Monday, June 29, 2009

Cartagena Part 2 - Captains Blog

With some reluctance, I have left Cartagena behind. True cruising is a delicate balance of time and distance; it takes time to become familiar with and learn about each place we visit and more time to mine their best features, yet there often arises a sense of a need to move on. While it seems that we have a luxurious amount of time, most every other boat out here is out for the duration. Itineraries are measured in multitudes of years, or built around cruising seasons and where to leave boats for planned return trips home. Our 18 months actually pales in comparison…but I am not complaining. Not really, anyway!

Cartagena was an interesting city, and I remain quite intrigued with both Cartagena and Columbia, I also feel that I have only touched a few highlights – similar to visiting NYC and only seeing the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, or a Boston tour limited to Paul Revere's house and Faneuil Hall.

Founded in 1533, Cartagena was recognized by the Spaniards as a key port and one that would allow control of the northern Caribbean, if not the whole of Eastern South America.

(Old Cartagena Picassa)

Our highlights of Cartagena included the Catedral Cartagena des Indias. Attacked and essentially held hostage in the 1586 siege of the city by Francis Drake, the Cathedral collapsed in Drake's attack and was reconstructed but attacked again and again as a symbol of the city and as the leading place of worship.

(Catedral Cartagena des Indias Picassa)

The mountains in central Columbia were also rich with gold and the combination of strategic land and riches marked Cartagena as a prize worth fighting over. There were 5 pirate attacks in the 16th century alone. As a response, a wall was constructed entirely circling the "centro" and a protective circle of forts and fortifications were constructed in a ring around the city over a 197 year time frame, again encouraged by a successful French attack of the city in 1697. Club de Pesca lies within the confines of the first fortification built to protect the city.

The little red x marks on the maps give you a sense of the defensive ring. The hand points to the major water entry to the city, Boca Chica and here are the forts as they look today.

Fortification Picassa

The Castillo San Felippe de Barahas, a fort built into a hillside, and the Naval Museum were more highlights. Construction techniques evolved and over time high thin walls designed to repel spears and hand propelled weapons were eventually replaced by lower and thicker walls to defend against cannon fire. The Naval Museum was quite proud of the Spanish military engineering exhibited, and numerous dioramas depicted the time line of the fortification – with English subtitles, to boot!

(Naval Museum Picassa)

The Castillo San Felippe de Barahas addressed a weakness in the cities defense, and protects the city from (the only possible) land attack from the North. Designed to cross fire with guns placed at a fortified hilltop, the main entry was designed as an upsloping hall, forcing any invaders to open themselves to gun fire. The lower level had a defensive maze in the event of intrusion.

(Castillo San Felippe de Barahas Picassa)

A most famous battle was a British attack by Edward Vernon in 1741. By this time it appears that the defensive ring was completed, as the much smaller Spanish force resisted a 186 ship armada (picture them all anchored just outside the harbor) with over 2000 cannon and a 24,000 man invasion force.

The hilltop fortification by a monastery (now the The Convent of La Popa) was briefly taken in the battle, but the English eventually retreated. The views from the 150 meter high site are impressive.

(Convent of La Popa Picassa)

Cartagena today seems to recognize the desirability of tourism. The city feels safe (with a modicum of city smarts) and is clean – there are orange suited men everywhere sweeping and cleaning the streets. People seem poor, but happy and we have experienced, at least in the marina, very industrious people. There is a vibrant underground economy in Columbia and it also seems that everyone is trying to sell you something – but I was impressed that there was a relative paucity of outright begging. The people are friendly and very patient with my (our) language deficit. A simple apology about my lack of spanish - aka "lo siento" or "I am sorry" goes a long way. Of course, this is somewhat of a metaphor for life in general.

Filled with plazas, churches, and beautiful 16th century architecture, Cartagena was a worthy stop. The Bay of Cholon was beckoning however. With clean water to swim in and good friends to share it with, Cholon is proving to be another winner.

(Modern Cartagena Picassa)

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