Walls? Walls? How can walls be a tourist spot? In Cartagena, Colombia, which traces its name through Spain to the original Carthage in Rome, the old colonial walls themselves are part of the tourist sites. It shares this with the walled city of Intramuros in Manila, where the colonizing Spaniards lived.
Struggling with Pirate Attacks
Although tiny by any standards, Cartagena, Colombia was a target of real-life pirates of the Caribbean. France was the first to attack, through pirate Robert Baal in 1544. He was followed by countryman Martin Cote in 1559, and then by Englishman John Hawkins (not Hopkins) in 1568. The Spanish in Cartagena tested out their new cannons on him.
In 1572, renowned British privateer (state-paid pirate) Sir Francis Drake managed to land on Cartagena, destroying Spanish property. This was in the days leading up to one of the Anglo-Spanish wars. The next to attack was Frenchman Baron de Pointis, and then the English took their turn with Admiral Edward Vernon.
Walls Against Pirate Attacks
Tired of being pillaged and attacked every few years, the Spanish began to build the Cartagena walls in the 1500s. They focused on the towns facing seaward, El Centro and San Diego, and had them fully surrounded by walls by 1608. By 1796, Cartagena was surrounded by gigantic walls both landward and seaward.
The Walls Today
Today, the walls that make up the most touristy part of Cartagena–Las Murallas–are the inner walls protecting El Centro and San Diego. Because those walls were the first ones finished, everything that needed to be kept safe were crammed into that small space. There are churches there, monasteries, and even plazas and the mansions of the old elite.
Colombian women in traditional dress walk the streets and sit by the sidewalks, carrying baskets of native and traditional food. You can go inside hotels that were convents, or inns that were elite mansions, and have a taste of how life was when the walls were the only thing between yourself and a pirate raid.
Have yourself a horse-and-carriage ride down the streets for an old-time transportation experience, or walk instead and look at all the sculptures and carvings dotting the streets. A walk will also give you the authentic experience of the uneven cobblestone streets, and a feeling of the warmth of the city.
You can also just spend time at the walls themselves. Walk along them, looking for the cannon-holding fortifications and the lookout towers every hundred feet or so. Turn your head to the other side, and admire the old Spanish houses built literally side against side, the top floors jutting over the bottom floors in their version of the balcony.
Last but not least, enjoy the colors. It is in the Spanish American culture to paint every house a different color from another, and to paint their top floors different from the bottom floors. Every convent, every church, every hotel is painted with the vivid reds, blues, and golds of the Colombian flag; accented in every shade imaginable. When it comes to visiting Cartagena, the old colonial walls are a definite must-see.