Cartagena, Colombia

Fort San Felipe

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Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia. When the Spanish conquistadors discovered that the interior of Colombia was rich in gold and emeralds, wealth of all kinds flowed into Cartagena for shipment to Spain.


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This wealth soon invited pirate attacks. In defense of the city, King Felipe II ordered a protective wall be built around the city. Streets of the city were intentionally made narrow and crooked, designed for protection during assault.


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Cartagena was victim to five sieges during the 16th century, the most famous led by Sir francis Drake in 1586. Drake made it into the Cartagena harbor, but accepted a 10 million peso ransom for not burning the city.


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Spain then redoubled its effort to fortify Cartagena, and this is when the massive stone wall around the Old City was constructed. This wall successful. Cartagena was able to defend herself in 1741 when the English attacked led by Lawrence Washington, the half brother of our first president, George Washington.

Many forts were built to defend the city. The two that gfuarded the bay were San fernando and San Jose. A massive chain stretched between these two forts kept pirate vessels from easily entering the harbor.

The doorway that the tourists are using in the background of the picture above leads to a long dark corridor through the massive fort wall. The corridor had many branches to allow access to different parts of the fort, and niches where defenders could hide to waylay any unwanted intruders.


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Towering over all of these forts is this fort. Its full name is San Felipe de Barajas. 135 feet above sea level, it was begun in 1657, captured and destroyed by the French in 1697. Rebuilt between 1762 and 1769, it remains an impressive structure in Cartagena.

When they rebuilt the fort they made is much stronger than the original. These massive walls of the rebuilt fort give us a feeling of how well this fort could be defended against a siege.

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This page was last updated on February 10, 2000.