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Just outside the old centre of Cartagena is an impressive structure: the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. The fort was built shortly after the foundation of Cartagena to protect the new colonial port city and its supplies of gold and silver from pirate attacks. History has proven that this was a wise decision.
The powerful structure has undergone regular expansions and reinforcements until it became the largest Spanish fort in the Americas – the highest point towers 41 metres above sea level. A network of tunnels was built in the heart of the fort. These tunnels were useful for moving troops quickly through the fortress, while any intruders would easily get lost in the underground maze. For centuries the fort has protected the city from sea and land attacks.
Near the entrance of the fort stands the statue of Admiral Blas de Lezo. Despite an almost comical amount of handicaps (he had only one eye, one leg, one hand and barely any weapons), the admiral managed to fight off a massive attack from the English in 1741. The English arrived with 23,000 troops, divided over 186 ships, bearing a total of 2,000 cannons. The Spaniards only disposed of 3,000 men and 6 ships. Faced with the tenacious Blas de Lezo and his enormous fort, the English navy experienced one of the biggest defeats in its history. All of Cartagena’s treasured were saved.
From the top of the fort you are rewarded with a great view of Cartagena’s city centre: an impressive maze of church domes, palm trees, bougainvillea and red roof tiles, all neatly bound together by a long string of defensive walls. During the midday heat, the climb to the top can be quite strenuous. A good alternative is to lounge by the rooftop pool of the San Lázaro Art Lifestyle Hotel, the only hotel right by the fort. From here you have a privileged vantage point to admire the fort in all its glory as you sip a cold drink.