Cartagena is freakin' lovely and has something for everyone...seriously. If you're into beaches, there are plenty (although the nicer ones are on islands to be reached by boat). If you're into food, Cartagena has tons - not just Colombian either. And if you're into history and architecture - Colombia has even more of that.
This Caribbean jewel was founded in 1533, this means it is one of the oldest cities in the Americas. Much of its history remains; defensive walls, republican architecture, terracotta tiles, and a magical beauty that is not found elsewhere. The homes of Cartagena are decked out in pastels, and adorned with flowers and beautiful door knockers (called aldabas).
Aldabas vary in size and shape and were shaped just as the Colonial architecture was. When Spaniards arrived in Cartagena, Spain was already a motley culture. The Spanish brought with them influences from France, Italy, Spain, and North Africa. This resulted in a Cartagenian architecture that is unified, yet distinct.
Cartagena's aldabas were directly tied to the inhabitants of the homes and served to communicate the family's status. The larger the aldaba, the wealthier you probably were. On top of this, the shape of the aldaba would give visitors a hint as to what the family wanted to be recognized for. Here are the meanings of different shapes:
- Lizards: Aldabas shaped like lizards harkened back to the family's Royal Spanish background.
- Lion: No, you were not a Lannister, you were probably in the military (the cool looking lion with the dark brown wood is from Casa Drake - like Francis Drake the pirate).
- Maritime Motifs: If you had a maritime motif (like a mermaid or seahorse), you were probably a merchant bringing in goods with the help of the sea.
- Hands: The meaning of this one tends to be more elusive. Some say it represents the hand of the Virgen of Fatima - and that it meant that this was a particularly religious family.
When you go to Cartagena, grab a comfy pair of shoes (please don't wear sneakers and shorts - these make all tourists look bad), put on some sunscreen, and head out to the Ciudad Amurallada before 10 am. This way you can enjoy the city while everyone is still asleep. Walk the city and check out all the knockers, then imagine what the aldabas mean and what the family history may have been. UPDATE - Recently found out from someone who commented that this knocker is a Poporo, a jar used to store lime. It's made up of two sections. First the lid, which has a pin that is used to carry the lime while you chew on coca leaves, this was a sacred ritual for the people of the area. Now I've got a mission, to figure out the significance behind this one!
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