Cartagena is a Colombian city located on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. It is recognized worldwide for being a very important Tourist and Cultural District in the country.

To learn more about this city and all the secrets it hides, read these interesting facts.

1.  The Elaborate Door Knockers Were Important Colonial Social Status Symbols

Walking around Cartagena’s historic walled city is a must during a visit to Cartagena.  As you walk around, you’ll surely notice not only the big, picturesque colonial wooden doors, but also the elaborate knockers.

Many are in the shape of animals, and during the colonial era they were important signs of social class and profession.  For example, knockers in the shape of fish marked the homes of merchants or sailors.  Lion knockers marked the homes of soldiers and officers in the military, and hands those of priests.  Finally, iguana and lizard shaped knockers adorned the homes of the aristocracy.

Knockers Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

2.  It Was a Major Target of Pirates and Spain’s Colonial Rivals

There’s a good reason why Cartagena was protected with a city wall and the massive Castillo San Felipe Fort.  The city was a major center of Spain’s colonial trade with lots of goods and much of the gold and silver mined by the Spanish moved through its port.

That made it a major target of both pirates and Spain’s enemies, particularly the British.  Most famously, Francis Drake attacked the city and burned much of it to the ground in 1586.  The last major attack occurred in 1741 when Cartagena’s defenders successfully stopped a massive force led by Edward Vernon with a heroic last stand at the Castillo San Felipe.

Defense against pirates, Cartagena, Colombia

3.  Its Wall Was Not Originally a Wall

It was Drake’s attack that prompted the building of stone fortifications in Cartagena.  However, while today the historic city center is fully enclosed by a stone wall, it was originally built in separate unconnected sections.  The first section built was the Bastion of Santo Domingo where the famous Café del Mar sits today.

Other bastions were added over time.  Later, they were connected with stone “curtains” to fully enclose the city.  The last part of the walls to be built were the Bovedas, used as barracks in colonial times and housing tourist shops today, which were completed in 1796.

Wall surrounding Cartagena de Indias

4.  There Is Also an Underwater Wall in Its Bay

There were originally two entrances to Cartagena’s bay.  Bocagrande (Spanish for big mouth) was originally the main entrance, while the smaller Bocachica (Spanish for little mouth) was lightly used.  However, for a short time the Bocagrande Channel was blocked by sediment buildup, and the Bocachica Channel became the only usable entrance. 

The Spanish spent considerable time and money to build defenses around the Bocachica Channel, so when the Bocagrande opened back up due to erosion, they built an underwater wall to keep it permanently closed.  This forced any potential enemy ships to have to use the well-defended Bocachica Channel.  The wall is still there today and only very small boats can pass over it.

Bocachica Canal

5.  It Played a Leading Role in Colombia’s Movement for Independence

On November 11, 1811, Cartagena declared absolute independence from Spain and created the free state of Cartagena.  It was the first place in modern day Colombia to establish a functioning fully independent government.  The declaration of July 20, celebrated today as Independence Day, a year earlier in Bogotá had actually only declared temporary autonomy and still professed loyalty to the exiled King Fernando VII of Spain.

Cartagena’s step helped inspire other provinces to declare full independence.  Its commitment to independence was reaffirmed when it withstood over 100 days of siege by the Spanish force in 1815.  It only surrendered after as much as half of the city had starved.  Its fierce and devoted resistance earned it the nickname La Heroica (the Heroic City) and it was re-liberated for good in 1821.

Independence Parade

There you have 5 interesting facts about Cartagena you may not have known.  The city has a fascinating history, and you will learn even more about it during a visit.

Author Biography:

Adam McConnaughhay

Has lived in Cartagena since 2011. 

He writes about the attractions and history of Cartagena as well as other destinations in Colombia at www.cartagenaexplorer.com.