Cartagena, also known as Cartagena De Indies is one of the most energetic and dynamic Caribbean Port City. This city has a historical storyline of conquistadors and tussles for independence, and most importantly, the colorful colonial architecture, sustaining after all these years which speak of its timelessness. The old town of Cartagena is enclosed by a spectacular 13 km long stone wall, acting as a self-defensive element of its dwellers since 1796. The old city and San Diego are the heart and soul of this Caribbean city.

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Considering the old town’s distinctive architectural language [mostly of Spanish-Colonial influences] and the vibe it creates, Cartagena is also called as Jewel of the Indies. In 1984, this colonial walled city and fortress were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here are some of the precious gems; an architect must visit while traveling in Cartagena, the ancient city which is full of life.

Places to visit in Cartagena1. Torre Del Reloj

Torre Del Reloj or Puerta Del Reloj is the main gateway for the Historic center of Cartagena, the original entrance of the fortified city. The name Puerta Del Reloj applies to the clock tower with which it was crowned at the beginning of the 18th century. This tower bears witness to the great physical and social changes that the city has undergone for more than five centuries. It has bombproof storage vaults on either side of the tower that once served as storage spaces for food and ammunition. The tower has a postclassic style of façade with Roman arches and two pairs of Tuscan columns with triglyphs. It is one of the most photographed landmarks in the city: beautiful, pastel yellow building, sheltering some shopping stalls beneath the arches.

Front of Torre Del Reloj
Front of Torre Del Reloj; Source: Jade Milette
Rear of Torre Del Reloj 1
Rear of Torre Del Reloj; Source: David Shankbone

2. St. Catherine Basilica of Alexandria

This Cathedral is popularly known as the Cathedral of Cartagena and it is in the historic center of the old town. The old structure, designed by master builder, Simón González was influenced by Baroque architecture. The construction began in the year 1577 and although the process was delayed due to an attack by the English Privateer Francis Drake, causing severe damage to the construction, it got completed in 1612. In the early 20th century, it was totally redesigned by a French architect, Gaston Lelarge. The cathedral houses a stunning 18th-century gilded altar and a Carrara marble pulpit with intricate ornamentations.

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View of St. Catherine Basilica of Alexandria; Source: Jack Zalium/
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View of St. Catherine Basilica of Alexandria; Source: David Crookes
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View of the Altar- St. Catherine Basilica of Alexandria; Source: Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz

3. Castle of San Felipe

One of the biggest fortresses built by Spaniards, Castillo De San Felipe De Barajas is a magnificent structure. This fortress is slightly located outside the city walls; designed in a unique triangular layout by the Spanish during the early 15th century and got expanded later. The planning of the castle itself is interesting as it consists of a complex network of tunnels that reverberates noises from miles away, narrow underground dungeons, cannons pointing out the sea, and colorful streets filled with Bougainvilleas, which on the whole creates a vibrant environment. Having been built high up on a hill, this castle offers spectacular views of the old town, the modernistic skyline over the sea and great viewpoints that can make everyone adore the flawless sunset every day!

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View of the Castle San Felipe; Source: Martin St-Amant
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Cannons in the Castle, Facing the Sea
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Underground Tunnel in the Castle; Source: Boris Henriot/

4. Plaza De La Aduana

Aduana plaza, being the largest and the oldest one is in the heart of the Cartagena city. In the colonial era, all the important government administrations were located around this plaza, which was used as a parade ground. The stunning architecture around the plaza adds more beauty to space. A statue of Christopher Columbus is located at the center for honoring his explorations. The plaza is often converted into open-air concert venues and hosts many events, including the Cartagena International Film Festival.

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Plaza De La Aduana; Source: Stefano Sanvito

5. Zenu Gold Museum

An old colonial mansion is now converted into a museum that displays the intrinsic work of Zenu people’s craftmanship in gold, who once inhabited the coastal regions of Cartagena. This museum houses many gold artifacts and jewelry around the city. These people were amazing goldsmiths of their age and this museum is a living testament of their talent.

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Zenu Gold Museum; Source:
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Artifacts of Zenu Gold Museum; Source:
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Rose Christina Jeyaseelan,24-year-old architect, also a sustainability aficionado. Architecture for her is a journey through darkness searching for light. Personally, she loves to travel, sketch and explore the unexplored and she has a huge obsession over northern lights. Her interest in books have led the way to develop passion for writing as well. Here in RTF, she wishes to curate her perspective and chasmic thoughts on architecture and design.

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