Getsemani – The Hidden Treasures of Cartagena

Getsemani CArtagena
Getsemani – The Hidden Treasures of Cartagena
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Chapter 2 – Getsemani – excerpt from the Hidden Treasures of Cartagena

Except for a slaughter house and a Franciscan cloister, the island of Arrabal , later named Getsemani was largely unpopulated for 60 or 70 years. At the turn of the 17th century, as Cartagena expanded, this neighbourhood became home to artisans, pedlars and the less important bureaucrats of the city.

The fortification of Getsemani began in 1631. It has been suggested that the decision to expend the resources to construct these walls was not so much to defend the residents but instead to protect the Spanish crown from significant losses due to smuggling. The Spanish had a chokehold on all commercial activity in and out of their colonies and contraband reduced their income from tariffs received on goods entering the city. Many interesting research papers have been written that describe how these monopolistic restrictions imposed by the crown resulted in the widespread corruption and financial grief that Latin America has suffered from ever since this time.

The warehouses and wells of the island resupplied ships in the harbour for many years but Getsemani’s importance to Cartagena was its wellspring of independence. On November 11, 1811 an armed crowd supported by the Lancers of Getsemani and their leader Pedro Romero pressured the leaders of the city to declare its independence from Spain.DSC05124_1

The city never recovered from its crushing defeat in 1815 at the hands of the Spanish general Pablo Morillo who was sent from Spain to quell the rebellion.  The newly renovated Plaza of the Martyrs displays a plaque dedicated to the men executed for their vision of a New Granada free from the paralysing grip of Spanish colonial rule.

In 1822, a visiting Frenchman, Gaspard Theodore Mollien described the city of Cartagena as dismal.  He stated that the rooms were dirty, full of smoke and miserable but the beings inhabiting these quarters were even dirtier, blacker and more miserable. Most families had been shattered by the sieges in the battles for independence leaving a population of 18,000, many whom were sailors or fishermen of dark skin. With the decimating cholera epidemic of 1849 and the death of another third of the population, the remaining anima of a once vital and important city simply withered away.

The beginning of the 20th century brought new hope and investment to the region. With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the importance of developing a modern port in Cartagena was acknowledged. As prosperity returned and the city began to flourish so did Getsemani with a flurry of new structures erected and old homes renovated.

Like an exquisite tropical flower that blooms and quickly dies away so did the historic barrios of the old city. What was once beautiful again fell into ruin. The homes in Getsemani collapsed into despair and many were occupied by squatters, multiple families or kept by caretakers for absent owners. Until recently walking through the neighbourhood was not advised and at night there are still areas that are inhabited by prostitutes and drug dealers.

This cycle of death and rebirth continues today. Slowly and quietly Getsemani is again entering a new period of renaissance. Homes are being purchased by foreign investors and thousands of dollars are being poured into restorations. While the Institute of Patrimony regulates the reconstructions, many of the buildings are in such disrepair that they are gutted with only their outer wall remaining.Getsemani

A lovely example of the regeneration Getsemani is experiencing was created by the local architect Patricio Moreno. Patricia discovered an old home with no patrimonial or structural value located on the calle Carretero. The interior of the home was demolished as it was small and of no importance. In order to fulfill the requirements of the project the addition of a second level was necessary, consequentially leading to a complete redesign of the façade.  Patricia modernized stylistic components from the colonial period for the exterior and blended them tastefully into this historic sector.  Inside the house the décor is a wonderful fusion of African, Javan and Colonial flavours, topped by a 3rd floor pool with a charming view of the Church of the Trinidad.

The result of foreign investment flowing into Cartagena has led to an unfortunate turn of events. The local population, who for so long have occupied these historic sectors, are slowly being forced out as they no longer have the economic means to remain. For now, on any given weekend Getsemani retains its party like atmosphere. The Plaza de la Trinidad is filled with children. The streets are jammed with local residents playing cards and the neighbourhood resonates from the sound of a multitude of large stereos or ‘picos’, as the locals call them, blasting out Reggaeton music but soon this too will be gone.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rC8cKNtK6rE&list=TLvQoan4TXh-w

 

 

 

 

David is the Chief Editor and CEO for EscapeArtist Colombia.

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