Palace of the Inquisition, Cartagena, Day 173

Too much fun at the Spanish Inquisition, Cartagena, Colombia

I’m not sure if it is the heat or the six months of gritty traveling that Christi and I have already accomplished, but it’s hard to motivate ourselves today.  On the other hand perhaps it’s because we’re planning to visit the grisly Palace of the Inquisition (otherwise known as a fantasy camp for would-be torturers around the world). Consequently we are still eating breakfast while the rest of Cartagena is contemplating lunch.

The Cartagena museum of History is located in the Palace of the Inquisition in Plaza de Bolivar.  Indeed most of the relics housed in the museum relate to the Inquisition itself.  The Punishment Tribunal of the Holy Office (commonly called the Spanish Inquisition) began its crusading activities on this site in 1610, although the Palace itself was not completed until 1776.  The purpose of the Inquisition was to identify heretics (non-believers in the Catholic faith).  The crimes of the heretics included magic, witchcraft, and blasphemy.  The museum has numerous barbaric torture devices on display that were used to obtain confessions.  Some of the more gruesome include inserting barbed spikes into a woman’s breasts (which when removed shred the poor woman’s chest), the garrote (where your head is fixed and a steel bolt is pushed against the back of your neck until it breaks), the necklace of spikes (which causes you to bleed to death), and the skull crusher (which forces your brains out through your nose and mouth).  Even the rack had a neat twist, stretching out your genitalia as well as your arms and legs.  For a supposedly religious organization, the Spanish Inquisition is another grim reminder of the evil that men do.  And our guide describes these stories with obvious relish.

We’re happy to escape the ghoulish confines of the museum for the open spaces of Old Town Cartagena.  And wherever you wander hereabouts you’re not far from the encircling ramparts that used to protect the city from pirate attacks and wholesale invasions by the colonial powers.  Cartagena is actually set against the backdrop of the Caribbean sea, although the waterfront here is rather dingy-looking – and definitely nothing like Christi’s movie-inspired image from Romancing the Stone (she was a bit disappointed by that). Even the dungeons that were built into the northeastern fortifications have been converted into souvenir shops – such is the power of the latest invasion of Cartagena: rampant capitalism.

Later we eat dinner at an Argentine-themed parrilla around San Diego Square.  The restaurant is actually very elegant, but also totally empty apart from us.  It’s a little disconcerting eating while the whole staff watches and I think twice before taking a sip of water because I know a waiter will pounce to refill my glass.  This is beyond fine dining; it’s almost as if we hired the whole restaurant for an exclusive, romantic evening.  Not bad for a couple of backpackers.

Blog post by Roderick Phillips, author of Weary Heart – a gut wrenching, heart-wrenching, laugh-wrenching tale.


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