Situated on the northern coast of Colombia, the city of Cartagena de Indias boasts the most extensive systems of military fortifications in South America. Due to the city’s strategic location, it was also one of the most important ports of the Caribbean.
Port, Fortresses and Group of Monuments, Cartagena
Situated on the northern coast of Colombia, on a sheltered bay facing the Caribbean Sea, the city of Cartagena de Indias was one of the most important ports of the Caribbean.
Founded in 1533, Cartagena was strategically located between the Magdalena and Sinú rivers and became the main port for trade between Spain and its overseas empire, establishing its importance by the early 1540's.
It was defensible against pirate attacks in the Caribbean. During the colonial era it was a key port for the export of Peruvian silver to Spain and for the import of enslaved Africans under the asiento system.
Today, it is the capital of the Bolívar Department and had a population of just over 1 million, according to the 2018 census, making it the second-largest city in the region, after Barranquilla, and the fifth largest city in Colombia.
The urban area of Cartagena is also the fifth-largest urban area in the country. Economic activities include the maritime and petrochemicals industries, as well as tourism.
Cartagena was for several centuries a focal point of confrontation among the principal European powers vying for control of the "New World."
The port of Cartagena, together with Havana (Cuba) and San Juan (Puerto Rico), was an essential link in the route of the West Indies and thus an important chapter in the history of world exploration and the great commercial maritime routes.
The Port, Fortresses and Group of Monuments, Cartagena, a World Heritage Site, comprise the most extensive and one of the most complete systems of military fortifications in South America.
On the narrow streets of the colonial walled city can be found civil, religious and residential monuments of beauty and consequence. Within the protective security of the city’s defensive walls are the historic center’s three neighborhoods:
Centro, the location of the Cathedral of Cartagena, the Convent of San Pedro Claver, the Palace of the Inquisition, the Government Palace and many fine residences of the wealthy
San Diego (or Santo Toribio), where merchants and craftsmen of the middle class lived
Getsemaní, the suburban quarter once inhabited by the artisans and slaves who fueled much of the economic activity of the city
Defensive fortifications were built by the Spanish in 1586 and were strengthened and extended to their current dimensions in the 18th century, taking full advantage of the natural defenses offered by the numerous bayside channels and passes.
The initial system of fortifications included the urban enclosure wall, the bastioned harbor of San Matías at the entry to the pass of Bocagrande, and the tower of San Felipe del Boquerón.
All of the harbor’s natural passes were eventually dominated by fortresses:
- San Luis and San José
- San Fernando
- San Rafael and Santa Bárbara at Bocachica (the southwest pass)
- Santa Cruz
- San Juan de Manzanillo and San Sebastián de Pastelillo around the interior of the bay
- Castillo San Felipe de Barajas on the rocky crag that dominates the city to the east and protects access to the isthmus of Cabrero.