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Colombia Travel: Castillo De San Filipe, Cartagena

Construction on this fort was started after Sir Francis Drake”s attack on the city in 1586. It began as a small fortification and after 150 years of construction, with the help of slave labor and a Dutch engineer, it eventually became the largest Spanish fort built in the Americas. Seen from below, it looks like a massive pile of stones covering a hill. We walked to the top, saw how it commanded entry into the city by land as well as sea and walked back down to wander through it endless tunnels which served as supply routes.

We navigated our way through the throng of souvenir sellers and stood in front of the statue of Don Blas de Lezo, one of the most famous Spanish naval officers in history and honored here for saving the city in 1741 from a British attack. In his forty year naval career, he fought the British, the Dutch and the Genoese and along the way, he lost a leg, an arm and one eye. The British, prompted by their desire to increase their colonial empire, attempted to take over Spain”s possessions in the Americas. Deciding against attacking Havana, they directed their attention toward Cartagena and the ensuing sixty-seven day battle became known as the Battle of Cartagena de Indias. Under the leadership of Admiral Edward Vernon, the British amassed a fleet of 186 ships with 7,000 sailors plus 18,000 infantrymen. Colonial soldiers from the United States were also sent accompanied by Lawrence Washington, George Washington”s half brother, who would later name his country estate Mount Vernon after the British Admiral. This armada represented 25% of the British navy and can be considered the largest massing of troops and ships prior to D-Day. Facing this British juggernaut was Don Blas de Lezo with six ships and fewer than 6,000 men. Even though he was badly outnumbered, he was fighting on his own turf with uninterrupted supply lines and could depend on the extensive series of fortifications. However, his greatest advantage was his brilliance as a strategist and taking a page out of Sun Tzu, he understood the weaknesses of his enemy. He correctly predicted the British troops would eventually die from tropical sicknesses leading to their humbling defeat and Spain”s American possessions free from British take over. During this battle, de Lezo lost his other leg but it would be the plaque that would finally kill him and he died in Cartagena in 1741.

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