01 June 2018

Cartagena, Colombia 2018

Approaching Cartagena by ship presents a skyline rising from the ocean that might have been fantasized by an artiste for a futuristic tropical movie set. Colombia's independence from Spain was won in 1810. The Republic of Panama, through which we had just passed, was once politically part of Colombia but separated in 1903.

Cartagena has all the mod cons, having been a large commercial port for centuries. Drug trafficking, while apparently not declining in the country, does not represent this city nor does it affect the volume of tourism. The lovely walled colonial city within, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the main attraction. Not to forget Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, Spain's greatest fortress in the Americas.

The streets are definitely for the people and tourists seem almost incidental. A few senoritas or enterprising youngsters pose in costume, expecting a tip for a photograph.

You could linger forever, admiring the buildings and public art ...

... and the shady plazas.

Various corners like this appear, but sales pressure on tourists could be called underwhelming compared to many other places.

Sculpture is generously spread throughout, delighting the eye with surprises.

Cartagena's size and importance was such that an office of the infamous Spanish Inquisition was established here in 1610. Relocated some time later in one of the city's most beautiful eighteenth century buildings, the Palace of the Inquisition is now a small museum to that horrific era, as well as emphasizing much larger exhibits of the city's history. Most torture instruments long displayed were removed upon the visit of Pope Francis in 2015 ... God forbid offending the pontiff's sensibilities. Our guide managed to show us a couple of unspeakable devices. Hard to believe the Inquisitors were still operating until 1821. One estimate says 800 "heretics" died in Cartagena. I cringe on seeing prominent words from my old friend St Thomas Aquinas, justifying the original intent.

Colombia is known for its emeralds but you'd have to do a lot of homework before considering a purchase. The country ‒ like so much of Central America ‒ is also strong on coffee! Choosing something to take home from bountiful displays requires a great deal of browsing.

One thing: the heat. Blazing sun and sweltering temperatures. Absolutely necessary to take it easy and enjoy slowly. Plenty of cool nooks for cold drinks, and the inevitable coffee.

One mentally marks the bucket list: Places for a Return Visit.

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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