Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Changing Colors of Cartagena: Restored to Its Former Multicolored Hues, This Historic Coastal City Is One of the Safest and Most Attractive Destinations in Colombia

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Changing Colors of Cartagena: Restored to Its Former Multicolored Hues, This Historic Coastal City Is One of the Safest and Most Attractive Destinations in Colombia

Article excerpt

When I first visited Cartagena, the Spanish colonial town Colombia's Caribbean coast, it was decaying within a thick circle of ramparts under a fortress so strongly buttressed that it had taken the Spanish over 130 years to erect it. After a disastrous attack in 1586 by Sir Francis Drake, King Philip II ordered the fortress built to protect the Crown's accumulated riches--taxes on the new colonies in the form of textiles and goods, gems, and precious metals like silver from Potosi's mines and gold looted from Indians between Colombia and Peru--insuring their safe storage while awaiting shipment to Spain. But, in spite of an elaborate system of forts, ramparts, and heavy walls constructed and repaired over the next three centuries, Cartagena was repeatedly assaulted. The little city's finest hour came in 1741, when a small band of stalwarts ultimately repelled a superior British force. And today, the vigorous port town remains a safe haven in a country experiencing great social and political upheaval.

In the Cartagena of over three decades ago, its colonial-white paint, long turned gray, was peeling everywhere. Horse-drawn carriages, rickety handcarts, and a few thirty-year-old American cars generated the only vehicular traffic. The town was peopled by descendants of the black African slaves who had toiled building the city's mammoth defenses, and the tropical air was heavy with the aromas of fish and ripe mangoes. Most tourist attractions were located near the beaches and breezy modernity of Bocagrande, which stretches on a finger of land between the open Caribbean Sea and Cartagena Bay.

Over the years, like other Colombians who could afford it, my family and I periodically visited Cartagena on short vacations, and watched how, little by little, the old town was being transformed. Its paint was now kept bright white, and as more tourists arrived, more gleaming hotel towers sprang up next to each other along Bocagrande's beach.

But Cartagena's Caribbean charm and buccaneer aura were attracting other sorts of visitors as well. The annual Miss Colombia beauty pageant now graced its sandy shores, and a film festival has been drawing Colombian and international filmmakers for over forty years. Film companies have long found the perfect historical locations within the city's walk--from The Battle of Algier's director Gillo Pontecorvo's Quemada! …

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