His biographies say that he spent his first night sleeping on a bench in the Plaza de Bolívar. Shortly afterwards he would begin to work as a journalist on the ‘El Universal’ newspaper. The rest is literary history. Cartagena de Indias left its mark on Gabriel García Márquez forever. He grew as a writer among its paved squares and coloured facades, gaining experience first as a journalist, which he defined as “the best job in the world”. Within his walled city, novels such as ‘Love in Times of Cholera” and ‘Of Love and other Demons’ were created. Cartagena inspired “Gabo”.
Perhaps it was the colonial charm protected by the long city wall that drew him in. In Cartagena time has not stood still, as people repeatedly say. Here the citizens have taken great care of the city, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and it has been restored in keeping with its original design. Or perhaps it was its aroma of a Caribbean city, the heat in its streets or the ‘parrandas’ (parties), organised both inside and outside the walled city.
Cartagena, before being Cartagena, was Calamarí, ‘crab’ in the indigenous language. Today you can find out about its pre-Columbian history at the Zenu Gold Museum, in Plaza de Bolívar, where craftsmanship and goldsmithing works from that age are on display. The city as we know it was founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, although he was helped by India Catalina who worked as his interpreter. A statue at the entrance to the Old City remembers the young native girl.
In Cartagena time has not stood still, as people repeatedly say.
Within the city walls is the historic centre, a place where you can walk amongst colonial houses with yellow and pastel-coloured facades, most of which are between four and five hundred years old, or visit its numerous squares and churches. The oldest is the church and convent of Santo Domingo, whose construction began at the end of the 16th century, almost at the same time as the city walls, although these were finished almost two centuries later.
It’s well worth while wandering its streets in order to find treasures such as the Portal de los Dulces, in the Plaza de los Coches. There the old inhabitants sweetened the bitter past of the square with homemade sweets. The Puerta del Reloj (Portal of the Clock) and the Bóvedas are also unmissable: in their day they were homes to barracks and prisons, but today are art galleries and bars. However, the best places to go to have a drink are in Calle del Arsenal, because the restaurants, boutiques and fashionable clubs are inside picturesque houses. Their balconies offer views of the bay and of the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas fortress. It’s the perfect place to dance until dawn. Although you could also emulate Hillary Clinton and spend the night in Getsemani, just a few metres away, which is considered the coolest district in the city. She was spotted in a bar there in 2012. She was probably asking how to get to Macondo from there.