The Port of Cartagena lies on the northern shores of Cartagena Bay on the northern Caribbean shores of Colombia in South America. The Port of Cartagena is some 640 kilometers northwest of the country's capital, Bogota, and about 106 nautical miles southwest of the Port of Santa Maria. It is also about 950 kilometers west of the Port of La Guaria in Caracas, Venezuela. In 2007, over 871 thousand people lived in the Port of Cartagena municipality, and over one million people called the urban area home.
In 1984, the Port of Cartagena, its fortresses, and some monuments were recognized by UNESCO to be a World Heritage Site. The Port of Cartagena has the biggest remaining fortifications in South America, making it a popular tourist destination. Despite armed conflicts in the country, the Port of Cartagena has enjoyed economic growth in the past decades.
The Port of Cartagena is home to sugar and tobacco processors and to manufactures of cosmetics, fertilizer, textiles, and leather goods. The Port of Cartagena exports petroleum, manufactured goods, coffee, and coal. The Port of Cartagena is home to many new high-rise buildings, but the strong winds prevent the construction of skyscrapers. The Port of Cartagena has also become a center for medical services as an alternative to the high medical costs in other developed nations. People come to the Port of Cartagena for plastic surgery, bariatric weight loss operations, and dental treatments.
The area surrounding the Port of Cartagena has a long and interesting history. The mild climate and abundant hunting created a comfortable environment for centuries of human occupation.
The Puerto Hormiga Culture lived in the Port of Cartagena area during the Pre-Columbian Era as early as 7000 BC. The oldest ceramics discovered in the Americas, dating from 4000 BC, were discovered here. Archeological evidence from about 3000 BC points to the affluence of the Puerto Hormiga culture and the rise of a more developed people, the Monsu, who had a more mixed economy that relied more on the river and ocean. Artificial mounds from 3200 to 1000 BC show that today's Port of Cartagena was a center for organized societies.
Cartagena de Indias was founded in 1533 by Don Pedro de Heredia. It was soon famous for the large fleets that stopped there every year to load gold for transport to Spain. The Port of Cartagena was a major port for Europeans moving to the New World with their worldly goods. From the beginning of the Conquest until the Colombian War of Independence, the Port of Cartagena was the main port for Spain's New Kingdom of Granada. By the end of the 16th Century, about 90 Spanish galleons were using the Port of Cartagena.
Its fame as a gold port led to plunder, pirates, and thieves and the construction of castles, forts, and walls to protect the city. But the Port of Cartagena was still attacked by pirates - French Roberto Baal and Jean du Casse and English Francis Drake and John Hawkins among them.
To defend against these attacks, Spain began to construct fortifications in the 17th Century that took over 200 years to complete. They left almost 7 miles of walls around the city, the San Felipe de Barajas Castle, the San Sebastian de Pastelillo Fort, the San Angel battery, buildings to store food and weapons, and underground tunnels.
The Port of Cartagena was not only a port for trade of precious metals but also for slaves. Slaves were worked to cut cane and build roads, plunder tombs of the original populations, build fortresses, and work mines.
For over 250 years, the Port of Cartagena belonged to the Spanish Crown. In 1811, the province declared its independence, and fighting with Spain continued for many years. The city was finally taken from Spain in 1821.
As shipping changed through the 19th Century, with new steam engines and steel ships appearing on the seas, it became necessary to change the Port of Cartagena. In 1894, the Port of Cartagena dredged the Canal del Dique and added a river wharf, a shipping dock, and a rail line that connected Cartagena Bay with the Magdalena River.
The 20th Century brought renewed growth to the Port of Cartagena. In 1917, petroleum fields were opened in the Magdalena River valley, and a pipeline to Barrancabermeja and new oil refinery was completed in 1926.
In 1934, a new modern marine terminal opened on the island of Manga in the Port of Cartagena. The terminal was operated by the American Frederick Snare Corporation until 1947, when Colombia's Ministry of Public Works took it over. In 1961, the Ports of Colombia (COLPUERTOS), a state agency, took over management of Colombia's ports.
In 1991, Colombia created the Superintendent of Ports and began to privatize the countries seaports. The terminal in the Port of Cartagena came under the management of the Sociedad Portuaria Regional de Cartagena (SPRC) in 1993 under a 40-year concession.
In 2005, SPRC purchased the Container Terminal of Cartagena (Contec). Since the SPRC began operating, they have increased the Port of Cartagena's capacity to handle containers, streamlined procedures, established tight security measures, and promoted the Port of Cartagena as an attractive destination for Caribbean cruise lines.
Today, the Port of Cartagena is Colombia's main oil port and a major export point for coffee and platinum. It is also a center for the manufacture of tobacco products, sugar, textiles, cosmetics, fertilizer, and leather products. Tourism is a growing sector of the local economy.