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Cartagena’s Old City Walls: Las Murallas

Referring to Cartagena’s murallas (walls), Colombians endearingly call the city “El Corralito de Piedra” (little stone corral). These walls are one of the most salient features of the city. After Drake sacked the city in 1568, the Spanish started fortifying access to the bay and the perimeter wall around the city. The effort took almost two centuries to complete. The walls that can be seen today are mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Fortified walls surrounding the historic Spanish colonial city of Cartagena in Colombia.
A paseo (walk) on the walls is the quintessential Cartagena late-afternoon experience. Photo © Jeremy Richards/123rf.

The most impressive part of the wall is the stretch that runs parallel to the sea. This includes three baluartes (bulwarks, or ramparts) where Spaniards stood ready to defend the city from attack. The massive Baluartes de San Lucas y de Santa Catalina, built in the very north of the city to repel attacks from land, are known as Las Tenazas because they are shaped like pincers. When the sea started depositing sediments and expanding the seashore, thus enabling the enemy to maneuver south along the wall, the Spanish built a spike to halt them. This defensive structure, known as El Espigón de la Tenaza, is now home to the Museo de las Fortificaciones (Baluarte de Santa Catalina, tel. 5/656-0591, 8am-6pm daily, COP$7,000). At the westernmost tip of the walls, facing the sea, is the equally impressive Baluarte Santo Domingo, now home to Café del Mar. At the southern tip of the segment of walls facing the sea, next to the Plaza Santa Teresa, are the Baluartes de San Ignacio y de San Francisco Javier, also home to a pleasant outdoor bar.

A paseo (walk) on the walls is the quintessential Cartagena late-afternoon experience, enjoyed by international visitors, Colombian honeymooners, and Cartagenan high school students still in their school uniforms. The best time for this promenade is around 5pm. In the evenings, vacationers head to the handful of bars for a pre- or post-dinner drink. Avoid strolling the wall late at night, especially alone.

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