Day 1 In Cartagena, Colombia Continued: El Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas and Las Bóvedas

As we continued with the city tour of Cartagena, our next stop was El Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, which took more than 130 years of construction, and was finally completed in 1657. It is all made by hand and it was built from the top to the bottom by African slaves who were brought to Colombia. As you might notice, the walls are inclined and not straight because if a cannon were to hit the walls, it would not be able to go through it.

On top of the fortress, we came across the Colombian flag which is yellow, blue, and red. The yellow is meant to represent gold, the blue is supposed to represent the ocean (Colombia is the only South American country with two oceans), and the red represents the blood of the country’s martyrs. Some say that the yellow represents blonde hair, blue represents blue eyes, and red represents red lips since Colombian women are known for their beauty.

Throughout the fortress, there are small tunnels because years ago, the Spaniards were small and were able to enter the tunnels and run through them. The British and French were tall though, so they had to duck their heads and were not able to dedicate their complete concentration to running since they had to worry about not hitting the top of the tunnels. There are also various cabins that can be found throughout the tunnels where individuals would hide, and if they didn’t have a password to enter, they would be killed.

The only person to actually live in the fortress years ago was the leader of the army. Everyone else lived in what was called the walled city (since the city was walled off from pirates as mentioned in a previous post), and when enemies arrived, someone was in charge of ringing a bell, and when it sounded, soldiers would go running up the fortress. As we made our way to the top of the fortress, it began continuously pouring rain. After waiting for nearly 40 minutes, our group decided to walk down the fortress in the rain and go back to the bus. By the time we got onto the bus, we were soaking wet, and of course, the rain stopped within minutes. After this downpour, floods filled some of the streets due to the rain, and we were told that by 2017, the sea level will rise nearly feet due to poor drainage throughout the city.

At the bottom of the fortress, there is a statue commemorating Blas de Lezo who was once known as “Patapalo” or “Pegleg” and eventually as “Mediohombre” or “Half-Man” due to the numerous injuries he suffered during his time in the military. In the statue, “The man is brandishing a sword in his left arm, because he lost his right arm in the Battle of Barcelona; minus one leg lost in the Battle of Gibraltar; and wearing an eye patch covering his left eye lost in the Battle of Toulon. This same man lost his life in the Battle for Cartagena, the last of his 23 campaigns. This man is Don Blas de Lezo” (http://www.cartagenainfo.net/glenndavid/blasdelezo.html).

After drying off at the hotel and changing our clothes, we got back onto the bus made our way towards Las Bóvedas. Las Bóvedas, also known as “The Vaults” were built as dungeons and consists of 23 dungeons which were used to hold ammunition and at one point, prisoners. These dungeons were the last thing built by the Spaniards to close off the walled city. Las Bóvedas currently consists of shops, and it is where many tourists can be found purchasing locally hand-made items goods and artwork.

Day 2 In Bogotá, Colombia

After eating breakfast in the morning, we hopped onto the tour bus and drove to La Candelaria, a historic neighborhood in downtown Bogotá. It is said that Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, with 1,887 species of birds alone in the country. Besides for its bio-diversity, our tour guide explained that Colombia is also known for four major features— coffee, emeralds, flowers, beautiful women, and cocaine. The size of Bogotá, specifically, can be compared to that of New York or London, and is the one of the three largest cities in South America.

It rains in Bogotá 250 days of the year, so rainy season is practically year-long. During the 19th century in the 1800s, the British arrived in Bogotá to build railroads and neighborhoods, so the fact that so much architecture in the city is based around red brick is due to the English influence. Something interesting about the city is that it is divided by numbers, with each number representing the class of individuals who live there—1 being the lowest socioeconomic level of status and 6 being the highest. The city’s minimum wage comes out to $280 per month, and for apartments in the level 3 district for middle class citizens, apartments cost $290 per month.

The first site that we came across was Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, a beautiful church in the city that has become a staple, followed by a church from the 1600’s that survived the Civil War nearly 60 years ago. From there, we walked to Palacio de Nariño, or Nariño’s Palace—the official home and workplace of the President of Colombia. Antonio Nariño was the first person to translate human rights from French to Spanish. He had these rights printed on pamphlets and began passing them out, but was soon imprisoned for doing so. The palace sits on the same location where Nariño was born, and the President lives on third floor, while the rest of the palace contains important artifacts from the country’s history.

Outside the palace stood various military guards, and upon inquiring more information, we learned that one year of military training is mandatory for everyone upon graduating high school unless you have money to get yourself out of the requirement or unless you go directly to college.

As we continued walking, we came across balconies from hundreds of years ago that were influenced by the Arabians. The balconies were designed for the women of the house with the purpose being that the women could look outside, but no one could see inside.

We then saw the first observatory in all of South America that was built in the 1800s. It was meant to be taller than the Catholic Church but the architect was told if he followed through with his plan, he would have his head cut off.

The next sight was a cloister where firstborn girls were sent to spend the rest of the their lives. Their bodies would be painted when they died to preserve them. The second girl in the family would be married off to a wealthy lord, and the third daughter, or the youngest in the family would have to stay with their parents until they died, which some say is a different type of imprisonment as opposed to being sent to the cloister.

Following the cloister, we came across Plaza de Bolívar, named after President Simón Bolívar. The Plaza is home to the National Capital, the Palace of Justice, and the Cathedral of Bogotá.

As we continued walking, we spotted a building where President Simón Bolívar lived. He had a close female friend who often hosted parties and purposely invited various guests—some of whom were known to like the President, and others who openly voiced their dislike towards him. After getting the guests drunk, she approached them and asked what they thought of him. It was in this way that she found out about an attempt to kill him. She told Bolívar about this plan to kill him right before it happened, and he jumped out the window (pictured below) to escape and run while the people who planned to kill him were entering his house.

Across from this building is a theater built in 1793 but completed in 1800 which is very similar to the one in France, with the only difference being that this one is a little smaller. Shortly after seeing the theater, we came across a house where the Colombian version of Dr. Seuss was born, as well as the Red Cross building in Bogotá. From here, we took a tour of Fernando Botero’s museum, but that will be discussed separately in an upcoming post.