Cartagena – Old Town

The Old Town of Cartagena is a mirror of its history, dating back to its founding by the Spanish in 1533. Come see why this entire walled-in city richly deserves the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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1 Torre del Reloj in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

The Bridge Gate was constructed in 1631 as Cartagena de Indias became a walled-in city. This main entrance has been damaged, restored and changed several times. Today’s version of this beautiful Gothic clock tower – designed by Luis Felipe Jaspe Franco – was finished in 1888. The 98.5 foot Torre del Reloj is a symbolic landmark of Cartagena. It is located near the head of Bahía Las Ánimas. Walk beneath its arched portal and you enter Old Town’s Plaza de los Coches.

Cl. 32 #8, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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2 Pedro de Heredia Statue in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

In 1532, Joanna, the Queen of Castile and León, granted a Spanish conquistador rights to a territory in the New World. Today the land covers Colombia and much of Ecuador. Pedro de Heredia arrived in Cartagena Bay in 1533. After he and his men overpowered the Mokaná people, he called the area Cartagena de Poniente (or Cartegena de Indias) in honor of Cartagena, Spain. For almost two decades, he plundered gold from the Indians. He was lost at sea when his ship sank in 1552. This monument is located in Plaza de los Coches.

83 Portal de los Dulces y Plaza de los coches., Cra. 7 #32, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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3 Dome of Iglesia de San Pedro Claver in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

The dome of the Church of San Pedro Claver is a prominent landmark in the skyline of El Centro, the historic district of Cartagena. The paint is peeling and it shows signs of disrepair. Perhaps this gorgeous yet humble façade is a fitting tribute to San Pedro Claver. This Jesuit priest spent 40 years of his life greeting, caring for and baptizing over 300,000 African slaves as they entered Cartagena’s port until he died in 1654.

Carrera 4 No. 30-01, Centro, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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4 Altar of Iglesia de San Pedro Claver in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

This exquisite marble altar with a broken pediment adorns the nave of Iglesia de San Pedro Claver. The Catholic church’s namesake is a Spanish Jesuit monk. He was tireless advocate for slaves during the first half of the 17th century. Known as the Apostle of the Blacks, Peter Claver was canonized in 1888. The saint’s remains are buried in a gilded crypt at the base of the altar.

Carrera 4 No. 30-01, Centro, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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5 Courtyard of Iglesia de San Pedro Claver in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

Most people visiting Iglesia de San Pedro Claver focus on the church. However, the religious complex has other features not to be missed. Among them is this courtyard of the old monastery. This is where San Pedro Claver raised plants to treat the illness of slaves. This setting offers a peaceful respite from the constant activity of Old Town. Also take time to admire the paintings in their museum and the room where the saint lived and died.

Carrera 4 No. 30-01, Centro, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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6 Artwork at Plaza de San Pedro Claver in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

In a town filled with charming squares, the Plaza de San Pedro Claver stands out for its delightful artwork by Eduardo Carmona. The wrought-iron figures depict Colombians in everyday tasks. An example is this barber sliding his razor against a leather strop attached to his empty chair. These whimsical statues are curtesy of the Museo de Arte Moderno. The art museum is located nearby in a 17th century customs house.

Carrera 4 No. 30-01, Centro, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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7 Naval Museum of the Caribbean in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

This building with the 230 foot arcade of barred windows and red shutters was a Jesuit school when it was built in 1632. Latter it became a military barracks and then a hospital. Since 1992, it has housed the Museo Naval de Caribe. Inside you will find displays, exhibits and artifacts telling the story of Cartagena’s long history with the sea. The Naval Museum’s front door is located at Plaza de Santa Teresa.

Cl. 52 #3-62, Rionegro, Cartagena, Antioquia, Colombia
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8 Cannon at Baluarte de San Ignacio in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

The Baluarte de San Ignacio was called Moors when it was built in 1630 to protect the southern flank of the city and defend against enemy ships arriving at the Bay of Souls (the port). This bulwark, along with the adjoining San Francisco Javier, were moved and expanded 100 years later. The rusted, smoothbore cannon is one of several still pointing through the parapets towards the bay as if protecting the Convention Center in the Getsemaní district.

Baluarte de San Ignacio, Avenida Blas de Lezo, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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9 Admiral José Padilla Statue in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

José Prudencio Padilla had an illustrious naval career starting in 1815 when he began serving under Simón Bolívar. He moved up in rank with each successive military battle. Admiral Padilla is most heralded for his naval command against the Royalists (Spaniards) at the Battle of Lake Maracaibo. This victory on July 24, 1823, marked the end of the Venezuelan War of Independence and marked the freedom of Gran Colombia from Spanish oppression. The date is celebrated annually as Navy Day.

Cl. 52 #3-62, Rionegro, Cartagena, Antioquia, Colombia
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10 Shopping in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

Shopping is a delightful experience in Cartagena. There are several premium clothing shops facing Plaza de Santa Teresa. One famous Colombian-born fashion designer, Silvia Tcherassi, even opened a boutique hotel here in a 250 year old mansion. It seems every plaza of Old Town is surrounded with boutique stores plus street vendors selling their crafts. A local specialty is emeralds. Colombia is the world’s largest producer of this beautiful green gemstone.

Cra. 3 #31-17 a 31-1 Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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11 Charleston Santa Teresa in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

The colonial wing of the Santa Teresa was built as a convent for the Carmelita nuns in the 17th century. During its history, it also served as a prison, a girls’ school and a police department. After an extensive renovation in the 1980s, it and a Republican-style wing were converted into a boutique hotel. The Charleston Santa Teresa, located on Plaza de Santa Teresa, now offers five-star, luxury accommodations in the heart of Old Town.

Cra. 3 #31-23, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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12 Three Women Exploring Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

The Old Town of Cartagena is compact so it is easy to explore on foot. You will be delighted to stroll along the cobblestone streets flanked by colonial buildings. Most of the facades are accented with splashes of color. Walk slowly so you can savor the history and charm of each plaza you encounter. You will soon discover why this entire walled-in city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cl. de San Juan de Dios Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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13 Belfry of Cathedral of Cartagena in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

It is difficult – no impossible – to fully appreciate the salmon-colored bell tower and dome of the Cathedral of Cartagena from its front portal. Yes, it is visible when walking along the city walls and from afar at Castillo San Felipe. However, the best view to fully appreciate its elegance and beauty is by approaching the cathedral from a street called Calle San Pedro Claver.

Cra. 4 #1434 Soacha, Cartagena, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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14 Cathedral of Cartagena in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

Construction of the Cathedral of Cartagena began in 1577. The church was partially destroyed during an attack by Sir Frances Drake nine years later. La Catedral was finished in 1612. This Roman Catholic church is dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria. St. Catherine was martyred for her unrelenting Christian faith early in the 4th century by Roman Emperor Maxentius.

Cra. 4 #1434 Soacha, Cartagena, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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15 Religious Black Caulk Mural in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

While a building across from the Cathedral Cartagena was being restored, a protective wall had been erected. Artist Olrando Morillo used it as a canvas for this haunting mural. Some of the religious figures created in black chalk include: the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Profit Jonah who was swallowed by a whale, Moses and the burning bush, an angel protecting Daniel in the lions’ den, and two angles on top of the Ark of the Covenant.

Cra. 4 #34 - 49, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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16 Pope John Paul II Statue in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

This bronze statue of Pope John Paul II commemorates the papal visit in 1986. The pontiff came to Colombia to mourn the loss of over 23,000 victims. They died from a mudslide caused by the eruption of the Nevada del Ruiz volcano in the town of Armero. During his weeklong visit, Santo Padre Juan Pablo II repeatedly condemned the country’s guerrillas who trade in cocaine.

Centro, Kra. 5 #33-15 edificio Colseguros P6 of. 08 Calle cochera del Gobernador, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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17 Casa Pombo Hotel in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

If you are interested in a large, modern luxury hotel while in Cartagena, you will find several in the Bocagrande district. If you prefer charming accommodations, then focus on Old Town. There are many boutiques tucked into historic colonial buildings. A good example is the Casa Pombo, named after the family who lived here beginning in the 16th century. The current mansion was built in 1804. The hotel’s inner courtyard is graced with lovely blooming plants leading to its few, spacious apartments.

Calle del Arzobispado, Cra. 5 #34-14, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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18 Ornate Doors in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

This side entry to the Cathedral of Saint Catherine of Alexandria is one beautiful example of the ornate doorways gracing Old Town. So many of the portals are elegant reflections of Spanish colonial architecture. Sometimes they are framed with stone columns and a pediment while others are defined with hanging flowers. Typically ten feet tall, they are often painted with a bright color, decorated with old metal hinges and accented with unique knockers.

Cra. 4 #1434 Soacha, Cartagena, Cundinamarca, Colombia
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19 Altar of Iglesia de Santo Domingo in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

When Pedro de Heredia founded the city in 1533, part of his entourage were Dominican friars. Their first simple monastery was built during the early 16th century. It was destroyed by fire in 1552. Today’s Plaza de Santo Domingo was selected for the church’s replacement. Construction dragged on until the end of the 17th century. The exterior of Iglesia de Santo Domingo is rather plain. However, inside is this beautiful marble altarpiece beneath the nave’s 33 foot blue ceiling.

Santo Domingo Church Cra. 3 #33-60, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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20 Reclining Fat Lady Statue in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

This huge statue of a woman is appropriately called Fat Lady. The reclining figure was created by sculptor Fernando Botero. He is a famous artist from Medellín, Colombia, who specializes in creating people with exaggerated shapes. The La Gordita artwork dominates the center of Plaza de Santo Domingo. This square once served as a market for slave trading.

Cl. 35 #3-16, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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21 Watch Tower Facing Caribbean in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

English sea captain Sir Frances Drake assaulted and captured Cartagena de Indias in 1586. Immediately after paying “El Draque” (a ransom to leave), the Spanish vowed to fortify their city against future attacks. The initial coral walls, designed by Bautista Antonelli, were finished in 1608. About a half dozen watch towers still face the Caribbean Sea like this one called Baluarte de San Diego. It required 210 years to complete the fortification. The wall measures about 6.8 miles around the historic district.

Baluarte de San Diego Calle de la Artilleria, Cra. 2 #6-68, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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22 Las Bóvedas in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

What today appears as a shopping arcade was designed as bombproof vaults when they were built near the Caribbean shoreline in 1798. They were originally used by the Spanish to house ammunition. Later, the 49 foot walls were converted into 23 prison cells. Now you will find boutique stores selling local crafts and souvenirs behind the 47, brightly colored arches of Las Bóvedas in the San Diego area of Old Town.

#39- a, Cra. 2 #39182, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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23 Heredia Theater in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

The Heredia Theater was built in 1911 on the site of an early 17th century church named La Merced. This performing arts center was designed by Luis Felipe Jaspe, the same architect responsible for the Torre del Reloj (Clock Tower). It was called the Municipal Theater when it opened as part of the city’s celebration of its 100 years of independence. Now it is named after the city’s founding father, Pedro de Heredia. Teatro Heredia Adolfo Mejía was beautifully restored in 1998.

Cr 4 # De La Merced, Cra. 10 #3638, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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24 Terpsichore Playing Lyre in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

There are four gorgeous marble carvings on the Heredia Theater façade. They are all the daughters of Zeus, the Olympian ruler of the gods. This woman playing a lyre is Terpsichore. She was the muse of dancing in Greek mythology. Additional depictions of muses can be seen inside the theater, as well as an amazing Italian staircase.

Cr 4 # De La Merced, Cra. 10 #3638, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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25 BVC Education Center in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

The Bolsa de Valores de Colombia was formed in 1928 through a merger of three of the country’s stock exchanges. None of its three main offices are in Cartagena. However, the BVC has established postgraduate training centers in several cities in conjunction with local universities. This building along Plaza de la Merced houses the facility in Old Town. It is associated with the Universidad de Cartagena.

Cra. 4 #38-43 a 38-1 Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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26 Mix of Architecture in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

There is a delightful mix of historic architecture within the walls of Old Town. Most is called colonial built by the Spanish from the mid-16th through the 18th centuries. The Republican style was created during the era of Gran Colombia in the early 19th century and stretched through the 20th century. There is also a touch of European influences. Many of the buildings have been lovingly renovated while others are scared from serious disrepair. Most are adorned with lush vines and blooming flowers dangling from their second-story, wooden balconies. The results are charming to experience.

Cra. 7 #38-49, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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27 Iglesia de Santo Toribio in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

Iglesia de Santo Toribio de Mangroviejo is one of the smallest churches in Old Town, but no less historic. Construction began by the Spaniards in 1666 and was completed about 65 years later. Its humble, colonial façade features a bell wall characteristic of a Spanish missionary. If you stop to visit, make sure you see the cannonball displayed in a glass urn. The ballistic went through Saint Toribio Church in 1741 during a failed British attack of the city.

#38- a, Cra. 7 #38151, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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28 José Fernández Madrid Statue in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

After declaring independence from Spain in 1811, the United Provinces of New Granada was formed. For a brief period, José Fernández Madrid was the head of the triumvirate and later the president of the new government. When the Spaniards reconquered New Granada in 1816, Fernández was imprisoned. Rather than face execution like many other rebel leaders, he was exiled. This marble sculpture of the patriot is on a tall pedestal in the Plaza Fernández Madrid within the San Diego neighborhood.

34, Cra. 8 #37, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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29 University of Fine Arts and Sciences of Bolívar in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

The Institución Universitaria Bellas Artes y Ciencias de Bolívar provides vocational training and community education in the fields of fine arts and sciences. The origin of the UNIBAC dates back to 1889 when it was founded as the Musical Institute in Cartegena. In 1976, the institution moved into this former Convent of San Diego.

Cra. 9 #39 - 12, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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30 University of Cartagena in Old Town, Cartagena, Colombia

This bell tower is the centerpiece of the Cloister of St. Augustine, the main campus of the University of Cartagena. The public university was founded in 1827 by Francisco de Paula Santander. During the early 19th century, he was the General of the National Army of Colombia and later the President of the Republic of New Granada. The school has about 25,000 students who attend undergraduate and postgraduate courses on four campuses.

Esq. calle 36, Cra. 6, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
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