Cartagena is a city full of history. Not only the old walled center, but also around it you can immerse yourself in history. One of the main historical attractions in Cartagena is Castillo de San Felipe. As the largest fortress ever built by the Spanish in a colony, it should not be missed during your visit to this amazing city. Read on and go on an adventure in 17th century Colombia!
Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas
On the hill San Lázaro in Cartagena, in the year 1536, construction began on a mighty fortress that would later be called Castillo de San Felipe. Colombia was a Spanish colony at the time, and along with African slaves, Spanish soldiers laid the foundation stone. The fort was built with bricks and rocks, on a hill so that it was sufficiently above the sea to give a good view of everything. Every movement of the enemy became visible to the Spaniards, who managed to defend the city with great success.
Attacks on the fort
Cartagena was constantly attacked by the French and the British. Yet the fort was taken by the enemy only once, in 1697 by the French. Castillo de San Felipe sustained damage several times and was restored again and again. The fort was enlarged in 1657, only to be expanded again in 1763. Eventually, as many as 60 to 65 cannons were present to protect the city.
The Battle of Cartagena
The Battle of Cartagena was an important part during the War of Jenkin’s Ear in the years 1739 and 1742, between the English and Spanish. In the year 1741, British Admiral Edward Vernon attacked the fort with the aim of destroying it. This he did with an army of as many as 27,000 men, 186 ships and 2,000 cannons, while the Spanish soldier Blas de Lezo defended the city with only 3,600 men and six ships. Although Lezo lost an arm, a leg and an eye during his military career, he skillfully used every strategy and tactic at his disposal. From the mighty Castillo de San Felipe, he defeated the British by surprise attacks and well-thought-out plans, among other things. However, most of the deaths ended up being due to disease, particularly Yellow Fever. The battle lasted 67 days, after which the British retreated, leaving 18,000 dead and wounded. A few weeks after the battle ended, Lezo himself also died of illness. The damaged fort would later be restored.
Get lost in a maze of dark tunnels
Castillo de San Felipe is well preserved and today you can admire this extraordinary construction, including the beautiful turrets and cannons that have remained standing all these years. The Spaniards built an extensive network of 600 meters of tunnels to protect themselves and surprise the enemy. Get lost in a maze of deep dark corridors and always end up somewhere else on the fort. There is dead silence in the corridors, and if you are alone this is quite adventurous.
Today, the fort stands amid new skyscrapers and old colored houses. So while walking across the immense structure, you also have a wonderful view of the city. Suddenly you see that Cartagena is more than just the old center. In addition, the contrast between old and new is interesting to see.
Castillo de San Felipe is one of the most important and visited sights in Cartagena. Because of the crowds and heat, it is recommended to arrive early in the morning (the fort opens at 8 a.m.). You can visit the fort alone, with a guide or with an audio tour. I have been there twice and both times I did not find a guide necessary. A booklet with a map and text provides you with information. Admission is not cheap, as you pay about 18,000 pesos (7 euros) per person for it. Take your time to explore the fortress: with my parents, I spent about 3 hours there. Despite the crowds and price, this is definitely a must-see if you are in Cartagena though!