Cartagena de Indias, one of the most important port towns in the Spanish Caribbean, became a crucial pivot for European trade in the Americas, a neuralgic point in the Iberian strategy for the defense of the New World against foreign encroachment and an early enclave of pro-independence sentiment and anti-Spanish warfare. Located in present-day Colombia, Cartagena remained an important urban center in the Spanish Main from the 1530s to the 1810s, though its fortunes saw considerable changes over the generations. Founded by Spaniards in 1533 on the location of a Native American settlement, the early town was a modest enclave. However, it served Spaniards as entry point to the plains of northern South America, where incursions on horseback followed by strategic retreats to the coast yielded gold and agricultural produce taken from indigenous populations. Cartagena transitioned into a more stable place, the perfect base for conquest expeditions. From Cartagena, Spaniards planned and carried out reconnaissance missions into the Andean interior, paving the way for permanent European settlement. Blessed with a protected bay that proved useful early on, by 1600 Cartagena was one of three ports of call for the famed Spanish treasure fleets. It became, furthermore, the epicenter of the slave trade to the Spanish Americas until 1640. Spaniards, Africans, Indians, and even French, Portuguese, Italian, and Dutch individuals inhabited this thriving, multiethnic, and conflictive society. Cartagena’s economy stagnated from the mid-1600s to the mid-1700s. The population shrank, foreigners left, and it was not until the 1770s that the city began to grow again. Fearful of British attack, the Spanish Bourbons dramatically increased the local defense budget. As a result, the city became a magnet for military personnel, construction workers, artisans, and merchants. A new local elite soon emerged. Anxious for free trade with the outside world and home rule, the patricians in town finally allied with local artisans, who had also grown in economic influence and self-assertion, to declare independence from Spain in 1811. They established an independent state that lasted until 1815. Spanish re-occupation and the subsequent wars of independence took a big material and human toll on Cartagena, whose thriving merchant elite and political leaders all but disappeared after 1816. This article serves as an introduction to the Spanish period of the city’s history, concentrating on the urban area. Beginning in the 1970s, professional historians from Spain, Colombia, and (more recently) the United States have shed light on the role of this city within the Spanish world of the early modern period, providing at the same time an increasingly complex portrait of the urban microcosmos of Cartagena de Indias.
Early historical narratives on Cartagena, seldom based on systematic archival research, elaborated on the heroism and supposedly Hispanic character of the city, yielding romantic visions of the past in the idiom of literary and political paradigms of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the second half of the 20th century, professional research surpassed this perspective. Although Lemaitre 1983 remained somewhat influenced by early historians, this work offers a general narrative still relevant to modern-day historians. It was Spanish historians of the so- called Escuela de Sevilla who first systematically carried out archival-based research on Cartagena. Borrego Pla 1983 is an example of this trend and an overview based on findings from the 1970s and 1980s. Within this trend, Cartagena tends to be analyzed from the perspective of Spain’s imperial constraints and possibilities. Building on this Spanish historiography as well as on the New Colombian History approach, Colombian historians tackled the history of Cartagena with a more sophisticated and nuanced perception beginning in the late 1980s. Calvo Stevenson 2005, Meisel Roca and Calvo Stevenson 2007, Calvo Stevenson and Meisel Roca 2009, and Calvo Stevenson and Meisel Roca 2011 are the most useful overviews of Cartagena’s history, synthesizing the findings of the “new history” approach. Perhaps the most up-to-date introductions to the history of Cartagena de Indias, these volumes provide information on bibliography, cartography, art, literature, and archival and archeological sources. Within this trend, Cartagena takes on a protagonist role of its own, with analytical implications for regional and national history of Colombia. Camacho Sánches, et al. 2007 is the most complete bibliographical guide to Cartagena.
Aguilera Díaz, María, and Adolfo Meisel Roca. Tres siglos de historia demográfica de Cartagena de Indias. Cartagena de Indias, Colombia: Banco de la República, 2009.
The first chapter of this book analyzes the demographic situation of Cartagena around 1777. The authors provide important information on the demography of Cartagena going back to the early Spanish period.
Borrego Pla, Maria del Carmen, ed. Cartagena de Indias en el siglo XVI. Seville, Spain: Escuela de Estudios Hispano-Americanos, 1983.
Comprehensive study on early Spanish Cartagena, portraying the formation of the urban space, its influence on the surrounding region and the rise and decline of the encomienda (forced Indian labor) regime.
Calvo Stevenson, Haroldo, ed. Cartagena de Indias en el siglo XVIII. Bogotá, Colombia: Banco de la República, 2005.
Collection of articles on economics, politics, society, and culture in 1700s Cartagena. The articles are followed by commentaries and the volume ends with a roundtable discussion on the 1741 British siege of Cartagena.
Calvo Stevenson, Haroldo, and Adolfo Meisel Roca, eds. Cartagena de Indias en el siglo XVI. Cartagena, Colombia: Banco de la República, 2009.
Collection of articles on native peoples, Spanish conquest, and the settlement and urban development of the city and the piratical attacks it endured in the 16th century. The articles are followed by commentaries.
Calvo Stevenson, Haroldo, and Adolfo Meisel Roca, eds. Cartagena de Indias en la Independencia. Cartagena, Colombia: Banco de la República, 2011.
Collection of articles on the economy, politics, warfare, journalism, and literature of Cartagena over the early Independence period. The essays in this book are a useful introduction to the history of the independent State of Cartagena (1811–1815).
Camacho Sánches, Miguel, Zabaleta Lombana, Alberto, and Covo Torres, Pedro C. Bibliografia general de Cartagena de Indias: Desde el siglo XV hasta 2007. 3 vols. Mompox, Colombia: Ediciones Pluma de Mompox, 2007.
An extensive reference work on the existing bibliography on Cartagena, this useful guide includes biographical information on authors and commentary on their works. It covers history, politics, economy, the arts, and includes references on primary sources.
Lemaitre, Eduardo. Historia General de Cartagena. 4 vols. Bogotá, Colombia: Banco de la República, 1983.
An extensive history of Cartagena to 1944, the first three volumes provide a general account of the Spanish period. Although the work lacks extensive bibliographical references, it does provide a useful overview of Cartagena under Spanish rule.
Meisel Roca, Adolfo, and Haroldo Calvo Stevenson, eds. Cartagena de Indias en el siglo XVII. Cartagena, Colombia: Banco de la República, 2007.
Collection of articles on architecture, economy, and society in 17th-century Cartagena. The articles are followed by commentaries.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Agricultural Technologies
- Ancient Andean Textiles
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Andean Music
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Brazil, The
- Arab Diaspora in Latin America, The
- Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
- Argentina, Slavery in
- Argentine Literature
- Army of Chile in the 19th Century
- Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
- Asian-Peruvian Literature
- Atlantic Creoles
- Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
- Bello, Andrés
- Black Experience in Colonial Latin America, The
- Black Experience in Modern Latin America, The
- Borderlands in Latin America, Conquest of
- Bourbon Reforms, The
- Brazilian Northeast, History of the
- Buenos Aires
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, The
- Caribbean, The Archaeology of the
- Cartagena de Indias
- Caste War of Yucatán, The
- Caudillos, 19th Century
- Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism, The
- Chaco War
- Children, History of
- Chile's Struggle for Independence
- Chronicle, The
- Church in Colonial Latin America, The
- Chávez, Hugo, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
- Cinema, Contemporary Brazilian
- Cinema, Latin American
- Colonial Central America
- Colonial Legal History of Peru
- Colonial New Granada
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Cortés, Hernán
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- Dependency Theory in Latin American History
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500–1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Dutch in South America and the Caribbean, The
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Economies from Independence to Industrialization
- Ecuador, La Generación del 30 in
- El Salvador
- Enlightenment and its Visual Manifestations in Spanish Ame...
- Environmental History
- Era of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911, The
- Family History
- Film, Science Fiction
- Football (Soccer) in Latin America
- Franciscans in Colonial Latin America
- From "National Culture" to the "National Popular" and the ...
- Gaucho Literature
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Guaraní and Their Legacy, The
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Guatemala (Colonial Period)
- Guatemala (Modern & National Period)
- Haitian Revolution, The
- Health and Disease in Modern Latin America, History of
- History, Cultural
- History, Food
- Honor in Latin America to 1900
- Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
- Human Rights in Latin America
- Immigration in Latin America
- Indigenous Elites in the Colonial Andes
- Indigenous Population and Justice System in Central Mexico...
- Indigenous Voices in Literature
- Japanese Presence in Latin America
- Jewish Presence in Latin America, The
- José María Arguedas and Early 21st Century Cultural and Po...
- Las Casas, Bartolomé de
- Latin American Independence
- Latin American Theater and Performance
- Latin American Urbanism, 1850-1950
- Law and Society in Latin America since 1800
- Legal History of New Spain, 16th-17th Centuries
- Legal History of the State and Church in 18th Century New ...
- Literature, Argentinian
- Machado de Assis
- Magical Realism
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Nationalism
- Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, The
- Mexican-US Relations
- Mexico, Conquest of
- Mexico, Education in
- Migration to the United States
- Military and Modern Latin America, The
- Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- Military Institution in Colonial Latin America, The
- Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
- Modern Populism in Latin America
- Modernity and Decoloniality
- Musical Tradition in Latin America, The
- Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
- New Conquest History and the New Philology in Colonial Mes...
- New Left in Latin America, The
- Novel, Chronology of the Venezuelan
- Novel of the Mexican Revolution, The
- Novel, 19th Century Haitian
- Novel, The Colombian
- Oaxaca, Conquest and Colonial
- Painting in New Spain, 1521–1820
- Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- Pastoralism in the Andes
- Paz, Octavio
- Perón and Peronism
- Peru, Colonial
- Peru, Conquest of
- Peru, Slavery in
- Philippines Under Spanish Rule, 1571-1898
- Photography in the History of Race and Nation
- Political Exile in Latin America
- Ponce de León
- Popular Culture and Globalization
- Popular Movements in 19th-Century Latin America
- Post Conquest Aztecs
- Post-Conquest Demographic Collapse
- Poverty in Latin America
- Preconquest Incas
- Pre-conquest Mesoamerican States, The
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Puerto Rican Literature
- Religions in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Santo Domingo
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Science and Technology in Modern Latin America
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Slavery in Brazil
- São Paulo
- Spanish American Arab Literature
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Spiritual Conquest of Latin America, The
- Sports in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Telenovelas and Melodrama in Latin America
- Textile Traditions of the Andes
- 19th Century and Modernismo Poetry in Spanish America
- 16th-Century New Spain
- Transculturation and Literature
- Trujillo, Rafael
- Tupac Amaru Rebellion, The
- United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War, The
- United States and the Guatemalan Revolution, The
- United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1961–196...
- Urban History
- Urbanization in the 20th Century, Latin America’s
- U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War
- Vargas, Getúlio
- Venezuelan Literature
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Women's Property Rights, Asset Ownership, and Wealth in La...
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas