This album follows on from
One of two UNESCO world cultural heritage sites in Colombia, along with Mompós (see my two albums on that). And very different from Mompós. In the colonial period Cartagena was the principal harbour of northern South America. Situated on a couple of offshore islands, it differs from other colonial places in Colombia in that the streets are irregular rather than intersecting at right angles. It also was (indeed is) heavily fortified, so as to keep out the British, French, Dutch and other parasites (or did I mean pirates…?). Unlike Mompós it did not fall into a sleep in the 19th c. so architecturally it‘s a hodgepodge. Finally, it is totally overrun with tourists, not least because of the giant cruise ships that anchor there all the time. It‘s also easy to reach by plane from the US, and in the same time zone as for example New York City…
Main gate to the city. The clock tower is a 19th c. addition.
Casa de la Aduana (customs house).
The Casa de la Aduana apparently started life as the residence of Pedro de Heredia (he of the oversized masculinity), who founded C. in 1532. (Or was his house the one in the foreground? The former is what I understood, the latter looks more plausible somehow.)
Jesuit Church. Completed in 1654, then raped (though less badly than the cathedral) in the early 20th c. by French architect Gaston Lelarge. The cream-coloured bit is by him, as, presumably, is the current shape of the central round window. He also replaced the original cupola (not visible here) with a more elaborate one.
Inside the Jesuit convent.
Note the live exhibit.
Jesuit convent. „In this spot on 8 September 1654 died St. Pedro Claver, after forty years of voluntary slavery, of indefatigable labour in the service of those most destitute. He did not just stand there, but took first one step, then another, and another. His example lets us rise above ourselves…“ (Thus spoke Pope Francis on the occasion of his visit in 2017.) Born in Catalonia in 1580, Pedro Claver came to Cartagena as a young Jesuit. He rushed to the harbour with his helpers as soon as another slave ship entered the bay, feeding and washing the newly arrived black captives, tending to their wounds and illnesses etc. (Rather in the manner of a present-day NGO — doesn‘t this sort of thing actually also help the bad guys, like slave traders and warlords?)
Jesuit convent. This 18th-c. statue of the Virgin Mary has the vacant, disdainful look that not a few good-looking young women here wear even now…
Jesuit church. New cupola and rear window by Monsieur Lelarge; the high altar clearly isn’t original either.
This battered object was one of the very few pipe organs we encountered in Colombia. Bogotá cathedral has a large and obviously functional instrument, one or two other churches in Bogotá had what looked more like remnants of one. Whereas Mexico for example has countless organs from the colonial period, even in remote villages, in Colombia we saw none that pre-dated the 19th c. Clearly organs never really gained a foothold here.
This organ, it turns out, was commissioned by the diocese of Cartagena from the Italian firm of Moretti in Perugia to present to Pope Leo XIII on the occasion of his golden jubilee as a priest in 1888. Fresh from canonising Pedro Claver, the pope in his turn evidently remembered that he had a vague idea where Cartagena actually was, and presented the instrument to the Jesuit church (originally dedicated to San Ignacio de Loyola, but now to San Pedro Claver). The panel explains, rather disarmingly, that the instrument „functioned for some 90 years before ceasing to do so around 1980“. I suppose it did not occur to anyone that it might actually need a bit of maintenance now and then. An expert restorer would no doubt have little difficulty to get it going again. But who wants to listen to an organ?
Jesuit convent and city wall
Monument to St Pedro Claver in front of the Jesuit convent. The Church of Rome canonised Pedro Claver in 1888 and in 1985 put him in charge of its department of human rights (meaning if yours are violated he‘s the one to pray to). Colombia has about 10% black people. You see some in Bogotá, practically none elsewhere in the highlands. It‘s different here.
Monument to Pedro Claver and bell tower of the cathedral
Iglesia de Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo (17th c.). I confess I had never heard of Pedro Claver. Not to mention this guy. Toribio who? Turns out he was archbishop of Lima in the 16th c.
Iglesia de Santo Domingo. Completed in 1630. The tower on the left is evidently missing bits, which our guidebook claims is the result of some 18th-c. British bombardment. I could not verify this independently. The Spanish cultural institute occupies the former convent, and the statue is, of course, by Botero.
Iglesia de Santo Domingo
The biggest manmade structure in C. must be the enormous fortifications, which mostly date from the 17th c. (The second-biggest must be the cruise ships.)
Casa de la Inquisición. You can go in and look at some torture instruments. Established in 1610, the Cartagena branch office of the Spanish inquisition had jurisdiction over northern South America and the Caribbean though not over the Indios. The English Wikipedia article on the building claims that in the 200 years of its operation (until Colombia declared independence in 1810) there were 800 death sentences but this may be a misunderstanding. According to another source there were some 800 cases in total, with seven capital sentences, which seems more plausible (superficial research suggests that depending on period and place the inquisition resorted to the death penalty only in a small number of cases, generally well under 10%, certainly in the 17th and even more so in the 18th c.).
Completed in 1612, in 1912 the cathedral fell into the hands of the French architect, Gaston Lelarge, who over the next 10 years proceeded to strip it of its original furnishings. He then plastered (literally plastered) a profusion of wedding cake-style decoration in pastel colours all over it. The bell tower, the top of which you can see here, gives you an idea of what it was like. In 1973 the then archbishop had most of that removed, and very recently the building was restored again, resulting in its present, rather appealing bare-essentials look.
When I looked at photographs of the building before visiting I thought it looked small for a cathedral. The space actually feels vast — unfortunately my own photographs don’t really manage to convey that either.
The sole remnant of the original furnishings is the high altar. It lacks documentation (i.e. no one knows who made it or when) but is thought to date from the 18th c.
The bell tower of the cathedral remains a monument to Monsieur Lelarge and his style. That‘s because he actually demolished the original tower, replacing it with one made of concrete.
Casa de la Aduana
Next (and final) album on Colombia —
Cartagena: Bocagrande & Getsemaní