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Cartagena, Colombia

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA, or Carthagena, a city, seaport, and the capital of the department of Bolívar, Colombia, South America, on the Caribbean coast, in 10° 25' 48" N., 75° 34' W. Pop. (1905, official estimate) 14,000. The population of Cartagena is largely composed of blacks and mixed races, which form the predominant type on the lowland plains of northern Colombia. The well-to-do whites of Cartagena usually have country houses on the Turbaco hills, where the temperature is much lower than on the coast. The mean annual temperature in the city is 82°, and the port is classed as very unhealthful, especially for unacclimatized foreigners. The harbour, which is the best on the north coast of South America, is formed by an indentation of the coast-line shut in by two long islands lying parallel to the mainland. It covers an area of about 62.5 sq. m. and affords deep and secure anchorages and ample facilities for loading and unloading large vessels. The city itself has no modern quays, and large vessels do not approach within a mile of its landing-stages, but the railway pier (lengthened 120 ft. in 1898) on the mainland opposite permits the mooring of vessels alongside. There were formerly two entrances to the harbour - the Boca Grande (large mouth) between the low sandy island or peninsula on which the city stands and the island of Tierra Bomba, and the Boca Chica (small mouth) at the south end of the latter island. The Boca Grande was filled with stone after the city had been captured three times, because of the ease with which an enemy's ships could pass through it at any time, and the narrow and more easily defended Boca Chica, 7 m. farther south, has since been used.

The city occupies a part of the upper island or peninsula facing the northern end of the harbour, and is separated from the mainland on the east by a shallow lagoon-like extension of the bay which is bridged by a causeway passing through the extramural suburb of Xiximani on another island. The old city, about  m. long, north and south, and  m. wide, is enclosed by a heavy wall, in places 40 ft. thick, and is defended by several formidable-looking forts, which have long been dismantled, but are still in a good state of preservation. At the mainland end of the causeway leading from the city is the fort of San Felipe, about 100 ft. above sea-level, adapted as a distributing reservoir in the city's waterworks; and behind it are verdure-covered hills rising to an elevation of 500 ft., forming a picturesque background to the grey walls and red-tiled roofs of the city. The streets are narrow, irregular and roughly paved, but are lighted by electricity; tramway lines run between the principal points of the city and suburbs. The houses are built with thick walls of stone and brick round open courts, in the Moorish style, and their iron-barred doors and windows give them the appearance of being a part of the fortifications. Among the numerous churches, the largest and most imposing is the Jesuit church of San Juan de Dios, with its double towers and celebrated marble pulpit; an old monastery adjoins. Cartagena is an episcopal see, and its cathedral dates from colonial times. The city was once the headquarters of the Inquisition in South America, and the edifice which it occupied, now private property, is an object of much interest. The water supply of the city was formerly obtained from rainwater tanks on the walls or by carriage from springs a few miles inland. But in 1906 an English company received a concession to bring water by pipes from springs on the Turbaco hills, 300 ft. above the sea.

The commercial importance of Cartagena declined greatly during the period of civil disorders which followed the war for independence, but in later years has revived. In the reign of Philip II. the Spaniards had opened a canal ("El Dique") through some marshes and lagoons into a small western outlet of the Magdalena, which gave access to that river at Calamar, about 81 m. above the bar at its mouth; during Cartagena's decline this was allowed to fill up; it was reopened in 1846 for a short time and then was obstructed again by river floods; but in 1881 it was reopened for steam navigation. Towards the end of the 19th century a railway, 65 m. long, was built between Cartagena and Calamar. Imports consist of cotton, linen and woollen fabrics, hardware, cutlery and machinery, kerosene, glass and earthenware; and the exports of cattle, sugar, tobacco, coffee, coco-nuts and fibre, dividivi and dye-woods, vegetable ivory, rubber, hides and skins, medicinal forest products, gold, silver and platinum. The aggregate value of the exports in 1906 was $3,788,094 U.S. gold.

Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia. In 1544 it was captured by pirates, who plundered the town; in 1585 by Sir Francis Drake, who exacted a large ransom; and in 1697 by the French, who obtained from it more than £1,000,000. In 1741 Admiral Vernon unsuccessfully besieged the town. It was taken by Bolívar in 1815, but was surrendered to the royalists in the same year. It was recaptured by the republicans on the 25th of September 1821, and thereafter remained in their possession. It figured prominently in the political agitations and revolutions which followed, and underwent a siege in the civil war of 1885. It was an important naval station under Spanish colonial rule, and is the principal naval station of Colombia.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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