Torture in paradise, the Spanish Inquisition comes to Cartagena

The Inquisition, or as it was known within the Catholic Church, Inquiry on Heretical Perversity, had been around for several centuries by the time King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain launched the Spanish Inquisition in 1478.

Up to that point the suppression of ‘heresy’ by the Catholic Church in Europe had rarely used torture to force confessions and only the occasional heretic was put to death. The Spanish Inquisition was to change that dramatically, and with the founding of colonies in the sixteenth century, it wasn’t long before the insidious tentacles of the Inquisition reached Spain’s new overseas possessions.

Today, Cartagena has a small but fascinating museum dedicated to the Spanish Inquisition in the city. An added benefit of a visit to the Palace of the Inquisition is that it is housed in one of the finest colonial buildings in the city.

Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

La Garrucha, an instrument of torture, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

La Garrucha, an instrument of torture, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

I wouldn’t want to accuse those lovely Dominican monks who carried out the Inquisition in the Americas of getting inappropriate sexual kicks from torture, but the middle rope on the ‘Rack’ below was attached to the testicles which were stretched along with the rest of the unfortunate person.

The Rack, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

The Rack, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

In Spain the Inquisition was aimed at ‘cleansing’ the recently reconquered country of Islamic or Jewish influences, and was under the control of the Spanish monarchy who had numerous motives for adopting it as a measure of state control. Yet it came at a time of general moral uncertainty in Europe. There was a long-term change in the weather leading to a prolonged cold period which devastated agriculture and led to starvation and social upheaval.

The Catholic Church, along with everyone else, hadn’t got a clue about climate fluctuations and decided to blame it on witches, magicians and other heretical types. It may seem laughable today that a wave of torture and Church-sponsored killing was unleashed because climate change reinforced people’s fear that witches were at work. Yet, in the absence of science the easiest course of action was to fall back on superstition.

Instrument of torture, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Instrument of torture, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Neck brace, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Neck brace, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

It was against this backdrop that the somewhat inappropriately named Pope Innocent VIII launched a campaign against witchcraft in 1484. The suppression of witchcraft was to form a central pillar of the Spanish Inquisition and led to countless denunciations of the innocent. In Cartagena, there was a special window on one side of the Palace of the Inquisition for denouncing people.

There was an established routine for questioning ‘suspected’ witches, or as we know them today, women. This included a fascinating questionnaire of thirty three questions. I particularly like the examination of the entertainment at the witch’s demonic wedding: “What kind of music was played? What were the dances? Did not you dance?” Apparently, music and dancing were not good in the eyes of the Inquisition.

Interestingly, no one thought to ask the most obvious question, “Are you a witch?” No room for innocent until proven guilty in the Inquisition.

Denunciation window, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Denunciation window, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Questions asked to a 'suspected' witch, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Questions asked to a ‘suspected’ witch, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

And, of course, there was the traditional ducking stool. A device so devious that you only died if you were innocent; whereas if you lived you were guilty. Of course you were immediately put to death for being a witch so either way things didn’t turn out well.

Witch's ducking stool, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Witch’s ducking stool, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

The Inquisition in Spain was to have serious implications for hundreds of thousands of innocent people across the Spanish colonies during the reign of Philip II of Spain. Under Philip the Inquisition was to reach fanatical heights. He established the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in the Americas in 1569, to be run by the Dominican Order throughout the Spanish colonies.

Instrument of torture, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Instrument of torture, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Thumb screw, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Thumb screw, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

The Inquisition remained active in Spain until 1834, and was an active ‘department’ of the Holy See until the mid-nineteenth century, when it changed its name to something less associated with torture and death. Today it is known as Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Instrument of torture, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

Instrument of torture, Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

A walking tour of Cartagena de Indias

Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, literally drips with history. It is redolent with every story of pirates, the Spanish Maine and buried treasure ever told. Wandering the ancient streets lined with beautiful buildings with overhanging flower-filled balconies, history seems to seep out of the walls.

There are some ‘must see’ places in Cartagena, but the best way to experience the life of the city is to discard the map and go wherever the sea breeze takes you. There isn’t a street inside the old walled city that doesn’t reveal some new delight, whether a shady plaza to sit and people watch or a tiny bar blaring out hypnotic music where a cold beer is obligatory in the heat of the day.

I’ve visited some old colonial towns that feel similar to Cartagena – Galle in Sri Lanka, or Ibo in Mozambique – but nothing compares to Cartagena for its mixture of vibrancy and history. It would be worth visiting for the food alone. Although photographs can’t evoke the people, smells, sounds or the humidity, here is a selection of my favourites.

Beer, Cartagena, Colombia

Beer, Cartagena, Colombia

Street food, Cartagena, Colombia

Street food, Cartagena, Colombia

Door knocker, Cartagena, Colombia

Door knocker, Cartagena, Colombia

Street art, Cartagena, Colombia

Street art, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street art, Cartagena, Colombia

Street art, Cartagena, Colombia

Fruit seller, Cartagena, Colombia

Fruit seller, Cartagena, Colombia

Statue of monk Pedro Claver who worked to help African slaves, Cartagena, Colombia

Statue of monk Pedro Claver who worked to help African slaves, Cartagena, Colombia

Fruit seller, Cartagena, Colombia

Fruit seller, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street performer, Cartagena, Colombia

Street performer, Cartagena, Colombia

Balcony, Cartagena, Colombia

Balcony, Cartagena, Colombia

Street art, Cartagena, Colombia

Street art, Cartagena, Colombia

Street food, Cartagena, Colombia

Street food, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Street, Cartagena, Colombia

Statue of Catalina, the Carib woman who acted as an interpreter for the first Spanish, Cartagena, Colombia

Statue of Catalina, the Carib woman who acted as an interpreter for the first Spanish, Cartagena, Colombia

Arequipa’s colonial charm, ceviche and Pisco Sour

After ten months in a landlocked country arrival in Peru meant one thing: fresh, ocean-going fish. That our first dish of ceviche, washed down with a Pisco Sour, came after a 20 hour journey from La Paz involving three different buses, including a nighttime journey over a mountain pass through a blizzard, and was eaten in the colonial surroundings of Arequipa, only made it more delicious.

Ceviche, Arequipa, Peru

Out of focus ceviche, Arequipa, Peru

Arequipa is a beautiful city, full of colonial-era buildings, ornate churches and one of the finest plazas in Latin America. It is also dramatically situated with a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, including the active volcano, El Misti – thanks to the low cloud of the rainy season we didn’t get a view of the mountains and had to use our imaginations instead.

Arequipa Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Peru

Arequipa Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Peru

Fountain, Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Fountain, Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Fountain, Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Fountain, Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Without the vast tourist hordes of Cusco, Arequipa has a more relaxed feel that could easily seduce you for several days of culinary over-indugence in-between visits to museums and churches. Arequipa is a base to explore the Colca Canyon and to climb the nearby mountains, sadly we only had three days to linger here en route to Lima and our flight to the Caribbean.

It is a great city to stroll around admiring the architecture and sampling Peruvian culinary delicacies. In fact, the only real problem with Arequipa is the traffic. The number of cars (and the number of cars being driven by lunatics) takes some of the sheen off this lovely city. When crossing the road requires life insurance there really is a problem.

Arequipa Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Peru

Arequipa Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Peru

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Cars, Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Arequipa Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Peru

Arequipa Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Peru

Fountain, Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

Fountain, Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

I’ve always found it strange when you come across an ancient building put to modern usage, where the exterior of the building is in complete disagreement with the interior. In Arequipa there are just so many ancient building that not all of them can be museums. Instead, they are banks, airline offices, government departments…and the ubiquitous ’boutique’ hotel.

Ornate doorway, Arequipa, Peru

Ornate doorway to a bank, Arequipa, Peru

Door knocker, Arequipa, Peru

Door knocker, Arequipa, Peru

Ornate window, Arequipa, Peru

Ornate window, Arequipa, Peru

Courtyard, Arequipa, Peru

Courtyard, Arequipa, Peru

Alleyway behind the cathedral, Arequipa, Peru

Alleyway behind the cathedral, Arequipa, Peru

Colonial-era quadrangle, Arequipa, Peru

Colonial-era quadrangle, Arequipa, Peru

Fountain in colonial-era quadrangle, Arequipa, Peru

Fountain in colonial-era quadrangle, Arequipa, Peru

Arch in colonial-era quadrangle, Arequipa, Peru

Arch in colonial-era quadrangle, Arequipa, Peru

Colonial-era quadrangle, Arequipa, Peru

Colonial-era quadrangle, Arequipa, Peru