The Fortresses Of Cartagena

20th December 2019

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cartagena de Indias (commonly known as Cartagena) is characterised by colonial buildings and numerous fortifications. As one of the most important ports for trade between Spain and its overseas territories, this Colombian city helped propel the expansion of the Spanish Empire.

The aforementioned fortifications were needed to protect such an integral stronghold, something that became even more apparent after Francis Drake ransacked the city in 1586. Protection was built in three key areas and you can see all of these as part of our Panama Canal cruises.

So, when you sail into Cartagena, keep your eyes peeled for the following.

The Forts of Bocachica

Bocachica Forts

There are two passages of water leading into the port of Cartagena – Bocagrande and Bocachica. However, after sediment, shipwrecks, mangroves and, decades later, a manmade underwater wall combined to make the former impassable; the decision was made to predominantly protect the latter with a series of forts.

Bocachica is located to the south of an island known as Tierra Bomba, just off the coast from Cartagena. The fact that it is much narrower than Bocagrande means that it was a lot easier to defend and so fortifications were placed at strategic points. Fort San José (located on a small key opposite Tierra Bomba), Fort San Fernando (built on the island to create a crossfire with San José), and Fort El Ángel San Rafael (built further inland) were all attacked and subsequently renovated during the 1600/1700s but, once rebuilt in the 1800s, no one tried to take the city of Cartagena again.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas

Said to be the greatest castle ever built by the Spanish, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is built on top of the Hill of San Lázaro. Originally bearing the same name as the mound on which it stands, it was expanded in 1657 and given its new name. Its lofty position meant that it was never conquered and, therefore, still remains relatively intact today.

Some of the tunnels can be explored as part of a guided tour. Eerie lighting allows you to understand, at least in part, what it would have been like for the men stationed down there. These tunnels were constructed so that even the quietest sound could be heard over a very long distance, making it much easier to hear approaching enemies and communicate with fellow soldiers.

The Walls of Cartagena

Cartagena City Walls

Whilst the main reason for the 4km defensive walls around the city of Cartagena was to stop covetous pirates getting their hands on the riches that were being transported to Spain, it also served to separate the rich people who lived in the city from the poorer people who were only allowed to work there.

These are some of the most complete city walls still in existence within South America and a big reason why UNESCO granted the area World Heritage Status. In various places, you can walk on the walls and enjoy an excellent vantage point over the buildings below.


If you would like to visit Cartagena, talk to the Star Clippers team about our Panama Canal cruises. You can call us on 0845 200 6145 or use our online chat.

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