Cartagena Castle, otherwise known as the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, is one of Cartagena’s most popular tourist attractions and one of the best places to go to learn more about the city’s history. The fortress towers 130 meters above the water and provides a vantage point of the city and ocean below.
Cartagena originally became very wealthy thanks to the profits of the shipping industry and slave trade that passed through its gates. In order to protect the city, the Spanish built the city walls (you can find out more about the walls here!) and a series of forts.
Work on the existing fortress began in 1536 and expanded in 1657. It was named after Philip IV of Spain and would soon become one the most important parts of the Spanish Empire’s defense system. (Side note: When Philip IV was 10, he married 13-year-old Elisabeth of France. By the time she died at the young age of 41, she had given birth to 8 children. He then married his 14-year-old niece who had 5 more of his kids. Yikes…..) The castle was attacked by pirates, admirals, and barons as they attempted to steal Cartagena’s riches but still stands proudly over Cartagena today.
The castle was initially attacked in 1697 by the French and the Spanish subsequently strengthened their defense. It was attacked again in 1741 by the British who suffered a humiliating loss when 10,000 men out of a total of 23,000 died in the battle. The Spanish were able to defend it with just 3000 men which speaks pretty highly of the castle’s structural integrity.