Perhaps there’s nothing more symbolic of Cartagena than its city walls, among the best preserved in the world. The dominating Castillo San Felipe and other fortifications around the city’s bay speak to its importance in the Spanish colonial system and add to the city’s historic charm. If you want to learn more about their history and construction, then you should check out Rodolfo Segovia’s book The Fortifications of Cartagena: Strategy and History. Read on for a complete book review of The Fortifications of Cartagena.
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Rodolfo Segovia’s The Fortifications of Cartagena: Strategy and History is an interesting and highly readable survey of Cartagena’s fortifications, the strategic purposes behind them, and their construction.
Segovia opts to not focus on the story of the battles the fortifications saw, instead describing the stories of their construction and how they were to work together to protect the city when attacked.
He does open with a brief and informative account of the city’s history and importance to the Spanish colonial system. Being a main stop of the Spanish treasure fleets, much of the precious metals coming from Spain’s colonies passed through its bay. That made it a target for Spain’s enemies and a priority to protect. Cartagena was among the most heavily fortified cities in the Americas.
Segovia then describes the fortifications constructed and the strategic considerations behind them. He first examines the fortifications of the bay, the city’s first lines of defense. Particularly interesting here is the way that the shifting geography of the bay, deterioration due to the sea and weather, and damage and destruction from attacks influenced the construction and rebuilding of a series of fortifications around the approaches to the city.
These fortifications were meant to force any hostile fleet to have to blast its way through to the inner bay and the city. While the hope was they wold stop the enemy, they were designed to at the least exact a heavy toll. To this end, they were widely successful during the 1741 Battle of Cartagena, when a massive fleet led by Edward Vernon took nearly a month to take the outer defenses. Cartagena’s secret weapon, tropical disease then set in and weakened Vernon’s men before a failed assault on the city.
Segovia then turns his attention to the defenses of the city proper. He recounts the construction of the city’s walls, which were built as a series of bastions that were eventually connected into a continuous curtain. Many of them were added to in the late 1700s by Cartagena’s most prolific engineer Antonio de Arévalo, who was also responsible for the reconstruction of the bay’s outer defenses after Vernon’s attack and the expansion of the Castillo San Felipe Fortress into the massive structure that it is today.
Segovia provides good explanations of the way the fortifications were meant to defend the city, and includes numerous maps to help illustrate the strategic considerations behind them. He also provides many nuggets of interesting facts and features of the fortifications. Segovia also discusses how they were funded and the sometimes political intrigue and egos that came into play as different characters debated and argued over the best approach to the city’s defense.
That makes the book overall a good, and interesting read. In addition to the maps, the many pictures of the locations discussed help the reader visualize the strategy Segovia recounts. While primarily focused on military strategy, the book is still very readable and does a good job not getting bogged down in complicated terminology or tactics that will go over the average person’s head.
Who Should Read it and Why?
The Fortifications of Cartagena: Strategy and History is a great read for those who are history buffs, and enjoy visiting and learning about colonial era fortifications. I learned some great tidbits I didn’t know about them, including the fact that the walls originally had cannon enclosures mid way up in a number of locations, one of which has been restored and can be seen today. Another thing I didn’t know was that part of the San Pedro Claver Church was built on top of the original wall and led to a legal dispute between the city and the religious order and the construction of another section at the order’s expense.
*See also: Visitor Guide to the San Pedro Claver Church
The average person might find it a bit dry, but the interesting, and lesser known tidbits like those above make it a great read for those who want to know a bit more about the city’s walls and fortifications they will see during a visit.
I liked the book and it prompted me to take a walk around town to look for the new things I learned about the walls and see them myself. It also gave me a deeper understanding of some of the changes of the city’s geography since colonial times, such as how the water of the bay came right up to the walls until fairly recently.
In conclusion, the book is a good recommendation for those interested in fortifications and military history.
Want to Read it for Yourself?
The book can be found in some tourist shops as well as book stores around Cartagena, or it can be ordered on Amazon.
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You may also be interested in the following posts:
Visitors Guide to the Castillo San Felipe Fortress
Visitors Guide to Cartagena’s Naval Museum
A Comprehensive History of Cartagena (long read) or A Primer on the History of Cartagena (short read)
A History of Francis Drake’s Raid on Cartagena
A History of the 1741 Battle of Cartagena
Planning your trip to explore Cartagena?
Check out the following posts to help plan:
Insider’s Guide to the Best Areas to Stay in Cartagena
Complete Packing List for Cartagena
Top Things to Do in Cartagena