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The history of San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena de Indias


If you are planning to travel to Colombia and take a vacation in Cartagena de Indias, one of the places you should not miss is the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas. This fortress was built during the Spanish colonization. This castle is the largest military complex built by the Spanish on the American continent.

History of San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena de Indias

This fortress was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984, as was the center of Cartagena de Indias and all the fortifications located there. The San Felipe Castle is located on the hill of San Lazaro, just outside the walled city of Cartagena de Indias, but within walking distance. In fact, it can be reached by taking a walk from the walled city. The construction of this fortification, begun in 1536 and completed in 1657, took more than a century. It was built to facilitate observation and defense against the continuous invasions and attacks that the city suffered from the English and French armies, and also from pirates.

Over the years, it has withstood a wide variety of attacks. One of the most famous is that suffered at the hands of the British in 1741. That year, Edward Vernon attacked Cartagena de Indias with an army of more than 27,000 soldiers, 186 warships and 2,000 cannons. Sir Vernon did not achieve his goal. The Spaniard Blas de Lezo, with only 3,600 men and six ships, managed to defeat the English navy in one of the most spectacular heroic acts in military history. This structure, built with bricks and rocks, is considered today as one of the best in terms of military strategy. Its construction, practically impenetrable, has allowed it to remain standing over the years, despite the numerous attacks to which the city has been subjected.

What is the Castillo de San Felipe de Cartagena de Indias like?

This colonial fortress is one of the strongest in existence today, and one of the most resistant to attacks over time. The Castillo de San Felipe is built on a triangular base and forms a spectacular geometric bunker. The fortress is formed by an important series of walls with very wide bases that become narrower as they reach their upper levels. It is believed that the stone blocks were extracted from the coral reefs of the surrounding coast.

Some legends say that the stone blocks were glued with calicanto and ox blood, and there are even myths that also mention the blood of black slaves. The walls were not built perpendicular to the ground, as is the case with the vast majority of fortifications, but leaned inward so that enemy cannonballs would cause less damage.

The cannons of the San Felipe de Barajas Castle

As for the cannons, the castle had a total of 63 cannons distributed in different batteries at strategic points that pointed towards the bay to prevent enemy ships from invading through the water. In addition, each battery was directed at other batteries, which is why in order to take and secure each of them, it was necessary to take control of the entire military complex. The castle also has ravines that were created to trap intruders trying to climb the walls. Inside is a labyrinthine system of subway tunnels through which the troops could move without being seen by the enemy. These tunnels were also used for ambushes when the enemy managed to infiltrate.

The tunnel system of the castle of San Felipe de Barajas, Cartagena de Indias

The tunnel system was designed to be a death trap for the enemy. They had to penetrate it to reach the upper levels, and they found narrow corridors full of nooks and crannies where defenders hid, irregularities and a layout where it is very easy to get lost and disoriented, with the aim of facilitating ambushes. The fortress also has subway barracks that can house up to 350 men, weapons and food to survive a siege of several months.

Today, tourists can visit every corner of this magnificent building and also tour the tunnels, ramps and artillery posts. In the surroundings of the castle of San Felipe de Barajas, located in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, you have the opportunity to visit the statue of Admiral Blas de Lezo, as well as the monument to the old shoes in honor of the Colombian poet Luis Carlos Lopez.

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