Convento de Santo Domingo, it is the oldest church in Cartagena, being founded in 1551. In 1588, two years after the assault of Francis Drake to the city, it was given a handout of 500 pesos by Royal Decree, to proceed with the appropriate repair of the building, which was not affected by the attacks of English. Until 19th-century it was occupied by the Dominican order.

Under contract to Queen Joanna of Castile, Pedro de Heredia entered the Bay of Cartagena with three ships, a lighter, 150 men, and 22 horses, on 14 January 1533. He soon found the village of Calamari abandoned. Proceeding onwards to Turbaco, where Juan de la Cosa had been mortally wounded 13 years earlier, Heredia fought an all-day battle before claiming victory. Using India Catalina as a guide, Heredia embarked on a three-month exploration expedition. He returned to Calamari in April 1533 with gold pieces, including a solid gold porcupine weighing 132 pounds. In later expeditions, Heredia raided the Sinú tombs and temples of gold. His rule as governor of Cartagena lasted 22 years, before perishing on his return to Spain in 1544.

Cartagena was founded on 1 June 1533 by the Spanish commander, Pedro de Heredia, in the former location of the indigenous Caribbean Calamarí village. The town was named after the port city of Cartagena, in Murcia in southeast Spain, where most of Heredia’s sailors had resided. King Philip II gave Cartagena the title of “city” (ciudad) in 1574, adding “most noble and loyal” in 1575.

The city’s increasing importance as a port for the export of Peruvian silver from Potosí to Spain, made it an obvious target for pirates and corsairs, encouraged by France, England, and Holland. In 1544, the city was pillaged by 5 ships and 1000 men under the command of the French pirate Jean-François Roberval, who took advantage of the city still without walls. Heredia was forced to retreat to Turbaco until a ransom was paid. A defensive tower, San Felipe del Boqueron, was built in 1566 by Governor Anton Davalos. It was supposed to protect the anchorage and the Bahia de las Animas, a water lane into Plaza de lar Mar (current day Plaze de la Aduana), but the fort’s battery had limited range. Then the French pirate Martin Cote struck in 1569 with 1000 men, ransacking the city.

A few months after the disaster of the invasion of Cote, a fire destroyed the city and forced the creation of a firefighting squad, the first in the Americas.

In 1568, Sir John Hawkins tried to persuade Governor Martín de las Alas to open a trade fair in the city which would allow his men to sell foreign goods. This was a violation of Spanish law, which forbade trade with foreigners. Many in the settlement suspected this would have allowed Hawkins to sack the port afterwards; and as such the governor declined. Hawkins bombarded the city for 8 days, but failed to make any significant impacts and withdrew. Then Francis Drake attacked in April 1586 with 23 ships and 3,000 men. Drake burned 200 houses and the cathedral, departing only after a ransom was paid a month later.

Spain then commissioned Bautista Antonelli in 1586 to design a master scheme for defending its Caribbean ports. This included a second visit to Cartagena in 1594 when he drew up plans for a walled city.

In 1610, the Holy Office of the Inquisition was established in Cartagena and The Palace of Inquisition was completed in 1770. Sentences were pronounced in the main city plaza, today’s Plaza de Bolivar, during the Autos de Fe ceremonies. Crimes under its jurisdiction included those of heresy, blasphemy, bigamy and witchcraft. A total of 767 people were punished, which ranged from fines, wearing a Sanbenito, life imprisonment, or even death for five unlucky souls. The Inquisition was abolished with independence in 1811.
An illustration of the Raid on Cartegena in 1697 by French privateers. The raid was led by Bernard Desjean, Baron de Pointis, who made off with roughly 2,000,000 livres in loot. The burning settlement is seen in the background.

The first slaves were brought by Pedro de Heredia to work as “macheteros”, clearing the underbrush. By the 17th Century, Cartagena had become an important slave market in the New World, centered around the Plaza de los Coches. European slave traders began to bring enslaved peoples from Africa during this period. Spain was the only European power that did not establish factories in Africa to purchase slaves and therefore the Spanish Empire relied on the asiento system, awarding merchants from other European nations the license to trade enslaved people to their overseas territories.

Gov. Francisco de Murga made the Inner Bay an “impregnable lagoon”, according to Segovia, which included the forts El Boquerón, Castillo Grande, Manzanillo, and Manga. Besides the walls built to defend the historic district of Calamari, Francisco de Murga enclosed Getsemani with protective walls starting in 1631. This included the battery of Media Luna of San Antonio, located between the bastions of Santa Teresa and Santa Barbara, which protected the only gate and causeway to the mainland.

The practice of Situado, is exemplified in the magnitude of the city’s subsidy between 1751 and 1810, when the city received the sum of 20,912,677 Spanish reales. The policies of the Bourbon Dynasty in Spain, such as those of Philip V, stimulated the economic growth and consolidation of the Spanish America.

Juan Díaz de Torrezar Pimienta as governor was the mastermind of the reconstruction of the city after the destruction of 1697

The Raid on Cartagena, in April 1697 during the Nine Years’ War, by Sir Bernard Desjean, Baron de Pointis and Jean Baptiste Ducasse was a severe blow to Cartagena. The Baron’s forces included 22 large ships, 500 cannon, and 4000 troops, while Ducasse’s forces consisted of 7 ships and 1,200 buccaneers. They quickly overwhelmed Sancho Jimeno de Orozco’s force of 30 men in the San Luis de Bocachica fortification. Then, San Felipe de Barajas also fell and the city came under bombardment. When the Half Moon Gate was breached and Getsemani occupied, Governor Diego de los Rios capitulated. The Baron left after a month of plunder (roughly 2 million livres) and Ducasse followed a week later.

When King Philip II employed the Italian engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli to design a master plan of fortifications for Cartagena, construction would actually continue for the next two hundred years. On 17 March 1640, three Portuguese ships under the command of Rodrigo Lobo da Silva, ran aground in the Bocagrande Channel. This accelerated the formation of a sand bar, which soon connected the Bocagrande Peninsula to the island of Tierrabomba. The defense of the bay then shifted to two forts on either side of Bocachica, San Jose and San Luis de Bocachica. San Luis was replaced by San Fernando after the 1741 English raid. The next narrow passage was formed by the Island of Manzanillo, where San Juan del Manzanillo was constructed and Santa Cruz O Castillo Grande opposite on Cruz Grande at Punta Judio, both connected by a floating chain. Finally, there was San Felipe del Boqueron, later San Sebastian del Pastelillo. The city itself was circled with a ring of bastions connected by curtains. The island of Getsemani was also fortified. Protecting the city on the landward side, atop San Lazaro hill, was the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas named in honor of Spain’s King Philip IV and Governor Pedro Zapata de Mendoza, Marquis of Barajas’ father, the Count of Barajas. Completed in 1654, the fort was expanded in the 18th century, and included underground corridors and galleries.


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