Touring Old City
Begin a tour at La Puerta del Reloj (the Clock Gate), the walled city’s main entrance. When it was built entrance to Old City. When the gate was built at the beginning of the 18th century, it was the only way to get into the city. The striking clock tower was added at the end of the 19th century. Today, it stands as one of the principal symbols of Cartagena.
Just past the gate is Plaza de los Coches, or Carriages Square. It was originally named Plaza del Juez, as it was where the city’s resident judge resided. Within the plaza, horse-drawn carriages wait ready to take visitors on tours of Old City—a great way to see it in its entirety.
At the far end of the plaza, past the central statue of Cartagena’s founder Pedro de Heredia, lies El Portal de los Dulces, the sweets portal, a corridor where traditional Colombian candies to satisfy any sweet tooth are sold.
A few blocks away is another of Cartagena’s main plazas, the fountain-filled Plaza de Bolívar. This recently renovated plaza is named after General Simón Bolívar, who liberated Cartagena from Spain in 1811. A status of him stands in the center of the plaza. At its base, an inscription reads: “Cartagenians: If Caracas gave me life, Cartagena gave me glory.”
Plaza de Bolívar was originally known as the Plaza of the Cathedral because it’s the site of the city’s magnificent 16th-century Minor Basilica. Much of the cathedral’s interior is accessorized with marble, while the wooden altar is richly adorned with gold. The exterior boasts a colorful bell tower and a Florentine-style dome. Plaza de Bolívar is also the location of the Biblioteca Bartolomé Calva, the city’s central library, and the city governor’s offices.
On the corner of Plaza de Bolívar is the Museo del Oro Zenú, the Gold Museum, which displays golden artifacts that date back to the Zenú, Cartagena’s pre-Columbian inhabitants. The museum tells the story of this gold-mining civilization and its significance to Cartagena’s history.
Across from the Gold Museum is the Inquisition Palace, one of the city’s most intriguing attractions. In the 1600s, Cartagena became the third and final site of the New World’s horrifying Spanish Inquisition, and this grandiose structure was the Court of the Holy Office, which held hundreds of trials of those accused of witchcraft and heresy. Now it houses a historical and archaeological museum that contains artifacts, documents, and strange torture devides that were used during the Inquisition, which finally ended after Cartagena’s independence. The nearby Customs Plaza is the site of a grand statue of Christopher Columbus, circa 1892.
Head to Plaza Santo Domingo to see Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s famous Gordita statue, which sits in front of the imposing Santo Domingo Church, the city’s oldest. The church’s construction began in 1551; it was intended to be completed in 10 years. Instead, it took almost 150 years to build. Legend has it that the devil tried to make the church collapse by vigorously shaking it, leaving its tower somewhat crooked.
Plaza de San Pedro Vlaver is where to find the church and convent of San Pedro Claver, which were constructed by the Jesuit community in the first half of the 17th century. Claver dedicated his life to campaigning for the abolition of slavery. Inside the church is a museum filled with art pieces from the time period, as well as a glass coffin that holds Claver’s remains.
A Visit to the Heredia Theater is a must for anyone who’s into the arts scene. The theater was build in 1911 to commemorate the centennial of Cartagena’s independence. It was restored in 1998 and it reamins the city’s hub for cultural events.
Ramble down cobblestoned streets under flowering balconies and bask in the warm glow of colonial and Spanish architecture. Explore Old City on your own after the relaxing horse-drawn carriage ride.
Visit the San Felipe Fortress and other key points of historical interest in Cartagena. Witness the infamous dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition and tour 17th-century masterpieces of Spanish architecture and engineering.
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