Cartagena City, known in the colonial era as Cartagena de Indias is a major port founded in 1533, located on the northern coast of Colombia in the Caribbean Coast Region. It is currently populated by an ethnic mix representative of Colombia’s own variety.
It is the fifth-largest city in Colombia and the second largest in the region, after Barranquilla. 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. It gets extremely crowded in the December holidays and the holy week when schools are out and most Colombians take their vacations. In 1984, Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History of Cartagena City
Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia on the site of the Carib Indian settlement of Calamari. It quickly grew into a rich town, but in 1552 an extensive fire destroyed a large number of its wooden buildings. Since that time, only stone, brick and tile have been permitted as building materials.
In the 16th century alone, Cartagena suffered five dreadful sieges by pirates, the most famous (or infamous) of which was that led by Sir Francis Drake. He sacked the port in 1586 and ‘mercifully’ agreed not to level the town once he was presented with a huge ransom of 10 million pesos, which he shipped back to England.
It was in response to pirate attacks that the Spaniards built up a series of forts around the town, saving it from subsequent sieges. After almost half a century the walls were finished and Cartagena became one of the best-protected cities in the Spanish Empire. Even so, in 1697 the English, again, breached the walls with the Baron of Pointis who worked with local slaves looking for freedom. This would not be the last attack by pirates in Cartagena.
In August 1819, Simón Bolívar’s troops defeated the Spaniards at Boyacá, bringing freedom to Bogotá. However, Cartagena had to wait for its liberation until October 1821, when the patriot forces eventually took the city by the sea. It was Bolívar who gave Cartagena its well-deserved name of ‘La Heroica, ‘ the Heroic City.
Cartagena began to recover and was shortly once again an important trading and shipping center. The city’s prosperity attracted foreign immigrants, and many Jews, Italians, French, Turks, Lebanese and Syrians settled here. Today their descendants own many businesses, including hotels and restaurants.