Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Exploring Cartagena, the Old City – by Vicki

Wealthy contemporary Cartagenians prefer to live in high rise apartments

The Old City, a world heritage site, stands pretty much as it stood when Colombia first began its lengthy struggle for independence from Spain (1811). Economic stagnation in many respects “saved” the Old City – few people could afford to make changes and when prosperity finally returned in the 20th century people chose to live elsewhere. It’s a city which reflects the riches of colonial Spain in the 1700s through its churches, housing, and commerce.

Centro and San Diego
The upper and middle class suburbs of Centro and San Diego are where most tourists explore and where the most extensive renovations have been made.

Torre del Reloj or Clock Tower entrance.  The gateways through the fortified
walls provide a sense of arrival, a barrier to the traffic and a great pedestrian
experience around Centro.

Passing through the Torre del Reloj, the first of many fine plaza’s unfolds

The grand old houses of the upper class are two and three storey’s above the street. 

At street level coral stone blocks inset with large heavy doors are all that
can be seen of many houses. 
But once across the threshold the true nature of these elegant houses is revealed,
with indoor/outdoor living spaces flexibly connecting themselves to beautiful,
shady landscape courtyards, often featuring the cooling charm of water.

Nowadays many of these houses have been converted to stunning boutique hotels.

Centro has a charm that captivates - street plaques, balconies, narrow lanes. Glimpses of churches rising heaven wards can be seen across roof-tops. Gardens and parks are a refuge from the crowds. Novel street barrows engender a smile. In the evening the buildings reflect a warm glow – shell pink, cream, and ochre - but at midday they are bleached under the intense sun.

Life imitates art, art imitates life.

Getsemani and La Matuna
We also explored the old slum areas of Getsemani and La Matuna, which have their own fortified wall onto the laguna but which sit outside the main fortified wall. Getsemani still remains the poor cousin to Centro and is less visited by the cruise-ship tourist. Our walking route from Mojombo to the Old City took us through Getsemani, provding ample opportunity to explore the lanes and squares. Houses are smaller, mostly one storey. UNESCO dollars have not remade this part of town and a kaleidoscope of colour and stone can appear at any corner.


Manga, the suburb where we stay has some interesting features for the sharp eye to enjoy. Grand casas are well loved, there are many apartments and relic fortifications, but anti-social activities raise the ire of some.

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