Essential Cartagena.
“Old city and walls tour”

Chapter 2


Néstor Meléndez Soler

·                 LA INDIA CATALINA:

The statue of La India Catalina is one of the top landmarks In Cartagena de Indias. It is a representation of a very important aborigine woman in the history of this city.

The statue was created and sculpted in 1961 by the city artist Hector Lombana, who designed it as a handheld trophy, requested by the organizers to be the prize award for the International Movie festival of Cartagena.

In 1974, it was casted in bronze by Eladio Gil, and that is the feminine figure you can now see over the pedestal.

The winners of the now movie and television festival keep on being awarded with the small version as the prize for every category. As an analogy, it can be said that the India Catalina is like the Oscar for the Colombian audiovisual industry.  

The real India Catalina was an aborigine from this area that was abducted as a child girl by the Spaniards. Then she was taken to Santo Domingo in the actual Dominican Republic, where she was raised in the European culture.

There she learned the Spanish language, the Catholicism and grew up into a young lady. When the conquistador Pedro de Heredia, was sent on a mission to explore the surroundings of this area, he brought with the expedition the beautiful Catalina to act as an interpreter with the aborigines of the zone. She knew the tribes, both languages and was of great help for the expeditionary force as she also knew the territory.

The founding of the city occurred in the terrains where the indigenous tribe Kalamari had its domains. Catalina was the nephew of the chief of the tribe and helped to convince him of letting De Heredia claim this land for the Kingdom of Spain, on the first day of June of the year of the Lord 1533.

She also was an advantage for the Conquistadores because her family was of great influence amongst the different tribes of the region. Pedro de Heredia used her to get information from the tribes, of where they hidden their treasures and the sacred tombs that were filled with gold objects; traditionally the indigenous were buried with their belongings. The looting of the Zenúes tombs and treasures made De Heredia a very rich person.

It is said that the Conquistador and Catalina had a love affair and that she was his mistress for many years. They both were the initial representation of the racial mix that was going to happen onwards.

In 1536, Catalina would accuse Pedro de Heredia to the king authorities of stealing gold to the crown, as she testified against the Conquistador. He would be found guilty and taken to Spain where he bribed the authorities and came back to Cartagena with a superior assignment as an “Adelantado”, with even more authority than the one he had before. 

In 1555 Pedro de Heredia was finally found guilty of mistreating the aboriginal population of the Zenúes, especially because he tortured them to uncover the location for the treasures of the tribe and their sacred tombs.
Pedro de Heredia escaped from prison and embarked on a ship to Spain where he was going to appeal the sentence but the boat where he sailed got sank during a torment.

The history of the India Catalina gets lost in 1536, however she was the representation of the miscegenation and the evangelization of the different tribes that lived in the territories of her indigenous race.

Her monument is part of the treasures of this city and the legacy left by the India Catalina, confronts those who see her as a traitor to her race, and others that think of she as the representation of the mix of cultures that happened afterwards in this city of Cartagena and eventually in all of Colombia.


The baluarte (bastion) of San Pedro Martir is one of the many strongholds that conform all of the military defenses that were built by the Spanish crown to deter enemies from invading the port city. It overlooks the lakes Chambacú and El Cabrero, which are connected via channels to the bay and the Cienagas (swamps).

The construction was started by the military engineer, Cristobal de Roda, in 1630. It was finished under the supervision of Pando de Estrada in 1683. The intention was to stop possible attacks by water and to give extra fire power from the cannons that could be pointed to the enemies that would may come by this way.

It is located in the barrio San Diego a traditional neighbourhood of the colonial city. It was lived by middle class families of the times, artisans, militaries, sailors and others.

You can climb to the bastion and the walls by the ramp located in the corner.

From up there you will be able to see part of the geography all around the place that made it such a perfect location to set up defences and strongholds. At the distance outside of the walls there is the stone fortress Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, built over the San Lazaro Mountain, from where the defenders complimented the power of the artillery that was fired from this and other bastions. Also you can see the La Popa Mountain from where there is a 360° view of the surroundings, so any movement at daylight hours could be easily detected.

Feel free to walk by the walls, imagine how the defenders could deliver huge amounts of fire power to possible invaders.

You can keep on walking by the wall too, having the street and the mangrove swamp at your right side. There is another tour location just ahead.  

·               LA TENAZA:

La Tenaza, or The Tong. It’s a junction between the bulwarks of Santa Catalina, the one overlooking the sea and San Lucas that goes parallel to what is now the neighbourhoods of El Cabrero and Marbella. In those times there was there a mangrove forest.

Both baluartes were built to protect the city by the northeast. Ordered by the governor Francisco de Murga these were made in an Italian fortification style against the recommendations of the Spanish military engineer Cristobal de Roda. This part of the wall was finished in 1638.

The force of the sea and many attacks by this flank made necessary to resolve the matter. The military engineer Antonio de Arevalo, decided in 1779 to create an escollera or fortified jetty, into the sea to stop the force of the waves that created flooding in the city. Accordingly a beach was created with the sediment. From this tongue the defenders were able to settle cannons and troops, they would get into the fortification by a subterraneous tunnel connected to the walls.

This invention was later used in Cartagena to gain terrain from the sea and make way for beaches and land. You can see some of these all over the seacoast of the city.

·       LAS BOVEDAS:

The section of the muralla known as Las Bovedas is a good place to buy some handcrafts and memorabilia of your visit to Cartagena de Indias.
The prices are fair and there is a huge variety of products and stores.

Las Bovedas were built in 1798 by Don Antonio Arévalo. The building was made to resist bombs and explosives. It housed troops and was also deposit for weapons and ammunitions. There are 47 half point arches and 23 vaults. The vaults were used as a prison in the late 1800's, and also as place for the local distillery to age their liquor, and a distribution hub up until the 1970s.


The hotel Santa Clara is a building that has been through many changes. It was originally an enclosed convent for the order of the Clarisas and dates from 1621.

It remained a convent till 1862, when a state intervention converted it into a jail. Then it was transformed into a charity hospital in 1884. It stayed as a hospital till 1974, and then became a morgue till the beginning of the 1990s. It was then bought by an investment group, who transformed it into a sophisticated and high scale hotel, opening in 1994.During the restoration process, many works of art were recovered from the rubble. 

This was the first major renovation that took place in the city and marked the beginning of the new era of the historical downtown and its appeal for worldwide tourism.

Now Cartagena de Indias is one of the top destinations of the Caribbean and it is a Unesco World Heritage Site proclaimed in 1984 for its well conserved walls, fortifications and historical centre.


Behind the large ochre painted walls, is the house that Gabriel García Márquez used when he came here on vacation or to work.
He lived in Mexico City, but he found Cartagena de Indias inspiring for his life and professional career.  He was greatly lauded for his tales and novels, and was a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Márquez began his writing career in Cartagena. He came in 1948 to study law, but also worked as a journalist to support himself. He got a job at El Universal, the still leading daily newspaper of Cartagena.

Cartagena was the inspiration for his novels such as Love in the Time of the Cholera, Of Love and Other Demons, and many of his magical realism tales, scripts and chronicles. The air, the temperature, the streets and the people of this place seeped into the pages of his works. There is a timeless feeling of magic in Cartagena. I hope you take it in as you keep walking by the streets of this wonderful city.


The Theatre Adolfo Mejía opened its stage on November 11th 1911, to celebrate the independence of Cartagena from Spain. It was inaugurated with the name of the founder of the city but was changed years after because of many protests because he was very abusive of his power against the indigenous tribes that lived in the area nearby.

It went through a restoration in 1988 and is considered the classical theatre of Cartagena. It’s also the main stage for the Hay festival and the Cartagena music festival. These are two big cultural events that happen every year between January and February. The theatre hosts important Colombian and international figures of literature, classical music and all kind of arts and cultural expressions.

You can see 4 Greek mythology muses that welcome the public to the theatre. From left to right they are:

Polimnia, the muse of sacred poetry, then Terpsichore who represents dance and poetry. Melpomene, the muse of tragedy is the muse of music and Calliope, represents the epic poetry and eloquence.

There are also fine paintings in the interior by the Cartagena born artist Enrique Grau.


The plaza de Santo Domingo is one of the most visited landmarks of the walled city. The church of Santo Domingo is the main building that domains the plaza and it is one of the oldest in Cartagena. It may be not as beautiful as some others but it has an enchantment that has survived over the years. The interior calls for spiritual enjoyment and it has an altar that is absolutely divine. Many works of religious art can also be admired at the church. It dates from 1631 and the construction lasted for around 150 years.

 On the side of the Iglesia is the convent of Santo Domingo that is now the Cooperación Española, a Spanish government cooperation programme for Hispanic America. Feel free to enter the building and walk by the interior to feel the magnificence of this majestic construction.

Also at the plaza de Santo Domingo you will find the sculpture of a fat lady called Gertrudis, made by the famed Colombian sculptor and artist Fernando Botero. Everybody knows her as “La gorda de Botero” and it is a great meeting point if you want to set an appointment with somebody.

At the plaza there are many restaurants and bars that make this place a very good location to have a drink or to eat something from lunch to dinner times.

This the second part of the Essential Cartagena into the Walls Tour.

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You can check my other tours at GPS My city.

Remember that travelling makes you a better person.
Néstor Meléndez Soler


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