With an amazing history dating back to the colonial era, Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most popular tourist destinations and is loaded with all kinds of interesting and historic sites. Among these is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a massive concrete and red brick fortress originally designed by Dutch engineer Richard Carr and built by the Spaniards in 1657. The fortress provided additional defense against pirates for all the gold being sent back to Europe. Originally the fortress was quite small, but then in 1762 it underwent a considerable reconstruction headed by Spanish architect Antonio de Arévalo that expanded to the size it is today, taking up the entire 130 foot tall hill.
Located at the top of San Lazaro Hill, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas affords stunning vistas of the both the old and new Cartagena and the Caribbean Sea. The port at Cartagena was the main reason for the construction of this gigantic fort. Actually the largest Spanish fort in the Americas, it was designed intending to stop rival nations and profiteers from interfering with the rich gem trade route that had been established here by the Spanish. Cartagena was probably the most important trade port controlled by the Spanish colonialists at the time and bigger translated to safer. So safe in fact that despite numerous brutal attacks (including a 90 day siege by the English) that the fort never fell.
It’s the sheer size of Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas that makes it one of the most visited places in Colombia. The fort and much of the city surrounding it are actually part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites so you can expect to see many international visitors to this magnificent edifice. One of the favorite features for tourists are the numerous tunnels that crisscross beneath the structure. You will be amazed at the remarkable acoustics the builders were able to accomplish to allow for covert communications over long distances. There’s also one that takes you 100 feet down where you can see and touch the water table beneath the fort. Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas has also served as host to several major multi-national conferences including the Cold War holdover group NAM (now working towards efforts benefiting third world countries) and the Rio Group (Latin America’s version of the UN).
Despite the fascinating history and all there is to see here, entrance to Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is surprisingly reasonable; under $10.00 USD per person. And the entirety of the payment is used to protect and restore this wonderful piece of Colombian heritage. Any visit to this lovely old city would be incomplete without a stop at Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. It is a great way to beat the heat and enjoy a piece of Colombian history.
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