The city was founded on June 1, 1533, and named after Cartagena, Spain, which in turn was named after Carthage in Tunisia. Settlement in the region around Cartagena Bay by various indigenous people dates back to 4000 BC. During the Spanish colonial period Cartagena served a key role in administration and expansion of the Spanish empire. It was a center of political, ecclesiastical, and economic activity. In 1984, Cartagena's colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Puerto Hormiga Culture, found in the Caribbean coast region, particularly in the area from the Sinú River Delta to the Cartagena Bay, appears to be the first documented human community in what is now Colombia. Archaeologists estimate that around 4000 BC, the formative culture was located near the boundary between the present-day departments of Bolívar and Sucre. In this area, archaeologists have found the most ancient ceramic objects of the Americas, dating from around 4000 BC. The primary reason for the proliferation of primitive societies in this area is thought to have been the relative mildness of climate and the abundance of wildlife, which allowed the hunting inhabitants a comfortable life.
Archaeological investigations date the decline of the Puerto Hormiga culture and its related settlements to around 3000 BC. The rise of a much more developed culture, the Monsú, who lived at the end of the Dique Canal near today's Cartagena neighborhoods Pasacaballos and Ciénaga Honda at the northernmost part of Barú Island, has been hypothesized. The Monsú culture appears to have inherited the Puerto Hormiga culture's use of the art of pottery and also to have developed a mixed economy of agriculture and basic manufacture. The Monsú people's diet was based mostly on shellfish and fresh and salt-water fish.
The development of the Sinú society in what is today the departments of Córdoba and Sucre, eclipsed these first developments around the Cartagena Bay area. Until the Spanish colonization, many cultures derived from the Karib, Malibu and Arawak language families lived along the Colombian Caribbean coast. In the late pre-Columbian era, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta was home to the Tayrona people, whose language was closely related to the Chibcha language family.
Around 1500 the area was inhabited by different tribes of the Carib language family, more precisely the Mocanae sub-family.
Mocana villages of the Carib people around the Bay of Cartagena included:
Heredia found these settlements, "...largely surrounded with the heads of dead men placed on stakes."
Some subsidiary tribes of the Kalamari lived in today's neighborhood of Pie de la Popa, and other subsidiaries from the Cospique lived in the Membrillal and Pasacaballos areas. Among these, according to the earliest documents available, the Kalamari had preeminence. These tribes, though physically and administratively separated, shared a common architecture, such as hut structures consisting of circular rooms with tall roofs, which were surrounded by defensive wooden palisades.
Rodrigo de Bastidas traveled to the Pearl Coast and the Gulf of Uraba in 1500–01. On 14 February 1504, Ferdinand V contracted Juan de la Cosa's voyage to Uraba. However, Juan de la Cosa died in 1510 along with 300 of Alonso de Ojeda's men, after an armed confrontation with indigenous people, and before Juan de la Cosa could get possession of the Gulf of Urabá area. Similar contracts were signed in 1508 with Diego de Nicuesa for the settlement of Veragua and with Alonso de Ojeda for the settlement of Uraba, "where gold had already been obtained on earlier voyages," according to Floyd.
After the failed effort to find Antigua del Darién in 1506 by Alonso de Ojeda and the subsequent unsuccessful founding of San Sebastián de Urabá in 1517 by Diego de Nicuesa, the southern Caribbean coast became unattractive to colonizers. They preferred the better known Hispaniola and Cuba.
Although the royal control point for trade, the Casa de Contratación gave permission to Rodrigo de Bastidas (1460–1527) to again conduct an expedition as adelantado to this area, Bastidas explored the coast and sighted the Magdalena River Delta in his first journey from Guajira to the south in 1527, a trip that ended in the Gulf of Urabá, the location of the failed first settlements. De Nicuesa and De Ojeda noted the existence of a big bay on the way from Santo Domingo to Urabá and the Panama isthmus, and that encouraged Bastidas to investigate.
Under contract to Queen Joanna of Castile, Pedro de Heredia entered the Bay of Cartagena with three ships, a lighter, 150 men, and 22 horses, on 14 January 1533. He soon found the village of Calamari abandoned. Proceeding onwards to Turbaco, where Juan de la Cosa had been mortally wounded 13 years earlier, Heredia fought an all-day battle before claiming victory. Using India Catalina as a guide, Heredia embarked on a three-month exploration expedition. He returned to Calamari in April 1533 with gold pieces, including a solid gold porcupine weighing 132 pounds. In later expeditions, Heredia raided the Sinú tombs and temples of gold. His rule as governor of Cartagena lasted 22 years, before perishing on his return to Spain in 1544.
Cartagena was founded on June 1, 1533 by the Spanish commander, Pedro de Heredia, in the former location of the indigenous Caribbean Calamarí village. The town was named after the port city of Cartagena, in Murcia in southwest Spain, where most of Heredia's sailors had resided. King Philip II gave Cartagena the title of "city" (ciudad) in 1574, adding "most noble and loyal" in 1575.
The city's increasing importance as a port for the export of Peruvian silver from Potosí to Spain, made it an obvious target for pirates and corsairs, encouraged by France, England, and Holland. In 1544, the city was pillaged by 5 ships and 1000 men under the command of the French pirate Jean-François Roberval, who took advantage of the city still without walls. Heredia was forced to retreat to Turbaco until a ransom was paid. A defensive tower, San Felipe del Boqueron, was built in 1566 by Governor Anton Davalos. It was supposed to protect the anchorage and the Bahia de las Animas, a water lane into Plaza de lar Mar (current day Plaze de la Aduana), but the fort's battery had limited range. Then the French pirate Martin Cote struck in 1569 with 1000 men, ransacking the city.
A few months after the disaster of the invasion of Cote, a fire destroyed the city and forced the creation of a firefighting squad, the first in the Americas.
In 1568, Sir John Hawkins of England tried to trick Governor Martín de las Alas into violating Spanish law, which forbade trade with foreigners, by opening a trade fair in the city to sell goods. This would have allowed Hawkins to ravage the port afterwards; the governor declined. Hawkins bombarded the city for 8 days, but failed to level it. Then Francis Drake attacked in April 1586 with 23 ships and 3,000 men. Drake burned 200 houses and the cathedral, departing only after a ransom was paid a month later.
Spain then commissioned Bautista Antonelli in 1586 to design a master scheme for defending its Caribbean ports. This included a second visit to Cartagena in 1594 when he drew up plans for a walled city.
In 1610, the Holy Office of the Inquisition was established in Cartagena and The Palace of Inquisition was completed in 1770. Sentences were pronounced in the main city plaza, today's Plaza de Bolivar, during the Autos de Fe ceremonies. Crimes under its jurisdiction included those of heresy, blasphemy, bigamy and witchcraft. A total of 767 persons were punished, which ranged from fines, wearing a Sanbenito, life imprisonment, or even death for five unlucky souls. The Inquisition was abolished with independence in 1811.
The first slaves were brought by Pedro de Heredia to work as "macheteros", clearing the underbrush. By the 17th Century, Cartagena had become an important New World slave market, centered about the Plaza de los Coches. Europeans began to bring slaves from Africa. Spain was the only European power that could not establish factories in Africa to purchase slaves and therefore the Spanish empire relied on the asiento system, awarding merchants (mostly from Portugal, France, England and the Dutch Empire) the license to trade enslaved people to their overseas territories.
Gov. Francisco de Murga made the Inner Bay an "impregnable lagoon", according to Segovia, which included the forts El Boquerón, Castillo Grande, Manzanillo, and Manga. Besides the walls built to defend the historic district of Calamari, Francisco de Murga enclosed Getsemani with protective walls starting in 1631. This included the battery of Media Luna of San Antonio, located between the bastions of Santa Teresa and Santa Barbara, which protected the only gate and causeway to the mainland.
The practice of Situado, is exemplified in the magnitude of the city's subsidy between 1751 and 1810, when the city received the sum of 20,912,677 Spanish reales.
The Raid on Cartagena, in April 1697 during the Nine Years' War, by Sir Bernard Desjean, Baron de Pointis and Jean Baptiste Ducasse was a severe blow to Cartagena. The Baron's forces included 22 large ships, 500 canons, and 4000 troops, while Ducasse's forces consisted of 7 ships and 1,200 buccaneers. They quickly overwhelmed Sancho Jimeno de Orozco's force of 30 men in the San Luis de Bocachica fortification. Then, San Felipe de Barajas also fell and the city came under bombardment. When the Half Moon Gate was breached and Getsemani occupied, Governor Diego de los Rios capitulated. The Baron left after a month of plunder and Ducasse followed a week later.
When King Philip II employed the Italian engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli to design a master plan of fortifications for Cartagena, construction would actually continue for the next two hundred years. On 17 March 1640, three Portuguese ships under the command of Rodrigo Lobo da Silva, ran aground in the Bocagrande Channel. This accelerated the formation of a sand bar, which soon connected the Bocagrande Peninsula to the island of Tierrabomba. The defense of the bay then shifted to two forts on either side of Bocachica, San Jose and San Luis de Bocachica. San Luis was replaced by San Fernando after the 1741 English raid. The next narrow passage was formed by the Island of Manzanillo, where San Juan del Manzanillo was constructed and Santa Cruz O Castillo Grande opposite on Cruz Grande at Punta Judio, both connected by a floating chain. Finally, there was San Felipe del Boqueron, later San Sebastian del Pastelillo. The city itself was circled with a ring of bastions connected by curtains. The island of Getsemani was also fortified. Protecting the city on the landward side, atop San Lazaro hill, was the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas named in honor of Spain's King Philip IV and Governor Pedro Zapata de Mendoza, Marquis of Barajas' father, the Count of Barajas. Completed in 1654, the fort was expanded in the 18th Century, and included underground corridors and galleries.
Although the 18th century began poorly for the city economically, when the Bourbon dynasty discontinued the Carrera de Indias convoys. However, with the establishment of the Viceroyalty of New Granada and the colonial struggle with England, Cartagena took on the stronghold as the "gateway to the Indies of Peru". By 1777, the city included 13,700 inhabitants with a garrison of 1300. The population reached 17,600 in 1809.
The reconstruction after the Raid on Cartagena (1697) was initially slow, but with the end of the War of the Spanish Succession around 1711 and the competent administration of Juan Díaz de Torrezar Pimienta, the walls were rebuilt, the forts reorganized and restored, and the public services and buildings reopened. By 1710, the city was fully recovered. At the same time, the slow but steady reforms of the restricted trade policies in the Spanish Empire encouraged the establishment of new trade houses and private projects. During the reign of Philip V of Spain the city had many new public works projects either begun or completed, among them the new fort of San Fernando, the Hospital of the Obra Pía and the full paving of all the streets and the opening of new roads.
In 1731, Juan de Herrera y Sotomayor founded the Military Academy of Mathematics and Practice of Fortifications in Cartagena. He is also known for designing the Puerta del Reloj starting in 1704.
Starting in mid-April 1741, the city endured a siege by a large English armada under the command of Admiral Edward Vernon. The engagement, referred to as Battle of Cartagena de Indias, was part of the larger War of Jenkin's Ear. The English armada included 50 warships, 130 transport ships, and 25,600 men, including 2,000 North American colonial infantry. The Spanish defense was under the command of Sebastián de Eslava and Don Blas de Lezo. The British were able to take the Castillo de San Luis at Bocachica and land marines on the island of Tierrabomba and Manzanillo. The North Americans then took La Popa hill.
Following a failed attack on San Felipe Barajas on 20 April 1741, which left 800 British dead and another 1,000 taken prisoner, Vernon lifted the siege. By that time he had many sick men from tropical diseases. An interesting footnote to the battle, was the inclusion of George Washington's half brother, Lawrence Washington, amongst the British colonial troops. Lawrence later named his Mount Vernon estate in honor of his commander.
In 1762, Antonio de Arebalo published his Defense Plan, the Report on the estate of defense on the avenues of Cartagena de Indias. This engineer continued the work to make Cartagena impregnable, including the construction from 1771 to 1778, of an 3400 yards long underwater jetty across the Bocagrande called the Escollera. Arebalo had earlier completed San Fernando, and the fort-battery of San Jose in 1759, then added El Angel San Rafael on El Horno hill as added protection across the Bocachica.
After Vernon, what is called the 'Silver Age' of the city (1750–1808) began. This time was one of permanent expansion of the existing buildings, massive immigration from all the other cities of the Viceroyalty, increase of the economic and political power of the city and a population growth spurt not equaled since that time. Political power that was already shifting from Bogotá to the coast completed its relocation, and the Viceroys decided to reside in Cartagena permanently. The inhabitants of the city were the richest of the colony, the aristocracy erected noble houses on their lands to form great estates, libraries and printing establishments were opened, and the first café in New Granada was even established. The good times of steady progress and advancement in the second half of the 18th century came to an abrupt end in 1808 with the general crisis of the Spanish Empire that came from the Mutiny of Aranjuez and all its consequences.
Among the censuses of the 18th century was the special Census of 1778, imposed by the governor of the time, D. Juan de Torrezar Diaz Pimienta – later Viceroy of New Granada – by order of the Marquis of Ensenada, Minister of Finance – so that he would be provided numbers for his Catastro tax project, which imposed a universal property tax he believed would contribute to the economy while at the same time increasing royal revenues dramatically. The Census of 1778, besides having significance for economic history, is interesting because each house had to be described in detail and its occupants enumerated, making the census an important tool The census revealed what Ensenada had hoped. However, his enemies in the court convinced King Charles III to oppose the tax plan.
For more than 275 years, Cartagena was under Spanish rule. With Napoleon's imprisonment of Charles IV and Ferdinand VII, and the start of the Peninsular War, the Latin American wars of independence soon followed. In Cartagena, on 4 June 1810, Royal Commissioner Antonio Villavicencio and the Cartagena City Council banished the Spanish Governor Francisco de Montes on suspicions of sympathy for the French emperor and the French occupation forces which overthrew the king. A Supreme Junta was formed, along with two political parties, one led by Jose Maria Garcia de Toledo representing the aristocrats, and a second led by Gabriel and German Piñeres representing the common people of Getsemani. Finally on 11 November, a Declaration of Independence was signed proclaiming "a free state, sovereign and independent of all domination and servitude to any power on Earth".
Spain's reaction was to send a "pacifying expedition" under the command of Pablo Morillo, The Pacifier, and Pascual de Enrile, which included 59 ships, and 10,612 men. The city was placed under siege on 22 August 1815. The city was defended by 3000 men, 360 cannons, and 8 ships plus ancillary small watercraft, under the command of Manuel del Castillo y Rada and Juan N. Enslava. However, by that time, the city was under the rule of the Garcia de Toledo Party, having exiled German and Gabriel Pineres, and Simon Bolivar. By 5 December, about 300 people per day died from hunger or disease, forcing 2000 to flee on vessels provided by the French mercenary Louis Aury. By that time, 6000 had died. Morillo, in retaliation after entering the city, shot nine of the rebel leaders on 24 February 1816, at what is now known as the Camellon de los Martires. These included José María García de Toledo and Manuel del Castillo y Rada.
Finally, a patriot army led by General Mariano Montilla, supported by Admiral José Prudencio Padilla, laid siege to the city from August 1820 until October 1821. A key engagement was the destruction of almost all of the royalist ships anchored on Getsemani Island on 24 June 1821. After Governor Gabriel Torres surrendered, Simon Bolivar the Liberator, bestowed the title "Heroic City" onto Cartagena. The Liberator spent 18 days in the city from 20–28 July 1827, staying in the Government Palace in Proclamation Square and the guest of a banquet hosted by Jose Padilla at his residence on Calle Larga.
Cartagena faces the Caribbean Sea to the west. To the south is the Cartagena Bay, which has two entrances: Bocachica (Small Mouth) in the south, and Bocagrande (Big Mouth) in the north. Cartagena is located at 10°25' North, 75°32' West (10.41667, −75.5333).
In this area is the Rafael Núñez International Airport, located in the neighborhood of Crespo, ten minutes' drive from downtown or the old part of the city and fifteen minutes away from the modern area. Zona Norte, the area located immediately north of the airport contains the Hotel Las Americas, the urban development office of Barcelona de Indias, and several educational institutions.
The Downtown area of Cartagena has varied architecture, mainly a colonial style, but republican and Italian style buildings, such as the Cathedral's bell tower, can be seen.
The main entrance to downtown is the Puerta del Reloj (Clock Gate), which exits onto the Plaza de los Coches (Square of the Carriages). A few steps farther is the Plaza de la Aduana (Customs Square), next to the mayor's office. Nearby is San Pedro Claver Square and the church also named for Saint Peter Claver, where the body of the Jesuit saint ('Saint of the African slaves') is kept in a casket, as well as the Museum of Modern Art.
Nearby is the Plaza de Bolívar (Bolívar's Square) and the Palace of Inquisition. Plaza de Bolívar (formerly known as Plaza de La Inquisicion) is essentially a small park with a statue of Simón Bolívar in the center. This plaza is surrounded by balconied colonial buildings. Shaded outdoor cafes line the street.
The Office of Historical Archives devoted to Cartagena's history is not far away. Next to the archives is the Government Palace, the office building of the Governor of the Department of Bolivar. Across from the palace is the Cathedral of Cartagena, which dates back to the 16th century.
Another religious building of significance is the Iglesia de Santo Domingo in front of Plaza Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo Square). In the square is the sculpture Mujer Reclinada ("Reclining Woman"), a gift from the notable Colombian artist Fernando Botero. Nearby is the Tcherassi Hotel, a 250-year-old colonial mansion renovated by designer Silvia Tcherassi.
In the city is the Augustinian Fathers Convent and the University of Cartagena. This university is a center of higher education opened to the public in the late 19th century. The Claustro de Santa Teresa (Saint Theresa Cloister), which has been remodeled and has become a hotel operated by Charleston Hotels. It has its own square, protected by the San Francisco Bastion.
A 20-minute walk from downtown is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, located in el Pie de la Popa (another neighborhood), the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in their colonies. The tunnels were all constructed in such a way as to make it possible to hear footsteps of an approaching enemy. Some of the tunnels are open for viewing today.
San Diego was named after the local San Diego Convent, now known as the Beaux Arts University Building. In front of it is the Convent of the Nuns of the Order of Saint Clare, now the Hotel Santa Clara. In the surrounding area is Santo Toribio Church, the last church built in the Walled City. Next to it is Fernández de Madrid Square, honoring Cartagena's hero, José Fernández de Madrid, whose statue can be seen nearby.
Inside the Old City is found Las Bóvedas (The Vaults), a construction attached to the walls of the Santa Catalina Fortress. From the top of this construction the Caribbean Sea is visible.
Once a district characterized by crime, Getsemani, just south of the ancient walled fortress, has become "Cartagena's hippest neighborhood and one of Latin America's newest hotspots", with plazas that were once the scene of drug dealing being reclaimed and old buildings being turned into boutique hotels.
The Bocagrande (Big Mouth) is an area known for its skyscrapers. The area contains the bulk of the city's tourist facilities, such as hotels, shops, restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries. It is located between Cartagena Bay to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west, and includes the two neighborhoods of El Laguito (The Little Lake) and Castillogrande (Big Castle). Bocagrande has long beaches and much commercial activity is found along Avenida San Martín (Saint Martin Avenue).
The beaches of Bocagrande, lying along the northern shore, are made of volcanic sand, which is slightly grayish in color. This makes the water appear muddy, though it is not. There are breakwaters about every 200 yards (180 m).
On the bay side of the peninsula of Bocagrande is a seawalk. In the center of the bay is a statue of the Virgin Mary. The Naval Base is also located in Bocagrande, looking at the Bay.
Cartagena features a tropical wet and dry climate. Humidity averages around 90%, with rainy seasons typically in May–June and October–November. The climate tends to be hot and windy.
The main economic activities in Cartagena are industry, tourism, and commerce. The port of Cartagena is one of the largest of South America.
Other prominent companies include Cementos Argos, Miss Colombia, Kola Román, Indufrial, Amazon Pepper, Vikings SA, Distribuidora Ltda Refrigeration, Central Ingenio Colombia, Perfumery Lemaitre, Cartagena Refinery Cellux Colombiana SA, Flour Three Castles, Polyban International SA, SABMiller, Dow Chemical, Cemex, Dole, and Abocol..
In 1934, Miss Colombia was founded in Cartagena de Indias. Known as Concurso Nacional de Belleza de Colombia (National Beauty Contest of Colombia), it is a national beauty pageant in Colombia. The winner, Señorita Colombia, is sent to Miss Universe and the first runner-up, Señorita Colombia Internacional or Virreina, to Miss International.
Free zones are areas within the local territory which enjoy special customs and tax rules. They are intended to promote the industrialization of goods and provision of services aimed primarily at foreign markets and also the domestic market.
Tourism is a mainstay of the economy. The following are tourist sites within the city:
As the commercial and touristic hub of the country, the city has many transportation facilities, particularly in the seaport, air, and fluvial areas.
In 2003, the city started building Transcaribe, a mass transit system. In 2015 the system began operating in the city
The city is linked to the northern part of the Caribbean Region through roads 90 and 90A, more commonly called Central Caribbean Road. This Road passes through Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Riohacha ending in Paraguachón, Venezuela and continues with Venezuelan numeration all the way to Caracas. Taxis in the city perimeter do not have fare meters.
The following roads are in the southeast portion of the city:
Road 25: Going through Turbaco and Arjona, and through the Montes de María when a fork divides it continuing to Sincelejo as National 25 and finally ending in Medellín, and to the east to Valledupar as number 80.
Road 25 A: Going also to Sincelejo, but avoiding the mountains, connects with Road 25 in the forementioned city.
The Rafael Núñez International Airport, is the busiest airport in Colombia's Caribbean region and the fourth in passenger traffic in the country. The code of the airport is CTG, having flights to almost all airports in Colombia including Bogota's El Dorado International Airport. Excessive operational costs and easier connection travel and better prices had led to the shifting of the Rafael Núñez's international connection passengers away from Bogota to the nearer Tocumen International Airport in Panama and Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba. Also more companies prefer to serve the Colombian market from Cartagena, due to better geographical and atmospheric conditions.
The open ports of the city are:
Private ports of the city:
Since the 17th century the bay has been connected to the Magdalena River by the Dique Canal, built by Governor Pedro Zapata de Mendoza. After Colombian independence, the canal was abandoned. Increasing centralization left the city without resources to maintain it. The last important maintenance work was done in the 1950s during Laureano Gómez's administration. Some improvements were made by local authorities in the 1980s. This was discontinued because of legal objections from the central government that decreed that the "maintenance" of the canal did not fall under the jurisdiction of the local government. From then on, maintenance of the canal has been delayed, though it is still functional.
Cartagenian political leaders have argued that this state of affairs might change with a return to pre-independence funding and tax system. Under such systems the canal would be maintained properly and even expanded, benefiting the national economy.
International schools include:
The city has many public and private libraries:
The first carnivals and western theaters that served in New Granada operated on, what is today, Calle del Coliseo. This was an activity patronized by the Viceroy Manuel de Guirior and Antonio Caballero y Góngora, who, like their predecessors, spent most of the time of their mandates ruling in Cartagena.
The main football club in the city is Real Cartagena.
The port, the fortresses and the group of monuments of Cartagena were selected in 1984 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as significant to the heritage of the world, having the most extensive fortifications in South America. They are significant, too, for being located in a bay that is part of the Caribbean Sea. A system of zones divides the city into three neighborhoods: San Sebastian and Santa Catalina with the cathedral and many palaces where the wealthy lived and the main government buildings functioned; San Diego or Santo Toribio, where merchants and the middle class lived; and Getsemani, the suburban popular quarters.