the beauty and culture of the Caribbean, Cartagena has something for everyone.

Start planning your trip to Cartagena today and experience the history and beauty of this incredible city. Visit our property search page to find the perfect place to stay during your visit.

Martha Hampton Signature

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

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