If its within your plans to visit Colombia this year, you must give yourself a space in your agenda to go to Cartagena de Indias, where there is a lot, but really, a lot to see and enjoy.
One of the most emblematic places that you can not miss, is the San Felipe de Barajas Castle, a marvel of the military architecture of the last few centuries. (In fact, it is considered one of the tourist wonders of Colombia).
This military fortress, built during the Spanish colonization period, is the largest martial complex in Latin America, of all those built by the Spanish crown.
This military colossus was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1984. Like the historic center of Cartagena or Ciudad Amurallada, as you might prefer to call it.
The construction of the Castle of San Felipe took more than a century. Yes, you read well, more than a century. “Imagine all the generations that contributed on this work”
Its construction began in 1536 and culminated in 1657. Its purpose was to serve as an observatory of the approaching enemies and to have time to prepare the defense, against the attacks suffered by Cartagena la Bella, at the hands of armies and corsairs.
– As a small parenthesis, did you know that there is a difference between corsairs and pirates? – I will explain it quickly. Pirates were the individuals who acted on their own, while the corsairs, were hired by the kings of Spain, France and England. Interesting! Isn’t it?
With the passage of time, Cartagena has been the victim of countless attacks. One of the most remembered was the one that suffered at the hands of the English Crown in 1741. That year, Edward Vernon punished Cartagena de Indias, with an armada of over 27,000 soldiers, 2,000 guns and 200 warships. However, they ran into a brilliant military strategist, the Spaniard Blas de Lezo, who, with only 3600 men and 6 ships, defeated the British army, in one of the most remembered military deeds of all time in America.
THE UNLIKELY CONSTRUCTION:
Based on rocks and bricks, this spectacular architectural work was built in a triangular shape.
Once inside, the fortress has a series of walls with solid bases that become narrow, as it progresses towards its upper levels. Regarding the stone blocks, people say, they were obtained from the coral reefs of the nearby coasts.
I heard from an ice cream vendor, Carlos, that there are urban legends, that several blocks of stone were stuck together with calicanto and bovine blood, even worse, he mentioned the blood of slaves.
Regarding its artillery, it had almost 100 guns, strategically located in different batteries, always aiming at the bay, ready to stop the enemy’s armada. Also, each battery pointed to other batteries. so that to reassure each of them, it was necessary to exercise control of the entire military complex.
The castle also has pits, created with the intention of catching in them, any intruder who tried to climb the walls.
Counting on, in addition, with a system of underground tunnels, like labyrinths, in which, the soldiers could move without being seen by the enemies and ambush the enemy, if it was able to infiltrate the compound.
«I must pause again» Can you imagine that? What strategic ability they had! How well thought! We´re talking about the 1700s, there were no intelligent communication systems, sophisticated construction tools and they were not the best in the world, to have such important economic resources! Worthy of admiration!
Returning to the point – The tunnel system was a deadly trap for the hostiles, because they had to enter through them to the upper levels, and there, they were with narrow passages, full of nooks and crannies, where the protectors were hiding. A complex system of design that disoriented the invaders and made them easy prey.
The Cartagenera fortress also has underground camps, with capacity to house up to 350 men, food, and weapons, to survive during a siege for several months.
THE CASTLE OF SAN FELIPE AS A TOURIST ATTRACTION
Nowadays, tourists can visit every corner of this impressive architectural piece. Walk the ramps, the tunnels and even the artillery posts. Around the Castle of San Felipe, you can visit the statue of Admiral Blas de Lezo, and the monument to the Old Shoes in honor of the Colombian poet Luis Carlos López.
Surely you really want to visit the Castle. In that case, you can do it by paying a ticket, not at all expensive, and travel alone. Or, if you prefer, hire a guide. In my opinion it is worthwhile to arrange a guided tour, since it is much more enjoyable and you have the possibility to learn more about the history and traditions of this place.
Before giving you my personal recommendations, I suggest you visit the Cerro de la Popa and its Monastery, and there, you can make some purchases in the vaults and if you want, you can walk to the Walled City, because they are relatively close.
MY USUAL RECOMMENDATIONS.
Make sure you always carry a backpack with water, sunscreen, cash, a credit card and a spare battery for your safer mobility.
Something obvious, but very important. Go with comfortable shoes! You will walk between one and two hours. under a very strong sun and you will dehydrate. Around the Castle, there are several vendors that can provide you with liquids, hats, ice scrapes, a typical type of ice cream, etc. But prices are not cheap. Surely you do not want to spend your money unnecessarily, which you could use in other tourist attractions.
The Castle of San Felipe is one of the most important attractions in Cartagena, I really urge you to visit it. I recommend you take the tour package of the Hop On Hop Off tour, with the Castillo de San Felipe, because when you leave the place tired, you can continue to get acquainted with the surrounding area, but this time sitting and enjoying the rest of the attractions that the beautiful city of Cartagena de Indias can offer you. I invite you to visit my blog (link to blog 1) to learn more about this interesting journey.
Cartagena awaits you, welcome and until next time.