Buzzards, herons and pigeons fly over the so-called Sentinel of Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia.
At the entrance there is a sculpture dedicated to a character that should be recognized by everyone in the history of our country and that, however, we only know geeks.
Of history. Admiral Blas de Lezo and Olavarrieta, who, if only because the battles for Spain left him lame, one-armed and one-eyed, should already be known. And no, it is not.
And it is here, in the beautiful Caribbean city of Cartagena de Indias
Where you can reconstruct with amazement some of its exploits, forgotten by your country and ignored by the enemies of that time.
- But Blas de Lezo is only one of the pieces of the rich cultural, historical and emotional gear that one enjoys when visiting the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas.
The audio guide, from the Tierra Magna company, is simply magnificent. And it is the essential help to understand where we are and what is its meaning.
I am in Cartagena de Indias
Called the Heroic for its early rebellion against Spain, and a huge Colombian flag flies atop the Castillo de San Felipe.
El Castillo is on the outskirts, so it is best to take a taxi, which leaves for very little money, and to get here in just a few minutes.
It is humid heat that is immediately recognized by anyone who has visited this part of the world.
They offer me a hat for a few Colombian pesos; I’m sure they cheat on me but it’s worth it.
With the entrance you are given the audio guide that I mentioned previously and, ascending through a zigzag ramp you enter the old fortress, from its back, and then the enjoyment begins.
Cartagena de Indias was founded by a Spanish conqueror, Pedro de Heredia, in 1533 and soon became a strategic enclave for Spain’s trade with the Indies.
For this reason, the city was fortified and had up to three defensive castles to protect itself from English and French pirates and corsairs.
- In fact, the Castle of San Felipe de Barajas (named in homage to Felipe IV) is the last one left standing (and the largest in America): one was destroyed by the English and the other … well, by Cartagena itself.
The fortress is imposing and there are not too many visitors, making your visit very comfortable. The castle lived several times, with extensions almost all of them.
And the visit begins in the old castle, the one begun by Governor Pedro Zapata de Mendoza.
And although the construction of the San Felipe castle is usually associated with a duration of close to a century (between 1536 and 1657).
It is the construction of the old fortress that is most striking, since it was carried out in a single year, instead of the five more or less usual.
- The urgency that led Pedro Zapata de Mendoza to build the old castle between 1656 and 1657 had to do with the growing threat from the powerful France and England and therefore he had all the slave labor he could find.
North African slaves (Zapata himself was a slave trader) gave up their lives quickly building this phenomenal fortress on the so-called Cerro de San Lázaro.
And we headed there (by the way, Zapata was also the architect of one of the greatest works of the Spanish Empire in America, the Canal del Dique on the Magdalena river).
We pass first of all in front of a red metal staircase. Access to this fortification was regulated as expected and this staircase would be destroyed if the enemy seized the fortress.
The staircase leads to the upper floor of the old castle, but before reaching it we delight in the views that are offered of the city from this point.
The high blocks of hotels and apartments in the Bocagrande area and the Getsemaní neighborhood remain fixed on the retina while they mention the existence of the Hospital del Lazareto.
It was an isolated facility where lepers of old (and others affected by other infectious diseases) were confined.
Doctors did not take care of them, so they were locked up, often without any type of treatment, in these facilities.
Different historians placed dozens and even more than a hundred lepers during the 15th and 16th centuries in the Hospital of San Lázaro o Lazaretto.
Which was located in the aforementioned neighborhood, that of Gethsemane and which luckily disappeared many years ago.
At this time we access the ancient fortress, ascending stairs.
In it we will have the opportunity to assess how a powder store, a cistern.
A barracks for the troops and 4 sentry boxes of different artistic styles in the corners have a place in a triangular space so that the sentries could observe the arrival of ships.
The barracks is called Casa del Castellano and today it is a souvenir shop.
The old castle also had a tendal for the rest of the soldiers and an arms store, as well as a belfry reminiscent of that of the Castilian churches.
Here hung the Rebato Bell which was used to warn the population of imminent danger.
The 8-gun battery sufficiently defended the fortification.
In fact, the defenders had to have at least four essential weapons to avoid falling: gunpowder in the canyons, water in the reservoirs, mosquitoes in the swamps that surrounded the hill, and the men’s own courage.
In fact, it is here in the old castle that they tell you what happened on April 20, 1697.
The old castle withstood various attempts at assault throughout its history, but it could not with the French of the Baron de Pointis.
- So one sits quietly with the background sound of the birds, looking out to the sea from one of the sentry boxes and begins to hear how a novel Basque hidalgo, Juan Miguel de Vega.
Was the last defender of the Castle on that date, at which time He acted as Castilian of the fortification … for a day, until he died of a bullet.
It was not the Government; It was not the King of France who paid for it
the initiative of a shipowners’ company started, which calculated to compensate itself for the expenses, make profits with some large company in the style of the attacks long before by the large English and Dutch companies of the Indies.
- Only, lacking the resources they had, they interested the State as a participant in the competition for material in ships, artillery, and supplies.
Another notable peculiarity consisted in making common cause with the flibusters of the Antilles, taking into account their practice in sniffing the silver their methods of transferring it.
More than that, with the assistance of acclimatized, seasoned men, knowledgeable of the places, provided of ships and weapons.
The recruitment of bisónos could be reduced in double numbers, to a great extent the collection of transport rations in which to drive them.
After the preliminaries were completed, a strange temporary association of pirate merchants was established, honored with the participation of the sovereign.
Mediating written commitments by which the flibusters recognized themselves as one-tenth of the first million won, the thirteenth of the successive ones.
- Where the millions were to come from was not discussed: from Veracruz, which would already have been replaced by the bleeding of 1683.
Portobello, a fair where the galleons loaded; Cartagena, Peru’s trade center in the Atlantic.
The place mattered little, it was even convenient that it not be disclosed in France, leaving it the choice of the experienced sea skimmers.
The army of Brest left the beginning of the year 1697.
indicating the island of Santo Domingo as a meeting point, seven ships of 60 84 guns attended there.
10 frigates, transports; a large bombard, four smaller ones, the first of the species seen in the Indies, with a total of 4,000 men of the war sea, under the command of Admiral Baron de Pointis, who was an energy and activity person.
The flibusters prepared eight frigates with 1,600 men, ruled by Mr. Ducasse, the chief they recognized on the island, not without friction, roughness.
They reached an agreement, deciding outside Cartagena the objective of the day.
Cartagena, stronghold with an excellent port; city of 2,000 neighbors, the most merchants.
South Sea trade contracting center, where the changes made at the Portobello fair were settled, the galleon records were formalized.
The Tierra-Firme fleets were dispatched, it was considered the key of the Indies for the fortification, although in it As in most American populations, not a small part of theatrical apparatus.
The mouth of the port was defended by a castle of four bastions with 33 cannons.
Apparently formidable barrier for those who did not know that the artillery was mounted on cedar gun carriages without ironwork.
That the garrison was made up of 15 soldiers who did not have provisions of any kind in store. ”
Caribbean pirates and French corsairs bombarded the Castillo de San Felipe and finished with all their defenses.
The Baron de Pointis ended up celebrating a Te Deum in the cathedral of Cartagena and taking a monumental treasure.
- When he left the city, leaving behind a number of deceived filibusters and before fevers consumed his men (more than 800 French died).
They took revenge on the poor ruined Cartagena, making it clear that pirates are not the figures appearing in stories or Disney movies.
Curiously, Louis XVI magnanimously returned some of the stolen pieces of silver to Cartagena’s churches.
The treasure that the French and pirates took was enormous
They say that it is the greatest in history, and not all the authors agree on the total amount of it.
So a little dejected by the story that we have just been told (in which it is reiterated that Cartagena was attacked for considering its inhabitants lazy and unaffected by its king).
We stop before the immense walls that make up the fortification.
These are strong and tall and are characterized by being built on the local coral stone, which has been the subject of successive restorations over time.
The entire castle, as well as the bastions that appear in the rest of the city, are built with it, giving a homogeneous appearance to the complex.
The history of the Baron de Pointis is one of defeat, but the great feat that was also experienced in the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is worth telling.
It is the one starring Blas de Lezo, the man from Gipuzkoa who, before arriving in Cartagena, had already lost a leg and an eye and had a useless arm.
Admiral “Patapalo” or “Mediohombre”, that is how his enemies (also some of his companions) called him and the truth is that he had an impeccable military CV.
However, in April 1741 he had to face an impossible that he cleverly transformed into possible.
- And that which ended up mortally wounded after the battle; battle in which the Spanish and Cartagena militiamen were outnumbered by 7 attackers per defender.
They were fighting against the fleet of Admiral Vernon, an experienced land general but less struggling at sea.
Recently arrived from having a success in the looting and destruction of Portobello, in Panama (from which comes Portobello Road, where the London street market) and launched in pursuit of Cartagena de Indias.
This interests you:
Ships, frigates and ships, to add 186 ships.
Two thousand guns, thirty thousand men (English, Americans under the command of George Washington’s brother, and African slaves).
In front of them hardly three thousand soldiers and six ships that will be sunk during the war by the Spanish to prevent the English from entering the bay.
It is so bad that Vernon, emboldened, sends an email to England announcing his victory.
16 days of bombardment and in the meantime De Lezo builds a moat around the castle to avoid the ladders and a zigzag trench to prevent the passage of enemy cannons.
In addition, it filters two spies with the intention of creating confusion.
The English approach hundreds to the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, but they are riddled with bullets and flee to the bay, leaving behind numerous dead and wounded.
Another thirty days of bombing the city as yellow fever, scurvy and plague begin to take their toll on the English, who go on to set fire to five ships for lack of crew.
- Vernon retires to Jamaica, De Lezo dies as a result of a disease contracted in the fight and is buried in an anonymous grave and four cats go to his burial (for fear of the viceroy, who got along badly with De Lezo).
Total, as always, forgotten by their own and by foreigners (who already took care to hide the fact).
There are so many pages dedicated to this fact that the figure of Blas de Lezo has already been repeatedly claimed.