Las Bovedas (ie The Vaults) may seem like an odd place for souvenir shops. The large building has 47 arches and 23 domes and a bright yellow facade that is almost impossible to miss. Las Bovedas was the last section built of the Cartagena fortification system. It is connected to the city walls and the complex was originally built to provide storage for ammunition. It was then used as a shelter for troops if the city was under attack and was later used as a prison. Rumor has it that since it so close to the water that the prison cells would often flood knee-deep with water. Assuming that a 19th-century Spanish prison would have been pretty horrible to begin with, this makes it sound even worse. Thanks to the reclamation of land surrounding the walls, the complex is now far enough from the water that there are no more concerns about flooding.
The days when Las Bovedas was used as a dungeon and prison are now long gone. Nowadays, the building is the site of the Las Bovedas Market. Souvenir shops are set up within each of the old jail cells and offer a wide variety of the “classic” Colombian souvenirs. Here, you can find mochila, hammocks, magnets, miniature Botero statues, and traditional Colombian clothing. During the day, the souvenir shops create a jumble of color as the merchandise spills out onto the streets and it can be a little difficult to imagine what it was like during the colonial period.