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 Cartagena, Colombia city view with title

painting of spanish conquistador in colombia bolivar statue in Colombia

It is estimated that during the slave trade approximately 12.5-million Africans were taken from Africa with an estimated 10.7-million completing the voyage to the Americas and only about 10% of those captured taken directly to North America. The coastal area of Colombia, South America was such a large and lucrative slave port that more than 300,000 Africans passed through the city. Today Colombia’s current black population is the 2nd largest in South America and the 3rd largest outside of the continent of Africa.

Mural in colombia Colonial Balcony in Colombia

To experience a unique aspect of African diaspora history and the mixture of three cultures Colombia is the perfect location and now is the ideal time. Because of its geographical location the weather is consistently wonderful and food and activities are affordable.

precolombian artifact in Colombia

The region known now as Bogotá has always been important and the earliest evidence of habitation of Colombia, 12,400 BC, has been found in the area. The Muisca people, prior to Spanish arrival, established the first city, Bacatá, around 1,000 AD. The first conquistador to reach Colombia was Alonso de Ojeda who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage. Gonzalo Jiménez de Queseda entered the land of the Musica on August 6, 1538 and christened it Santa Fé de Bacatá. Spain divided colonial America into 4 Viceroyalties, one of which, New Granada, encompassed Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela with Bogotá as the seat of power.  Santa Fe de Bogota became the capital of Gran Colombia in 1819 after Simón Bolívar liberated the city. In 1886 it was designated the capital of the Republic of Colombia.

Precolombian style sculpture with musical instruymans in Colombia market in Colombia

Slaves were introduced into Colombia in the 1520s and were largely domestics and laborers. The first slave rebellion, one of the earliest in the New World, occurred in 1530. Some slaves escaped, forming Cimarrones communities, some purchased their freedom and many intermarried creating the racial mixture evident today. On May 21, 1851 slavery was abolished. Día de la Afrocolombianidad or Afro-Colombian Day has been celebrated annually on May 21st since 2001. It commemorates the abolition of the slave trade and the contributions of Afro-Colombians. The date was selected to honor the founding of Palenque de San Basilio, the first free town in South America. BogotAfro Week Festival is built around that date and includes music, dance, cuisine and art presentations.

Artict shop in colombia

Bogotá is often referred to as “The Athens of South America” and it is one of those wonderful cities where the historic and the modern are found adjacent to one another and there is a surprise around every corner. Tours should begin in the historic district with several sites that draw international visitors year round.

Gold outiit in colombian musuem   details of Gold outiit in colombian musuem
Gold musuem in colombia   Artifact at gold Musuem in Colombia

The most popular in the country is the outstanding and world’s largest gold museum, the Museo del Oro. The museum’s collection exceeds 40,000 objects, only 15% are on view, representing every major pre-Columbian culture at the time of Columbus. Colombia produces the finest emeralds in the world and pre-Columbians considered them sacred and they were only worn by priests. They could mine them but were incapable of cutting them so on view is the world’s largest uncut emerald. Salt was used as currency while their leaders wore gold symbolically because it was yellow and bright like the sun they worshipped. The galleries are filled with sacred and ornamental objects that take your breath away. A highlight of a tour is a gallery in which the ceremony of installing a new leader is recreated.

Sculpture by Fernando Botero in Colombian gallery  painting of fat woman nude rear and man looking at her  by Fernando Botero in Colombian gallery 

Colombian born Fernando Botero is one of South America’s greatest artists. The Museo Donacian Botero was established in 2000 to display 208 works donated by the artist, 85 by other artists in his private collection and 123 artworks. The museum is located inside a 2-story colonial house with galleries arrayed around a courtyard.

cathedral in colombia  Interior of cathederal in colombia 

The Plaza de Bolivar is the oldest square in Bogotá showcasing the country’s oldest monument, the 1846 statue of Simón Bolivar sculpted by Pietro Tenerani. Surrounding the statue on the square are the 1989 Palace of Justice and Parliament. The Parliament building was completed over a 100-year period from 1826-1926. The Cathedral of Bogota was constructed in the east of the square in 1823 adjacent to a 17th-century chapel.

1604 Casa del Florero houses the Museo de la Independencia

The 1604 Casa del Florero houses the Museo de la Independencia. It features memorabilia, portraits, documents and artifacts from the War of Independence. The building is archeologically significant as an excellent example of 16th-century santafereńas houses influenced by Moorish architecture.

church_of_fallen_christ in colombia

Cerro de Monserrate is referred to as the guardian of the city. It rises more than 10,000 feet above sea level and offers awesome views of the city below. Visitors can get to the top via 7-minute cable car, funicular or a 90-minute walk on a scenic trail. The mountain has been a pilgrimage site since the early 1600s and one of the do not miss activities on the mountain are life-sized sculptural Stations of the Cross.

church_of_fallen_christ interior 

The Catholic Basilica of the Fallen Lord Christ of Monserrate was completed in 1657 and was dedicated to the “Fallen Christ.” In 1917 an earthquake destroyed the church and rebuilding was accomplished by 1925 by requesting each pilgrim visiting the site to carry a brick to the top. The Gothic-revival church has a plain interior.

 life-sized sculptural Stations of the Cross in colombia

A path in the rear of the church leads to the Mercado de Monserrate filled with food stalls featuring local cuisine, products and spices as well as kiosks with handcrafted items. This is a good place to purchase souvenirs and gifts.

Hat vendor in Colombian market 

“the business of Blacks is the largest and the most profitable business we have”  1500s Gov. of Cartagena

 A 3-story “Afro-Colombian Mural, Currulao y Desplazamiento,” is located at 1344 U Street NW in Washington, DC.  The mural pays homage to the thriving culture in Colombia that traces its roots to the Africans who infused the country with customs and traditions brought from their motherland and Cartagena de Indias is the best place to immerse yourself in this history. Colombians of African-descent represent the third largest black population outside of Africa and the second largest in South America. Cartagena is a living history museum of the Afro-Colombian culture and colonial Spanish history and is the location of a UNESCO site.

Beach view in Cartagena, colombia

The city is situated on the northern coast of the country on the Caribbean. Prior to the initial siting by the Spanish, and subsequent naming as Golfo de Barú, the region was settled by the Calamari Indians. On June 1, 1533 Don Pedro de Heredia established Cartagena de Poniente. African slaves had been introduced into New Granada, Colombia, in the 1520s and by the 1770s more than 55% of the country was comprised of free people of color.

shopping_arcade in colombia

During the colonial era Cartagena was one of the Spanish Main’s most significant ports. Precious metals were shipped from the port and supplies, products and slaves were imported. Cartagena would become the main slave port in the Spanish colonies, one of only 2 official slave ports, and the final port before crossing to Spain. Because of its lucrative trade it became prey for other European powers and defense became important. The Spanish erected defensive walls beginning in 1586 and continued into the 1780s. The protected area includes the cathedral, the Government Palace the areas where the rich and middle class lived and Gethsemani the section of the city where the slaves lived and now the neighborhood many o their descendants continue to inhabit.

Cartagena’s fortifications in Colombia

Cartagena’s fortifications are an outstanding example of 16th- 18th-century military architecture, the most extensive and complete in the New World. The walls extend nearly seven-miles and are 25-ft. thick and up to 83-ft. high. The walls and outer forts took more than 200-years to construct and 16 of the original 21 bastions are extant. There are areas where you can walk the walls and one of the high points of a visit is a sunset drink atop the walls at the Café del Mar.

Close up of Cartagena’s fortifications

Spain’s King Ferdinand commanded the construction of the fortress, Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, the strongest and most impressive of all the Spanish fortifications. Antonio de Arévalo designed it with the main portion completed between 1639-57. It was constructed, as were the walls, using slave labor atop the 130-ft. San Lázaro Hill. There is a path to the fortress, not for people with heart or mobility issues, and the reward is a panoramic view of the city.

slave_sale_square in Cartagena, Colombia  gethsemani_mural in Cartagena, Colombia 

It is estimated that the number of “bozales,” savage Africans, who came through Cartagena’s port exceed 1-million and Africans arriving in Cartagena were listed according to their land of origin and skill set. This form of registration, casta de nación, morphed into surnames and today allows people to trace their ancestry. Once they arrived slave sales were held in the Plaza de los Coches, now referred to as the Plaza de los Coches, where visitors can purchase all types of sweets.

peter_and_slave sculpture in Cartagenga, Colombia  Full view of peter_and_slave sculpture in Cartagenga, Colombia 

Peter Claver, “Apostle of the slaves,” was born in Spain in 1581 and lived in Cartagenga from 1610 until his death. Claver was ordained in 1615 and spent his life ministering, by his estimate, 300,000 slaves. He was known to take a canoe out to arriving ships and feed and care for new arrivals. Reviled by many in his lifetime, he was canonized after death in 1888 and named the city’s patron saint. A statue in the Plaza San Pedro Claver honors his works with a life-sized sculpture of Claver with a slave situated at ground level encouraging examination and interaction.

Church of Saint Peter Claver in Cartagenga  Interior dome of Church of Saint Peter Claver in Cartagenga 

A few steps from the statue is the entrance to the Cloister, Museum and Church of Saint Peter Claver. The Cloister is a good place to reflect because of its serenity and its importance as the location of Claver’s slave baptisms. A flight of stairs leads to the small room where he died in 1654 after a 4-year illness. At ground level a museum exhibits artworks and artifacts. The Catholic Church features a marble altar containing St. Peter Claver’s remains.

Heritic's Window at  Palace of Inquisition in Cartagenga, colombia  Palace of Inquisition in Cartagenga, colombia 

The Plaza de Bolivar, dominated by a statue of Bolivar the country’s liberator, dates from 1856 and is and is filled with wonderful architecture and colorfully garbed Palenqueras selling fruits carried in bowls on their heads. The Palace of Inquisition, a 2-level museum that interprets the Spanish Inquisition from 1776 to 1821, is on the plaza. Displays include torture devices, information panels, artworks and a video that relates the true tale of an African female tortured and executed for using indigenous cures. The second story is a must-see as it covers the three main cultures in Colombia through artifacts, dioramas, paintings and maps. Before leaving the area be certain to see the window on the side, topped by a cross, where people were denounced.

palenquera in Colombia

From the moment Africans landed in Colombia they protested and made escape attempts. The first slave revolt, one of the earliest in the Americas, took place in 1530, revolts followed in 1545, 1550, 1555, 1556, 1557 and 1598. Benkos Bioho founded the walled Palenque de San Basilio, a free community in the hills, in 1603. This was the first such community and it is located 30-miles southeast of Cartagena. The village maintains its African heritage, music, dress, political and social traditions, arts and language to such an extent that it was inscribed as a UNESCO heritage site in 2005/08. There are more than 3,000 residents who are directly descended from the original settlers, most speaking Palenquero, a unique creole language with Bantu roots. After repeated attempts to conquer the village Spain officially declared it free in 1713. Scheduled tours, including dance and music performances, can be arranged. cartagenaconnections.com

After initially resisting Bolivar began recruiting slaves to participate in the revolution in 1819. On May 21, 1851 slavery was abolished.

With a little research you can spend a week in Colombia on less than $100 per day. The country is colorful, friendly and just exotic enough to offer real adventure.

 

 

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