Our second stop was in Cartagena. I doubt that if this port was not on a cruise ship schedule, that we would have ever thought to visit here on our own. We found that the city has a very long, fascinating and often very violent history. The first settlers appeared around 4000 BC. The first Europeans arrived in the 1500's. As we entered the harbor, you could begin the see the mix of the very old and very new city.
Due to the perceived wealth of the area, many European groups tried to extract that wealth for themselves. The Spanish maintained control of the region for around 200 years. In order to defend the city, the castle San Felipe De Barajas Construido was constructed starting in 1657. The old city still has the intact outer walls. Our first stop was the fortress that sits on high ground protecting the city. You cannot help but be impressed with the sheer size of the structure and the labor that was involved with its construction.
We arrived in the old city thru one of the numerous gates. First we walked the narrow streets and absorbed the old and new culture. There are many sections in the city that is home to nearly a million people. Our time was spent mostly in the historic part. The streets and squares show a glimpse of life in past centuries.
A small church in ill repair house the remains and history of a Spanish Jesuit priest who arrived in Cartagena in 1610. Soon after his arrival, he began to minister to the 10, 000 slaves that arrived every year in the port. He devoted his entire life to working among the slaves. It is estimated that he baptized over 300,000 people personally. During his life, authorities tended to see him as a nuisance. However, after his death, it was realized how admired he was by much of the population, and he was given a state funeral. His remains are encased within the church altar.
As a colony of the Spanish, Cartagena did not avoid the Inquisition which raged through Europe. It is generally accepted that the Spanish version of the Inquisition was the most severe. We visited the Palace of the Inquisition, which is on the site where the investigations took place beginning in 1610 and did not completely end until Cartagena declared independence. As in Europe, people were targeted because of their beliefs and in some cases because of the wealth they possessed.
Before leaving, we made a quick stop at one of the tourist shopping areas in the old city. There is no doubt that these street vendors are among the most aggressive we have experienced anywhere. We did not have time to tour the new city, but the bus ride through that area confirmed what we were told about the huge amount and traffic and congestion that could last for hours.