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History of Cartagena, Colombia

Precolombian era: 7000 BC - 1500 AD

The Caribbean region, particularly in the area from the Sinu River delta to the Cartagena de Indias bay, appears to be the first documented human community in today's Colombia: the Puerto Hormiga Culture.

Until the Spanish colonization many cultures derived from the Karib, Malibu and Arawak language families lived along the Caribbean Colombian coast. In the late pre-Columbian era, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, was home to the Tayrona people, closely related with the Chibcha family language.

Archaeologists estimate that around 7000 BC, the settlement of the formative Puerto Hormiga Culture, located near the limits between the departments of Bolivar and Sucre was established. In this area archaeologists have found the most ancient ceramic objects in the Americas, dating from around 4000 BC. The primary reason for the proliferation of primitive societies in this area is the relative mildness of climate and the abundance of wildlife which through continuous hunting allowed the inhabitants a comfortable life.

In today's villages of Maria La Baja, Sincerin, El Viso and Mahates and Rotinet, there have also been discoveries of the remains of culturally organized societies through the excavation of maloka type buildings, which are directly related to the early Puerto Hormiga settlements.

Archaeological investigations date the decline of the Puerto Hormiga culture and its related settlements to around 3000 BC. The rise of a much more developed culture, the Monsu, who lived at the end of the Dique Canal, near today's Cartagena neighborhoods Pasacaballos and Cienaga Honda at the northernmost part of Baru Island. The Monsu culture inherited the Puerto Hormiga culture's use of the art of pottery but also developed a mixed economy of agriculture and basic manufacture. the Monsu people's diet was based mostly on seashells, sweet- and salt-water fish.

The ethnologists who discovered Monsu, Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff and his wife Alicia Dussan, found an interesting artificial mound created by them consisting in vases and rests of skeletons. After the first excavations, the Monsu mound was found to be a communal hut that had strong wood logs around it and was built on different levels, each one from a different period of time. The most ancient of these is the Turbana Period, from 3350 BC. This archaeological zone, less than 6 miles from Cartagena de Indias' downtown boasts the most complete collection of ceramic instruments in Colombia and the American continent. The ceramic patterns found in Monsu, are a tour de force for students of archeology of the Caribbean sea basin and northern South America.

The Reichel-Dolmatoffs later found other artificial mounds, dating from 3200 to 1000 BC, thus making the suburbs of modern Cartagena the seat of the first organized society in Colombia, and one of the most ancient in the Americas.

The development of the Sinu society in today's department of Cordoba and Sucre, eclipsed these first developments around the Cartagena Bay area. Around 1500 the area was inhabited by different tribes of the Karib language family, more precisely the Mocanae sub-family. These were:

In the downtown island: Kalamari Tribe

In the Tierrabomba island: Carex Tribe

In the Baru island, then peninsula: Bahaire Tribe

In the eastern coast of the exterior bay: Cospique Tribe

In the suburban area of Turbaco: Yurbaco Tribe

Some subsidiary tribes of the Kalamari lived in today's neighborhood of Pie de la Popa, and other subsidiaries from the Cospique lived in the Membrillal and Pasacaballos areas. Among these, according to the first chronicles the Kalamari Tribe had preeminence.

These tribes, though physically and administratively separated, shared common architecture, such as hut structures consisting of circular rooms with tall roofs inside wooden palisades.

First sightings: 1500-1533

Since the failed foundation of Antigua del Darien in 1506 by Alonso de Ojeda, and the subsequent failed city of San Sebastian de Uraba in 1517 by Diego de Nicuesa, the southern Caribbean coast became a bit unattractive to colonizers, which preferred the more known Hispaniola and Cuba.

Though, the Casa de Contratacion gave permission to Rodrigo de Bastidas, (1460 - 1527), to again, conduct an expedition as adelantado to this areas. Bastidas, explored the coast and discovered the Magdalena River delta in his first journey from Guajira to the south in 1527, trip that ended in the Uraba gulf, seat of the failed first settlements. De Nicuesa and De Ojeda noted the existence of a big bay on the way from Santo Domingo to Uraba and Panama isthmus, encouraging De Bastidas to investigate.

Colonial era: 1533-1717

Cartagena de Indias was founded on 1 June 1533 by Spanish commander Pedro de Heredia, in the former seat of the indigenous Caribbean Calamari village. Most of Heredia's sailors were from Cartagena, Spain, a city founded by the Phoenicians in 228 BC and also a seaport. As the site had some geographical affinities with the newly discovered bay, thus they decided to name it as for their native city. See Juan de la Cosa).

Initially, life in the city was bucolic, with fewer than 2000 inhabitants and only one church. A few months after the disaster of the invasion of Cote (see below), a fire destroyed the city and forced the creation of a Firefighting Squad, the first in the Americas.De Castellanos, Juan; Historia de Cartagena, Bogota, Biblioteca de Cultura Popular de Colombia, 1942.

The dramatically increasing fame and wealth of the prosperous city turned it an attractive plunder site for pirates and corsairs . Just 30 years after its founding, the city was pillaged by a French Huguenot nobleman Jean-Francois Roberval, , known as "Robert Baal". The city then set about strengthening its defences and surrounding itself with walled compounds and castles. Martin Cote, a Basque from Biscay, soldier in Peru during the Peru Civil wars between the Spaniards, attacked years later.

Many pirates intended the same on Cartagena who was more and more notorious in the thieves' guilds in Europe:

Sir John Hawkins (England), (1532 - 1595): Tried to trick Gov. Martin de las Alas in 1568 to open (against the Spanish Law) a foreign fair in the city to sell its goods for then ravaging the port. The Governor declined and Hawkins tried to siege but failed.

Sir Francis Drake (England), (1540 - 1596): Nephew of Hawkins, the famed pirate came with a strong fleet and quickly took the city. The Governor circa 1574 Pedro Fernandez de Busto and the Archbishop fled to the neighboring town of Turbaco and from there negotiated the costly ransom for the city: 107,000 Spanish Eight Reales of the time (Around 200 mill. of today's USD), in any case, the future "Sir" destroyed 1/4 of the city, the developing Palace of the Township and the recently finished Cathedral. After this disaster Spain poured millions every year to the city for its protection, beginning with Gov. Francisco de Murga's planning of the walls and forts; this practice was called "Situado". The magnitude of this subsidy is shown by comparison: between 1751 and 1810, the city received the sum of 20,912,677 Spanish reales, the equivalent of some 2 trillion dollars today.

Sir Bernard Desjean, Baron de Pointis, (1645 - 1707), Jean du Casse 1697. Raid on Cartagena (1697) The city recovered quickly from the horrible takeover of Drake and kept growing. The port now seat of the Inquisition in the Caribbean (with Lima's and Mexico's the only 3 seats in America), many public buildings and servants, its importance was confirmed. Desjean's plans were far more than pillage: it was an invasion by all means. King Louis XIV whose mother was a Spanish Habsburg Royal princess, whose son was also the son of a Spanish Habsburg Princess wanted his grandson Felipe V to assert his rights to take over the exhausted, no male succession, Spanish Habsburgs throne and Cartagena de Indias could help significantly if taken "manu military", too.

The political vision behind this invasion was shadowed by the governor of Saint-Domingue (today's Haiti) Jean Baptiste Ducasse who brought his soldiers just to steal, the original plan ending as pirates and thieves again destroying the city. In any case, the entry wasn't easy, because of the recently finished first stage of walls and forts which slowed and made costly the victory. While Desjean only asked for 250,000 Spanish reales in ransom, Jean du Casse stayed a few months later and dishonored the promise of the Baron of respecting the churches and holy places and left them with nothing. The city again, lost everything. The XVIII century begins.

Other important events in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were:

Sixteenth century:

The brother of the founder, Pedro de Heredia, Alonso de Heredia founded Mompox, with the name Santa Cruz de Mompox to honour the then governor of the province, Jose de Santacruz who was about to make another unjust Residencia, sort of appointment, to his brother, planned by his enemies in the city. Residencia project was successfully overcamed by Heredia who later "residenced" Santacruz for his greed in the expedition made by him to Uraba in late 1537.

In its typical decentralised and autonomistic state policy, Spain put in Cartagena de Indias, a most interesting sea faring town, many administrative offices:

1. The Royal Houses of Customs, "La Aduana": Technically the Main directorate for Customs policy in New Granada and its dependencies. Cartagena de Indias's mayors office today is now located there.

2. The Royal Houses of Accountance: Most of its competences were in the State Finance area, making it analogous to a Ministry of Finance or a Secretary of the Treasury. This office was located in what is today Mapfre's House at La Inquisicion Street.

3. The Royal Mail House: Although dealing already in 1540 it became developed in the eighteenth century, staying there till 1821 when it was renamed with the Independence, , delivering most of the post in New Granada and to Europe. Today's SUDEB's house occupies its original place.

4. The Royal Consulate of Commerce of Cartagena de Indias: A privately-run institution with public charter, the Consulates of Commerce were express courts for trading quarrels and to promote trade and development in its area. Until 1790 was the only in the area, then succeeded by Caracas (1790), Mompox (1793), Panama (1798), Santafe (1805) and others.

5. The sea farers Hospital: First and Only military hospital in the area, and until the foundation of the San Juan De Dios Hospital in Bogota the only in New Granada. On its first floor a Poor People's Hospital worked until the San Carlos Hospital in 1730 and the Poors Hospital were opened up in the Santa Clara convent. Today's Naval Museum, with the poor's Hospital in its first floor for a while, they were replaced by those on Gastelbondo Street (San Carlos), and today's Sofitel Santa Clara Hotel, formerly the "Poors Hospital of Santa Clara of Assisi".

6.Headquarters of the Royal Regular Armies of Cartagena de Indias: In New Granada, like in most Spanish America, military presence was at least nule and when present was quite concentrated in the important towns : Havana, Mexico City, Lima, Panama and Cartagena de Indias. The permanent army post in New Granada had its headquarters in today's Judges Offices in Cuartel Street. This made Cartagena de Indias also the seat to something similar to a Ministry of Defense in a modern country.

Seventeenth century:

During the governorship of Rafael Capsir an interesting event occurred in the city: the "Cessatio a Divinis". The nuns of the Santa Clara convent, on becoming richer than their supervising male tutors, the Franciscan friars wished to become independent of them and their financial advice. The Archbishop agreed with the petition of the nuns but the Franciscans protested and then they made party with the Governor, who decided to storm the Convent, but finding then that the Archbishop forbade the prior of the Franciscans to say mass (Cessatio a Divinis). The nuns then thought it wiser to reverse their petition but the Archbishop, already involved, preferred to continue.

It is said, that the city was terribly distressed by the conflict, daily fights in the streets taking place between citizens acknowledging each of the factions . The conflict ended depriving finally the Franciscans of tutoring financially the nuns but with the Archbishop being banned, too, of the city.

The Portuguese Company of Cacheu, dedicated to slave trading was closed down by the Crown because of reported frauds and tax money embezzlement. This slaves trading company was located opposite today's Marquis de Valdehoyos house (Calle de la Factoria).

Jesuit father Pedro Claver y Corbero, , today known as a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church, , and "The slave of the black slaves" departed after numerous requests, on 1622, to the strategic harbor of Cartagena de Indias. There he met and worked together with Jesuit father Alonso de Sandoval, the author of probably the most influential book, De instauranda ethiopum salute, 2 improved editions in Spanish during the XVII Century and other later editions in Spanish, on black people ethnology, black African people and African black slaves sold there and brought from West Occidental Africa.

The Township Palace and Governors House was finished.

The fame of this prosperous city turned it into the plunder site for pirates and thieves; the legions for the countrys defence soon became insufficient, which is why the kings of Spain decided to approve the construction of castles, forts, and walls that surrounded the city.

During the 17th century, the Spanish Crown hired the services of prominent European military engineers to carry out the construction of fortresses, which are nowadays one of Cartagena's clearest signs of identity. Engineering works took well over 208 years, and ended with some eleven kilometres of walls surrounding the city, namely, the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castillo_San_Felipe_de_Barajas, named in honor of Spain's King Philip IV. It was built during the Governorship of Pedro Zapata de Mendoza, Marquis of Barajas, and was constructed to repel land attacks, equipped with sentry boxes, buildings for food and weapons storage, underground tunnels.

This powerful military complex was completed with:

1. The San Sebastian del Pastelillo Fort: in today's neighborhood of Manga, called del Pastelillo (the cupcake) because of its low altitude to avoid being affected by the Castle of San Felipe whose cannons may have destroyed it if made taller. The fort replaced the first defense of the city: The Tower of Boqueron, a tower that dominated the bay and city, similar to Torre del Homenaje in Santo Domingo, but round.

2. The Santa Cruz de Castillogrande Fort: in today's neighborhood of Castillogrande, near today's Naval Club, a cross shaped fort which controlled the entry in the inner bay.

3. The San Juan de Manzanillo Fort: smaller than its counterpart, Castillogrande, in order not to crossfire it, but in the opposite side of the strait.

4. The San Luis de Bocachica Fort: Beautifully finished cross shaped fort, an exponent of the renaissance military architecture, dominated alone the Bocachica strait which lead to the ocean but was destroyed by Admiral Edward Vernon in the XVIII century, circa 1741, in spite of his failure trying to conquer Cartagena de Indias. Only some remains can be seen at some places of Bocachica, near its successor, built after 1741, the San Fernando Fort.

5. The San Fernando de Bocachica Fort: Built nearer to the sea than its older brother, the San Luis, it was more modern and state-of-the-art, being more roundly shaped, with space for more musketeers rather than massive cannons, and fare more neoclassical and delicate in its outer layers, revealing the tendency in military architecture in the eighteenth century.

6. The San Jose de Bocachica batteries: Built with the new plan of the San Fernando Fort, was designed to point to the line of flotation of the ships, and that's why its almost under sea level.

7. The Angel San Rafael Battery: A masterpiece of the history of military architecture, it's the only exponent in the world of "inside defense". The battery has few cannons to the outside, only the necessary to support the defense of San Fernando but its use was to attract the sieging forces to enter in a tunnel that appear as accidentally opened 500 meters away from the fort. The idea behind was to let invaders think it was easier to siege the castle of San Fernando.

At the end of the tunnel, it enters to a dry moat inside the battery where more than 400 muskets were located pointing just at the first entrance. The design of the "devil holes" where the muskets were placed, could not be seen by the invaders, trapped then in a lethal ground . Although no one seems to have experienced this deadly trap, tests done with cattle in the late eighteenth century confirmed the usefulness of the idea. Recently the battery, a jewel of the crown in the military architecture history, was rebuilt after years of neglect.

8. The Santa Barbara Battery: Designed near the tunnel entrance to Angel San Rafael was a small battery used as a decoy and to support fire to the Bocachica system, its most important function being to attract the siegers to the mainland so they could glimpse the tunnel entrance and in so doing, being fired at the Angel San Rafael deadly moat. The Santa Barbara battery disappeared over the years, only its founding stones remaining above the sea.

9. The Batteries of Chamba and Santiago: Mainly designed as support batteries for San Luis fort, razed down by Admiral Edward Vernon in 1741. The ruins of both batteries remain are near the shore of the Tierrabomba Island, but no plans exist to rebuild them.

10. The Batteries of Mas, Crespo and the Revellin of El Cabrero: Destroyed by erosion and the desperate efforts of the nineteenth century administrations to dynamize the city's building industry were support forts for the massive San Lucas and Santa Catalina fortresses in the city walls.

11. The walls of the old city. 11 km of walls, more than 20 mini forts within it, 4 auxiliary doors, only one bridge-fort to connect the city to the mainland.

Explanations are unnecessary: when the defenses were finished in 1756, the city was simply impossible to take over. There is a legend, that when reviewing the costs of the defenses of Spain in Havana and Cartagena de Indias, in an effort to reform the chronic spending of his predecessors, Charles III of Spain, in his famed ironic style said while at Madrid, Spain, after taking his spyglass: "This is outrageous! For this price those castles should be seen from here!"

Cartagena was a major trading port, specially for precious metals. Gold and silver from the mines in New Granada and Peru were loaded in Cartagena on the galleons bound for Spain via Havana. Cartagena was also a slave port; Cartagena and Veracruz (Mexico) were the only cities authorized to trade with black people. The first slaves arrived with Pedro de Heredia and they worked as cane cutters to open roads, in the desecration of tombs of the aboriginal population of Sinu, and in the construction of buildings and fortresses. The agents of the Portuguese company Cacheu distributed human 'cargos' from Cartagena for mine exploitation in Venezuela, the West Indies, the Nuevo Reino de Granada and the Viceroyalty of Peru.

On 5 February 1610, the Catholic Monarchs established from Spain the Inquisition Holy Office Court in Cartagena de Indias by a Royal Decree issued by King Philip II. The Inquisition Palace, finished in 1770, is still there with its original features of colonial times. When Cartagena declared its complete independence from Spain on November 11, 1811, the inquisitors were urged to leave the city. The Inquisition operated again after the Reconquest in 1815, but it disappeared definitely when Spain surrendered six years later before the patriotic troops led by Simon Bolivar.

Viceregal era: 1717-1810

Although the eighteenth century began very badly for the city, soon the downward tendency was curbed. The pro-trade economic policies of the new dynasty in Madrid bolstered the economic performance of Cartagena de Indias and the establishment of the Viceroyalty of the New Granada in 1717 had the city as the greatest beneficiary of the colony.

The reconstruction after the Raid on Cartagena (1697) was initially slow, but with the ending of the War of the Spanish Succession around 1711 and the competent administration of D. Juan Diaz de Torrezar Pimienta the walls were rebuilt, the forts reorganized and restored and the public services and buildings reopened. By 1710, the city was fully recovered. At the same time, the slow but steady reforms of the restricted trade policies in the Spanish Empire encouraged the establishment of new trade houses and private projects. During the reign of Philip V of Spain the city had many new public works starting or ending like the new fort of San Fernando, the Hospital of the Obra Pia and the full paving of all the streets and the opening of new roads.

Admiral Edward Vernon failed expedition to conquer Cartagena de Indias in 1741

In March 1741 the city endured a large-scale attack by British and American colonial troops led by admiral Edward Vernon, (1684 - 1757), who arrived at Cartagena with a massive fleet of 186 ships and 23,600 men, including 12,000 infantry, against only 6 Spanish ships and less than 6,000 men, in an action known as the Battle of Cartagena de Indias. The siege was broken off due to the start of the tropical rainy season, after weeks of intense fighting in which the British landing party was successfully repelled by the Spanish and native forces led by commander General Blas de Lezo y Olavarrieta, , a Basque from the Gipuzkoa lands , (Spain).

Heavy British casualties were compounded by diseases such as yellow fever. This victory prolonged Spain's control of the Caribbean waters, which helped secure its large Empire until the 19th century. Admiral Vernon was accompanied by American Colonial troops, including George Washington brother, Lawrence Washington , who was so impressed with Vernon he named his Mount Vernon agriculturasl estate after him.

Bogota and Cartagena, the Athenas of America

After Vernon began what is called the 'Silver Age' of the city (1750-1808). This time was of permanent expansion of the existing buildings, massive inmigration from all the other cities of the Viceroyalty, the increase of the economic and political power of the city and a population spur that hasn't been seen yet again. For these events, the political power that was already shifting from Bogota to the coast, definitely did and the Viceroys decided to reside in the city for good. The inhabitants of the city were the richest of the colony, the aristocracy formed noble houses with their land estates, libraries and prints were opened, and even the first cafe in New Granada was established. These good times of steady progress and advance of the second half of the eighteenth century came into an abrupt end in 1808, with the general crisis of the Spanish Empire, embodied in the Mutiny of Aranjuez, with all its consequences.

For more than 275 years, Cartagena was part of the Spanish Crown. On November 11, 1811, Cartagena declared its independence.

Peninsular War, revolution, crisis, independence and the nineteenth century: 1810-1900

If there is a word to describe the Cartagena in the nineteenth century, is by far: decadence. Followed by instability, revolution, impoverishment and depopulation. The chaos brought by the Mutiny of Aranjuez to the Empire and the French invasion of the peninsula put the stability of the Spanish ancient regime in shambles. Although there were two years of grace for the city to prepare itself for what was coming

The recovery - 1900-1980

Recent history - 1980-today

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