Sitting on the rooftop of our hotel in the Getsemani area of Cartagena you first see the old city wall to defend against pirate attack, then across an open stretch of water rises the hulking shape of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. The largest and most powerful fort the Spanish ever constructed in the Americas.
So wealthy had Cartagena become, and so frequent the pirate attacks, that the Spanish decided to improve the city’s defences with a series of walls and forts. One of the natural entrances to the inner harbour of Cartagena (Boca Grande) was sealed off with a large chain and an underwater wall. Two large forts were constructed at the remaining harbour entrance (Boca Chica), and the enormous Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas was built overlooking the city.
The fort proved to be impregnable, and despite repeated attempts was never taken by an opposing force.
The fort is immense, and an hour spent walking the ramparts with views over the city and ferreting around in the underground tunnels that connect various strategic points in the fort is a rewarding experience. The tunnels plunge deep into the interior of the fortress and are narrow, stiflingly hot and dark – not a place for anyone who has claustrophobia.
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