Beyond the citadel of Cartagena: Exploring urban art in Getsemani

While the walled-city of scenic Cartagena continues to be tastefully developed with elegant restaurants and luxury boutiques – driven by the constant influx of cruise-liner tourists; the neighbourhood of Getsemani, only a stone’s throw away, has largely managed to retain its character as a traditional and local barrio.

For a long time, Getsemani was deemed a place unsafe to explore for travellers due to its seedy reputation as a red light district. But over the past few years there has been a resurgence and a return to prominence in the area, with many of the old remnant colonial buildings being converted to backpacker hostels, boutique hotels and bistros in the barrio. Indeed, Getsemani is now an up-and-coming art-filled quarter in Cartagena with Plaza de La Trinidad as its charming and hospitable centrepiece.

I had heard about the vivid graffiti scene in the vicinity from other travellers and wanted to check it out for myself. Only recently, in December 2013, the first ever International Festival of Urban Art was held on the streets of Getsemani. Renowned national and international street artists were invited to dream up murals, which reflected characters or events of significance to the area. Here’s what I found when I got there….

Cartagena

A tinto seller takes a break in the shade next to “La Heroica”. Urban aesthetics from London-based artist Fin Dac who delivers one of his signature stencil women.

Cartagena, Colombia

“Maria Mulata”

Street artist Yurika mdc took inspiration from a traditional story told to her by an old lady living close to the plaza. As the story goes, in olden times, the neighbourhood was populated not only by humankind but by exotic animals too, like the vivid bird named Maria Mulata. The exotic multi-coloured birds with harmonious song came to the rescue when the town was enveloped in flames and helped carry the local people to the city limits in their beaks. But flying back and forth through the smoke and soot the Maria Mulatas lost their colourful feathers and were blackened thereafter. The villagers were saved and forever grateful to Maria Mulata. On bright days, locals can still see the brilliant colours in the bird’s black plumage.

Cartagena, Colombia

An emblematic Palenquera at rest with a bowl of fruit atop her head… as can be seen for real on the streets of Cartagena.

Cartagena, Colombia

A vivid mural on Calle de La Sierpe depicts an exceptionally life-like Cartagenera

Cartagena, Colombia

A sea turtle navigates a homeless person’s refuge and brings life to a crumbling wall

Cartagena, Colombia

This local man told me he liked how the street art brightened up his street

While you’ll find most of the urban art on the snaking Calle de La Sierpe in Getsemani, there is a lot more to be found by searching the many side streets. At almost every turn there is graffiti, stencils or wall paintings to be discovered.

I found Getsemani to be to Cartagena what La Boca is to the tango barrio of San Telmo in Buenos Aires, or what the bohemian zone of Santa Teresa is to Rio de Janeiro. There is still a certain edginess to the emerging neighbourhood as the Getsemani community conceivably are not used to finding too many tourists outside the fortified refuge of Cartagena. Of course, everyone I met there was very friendly and went out of his or her way to help me get where I wanted to go.

Things will inevitably change over the course of time as a new generation come in and investments are made to bring in further tourism. I truly hope Getsemani can be preserved in a responsible way, safeguarding its heritage and traditional roots for the local people that live there.

Wandering up and down the colourful streets taking in the vivid urban art against a backdrop of faded 18th century architecture, it is easy to become hooked on Getsemani. I’m definitely looking forward to going back to explore some more and I’d advise you to check it out for yourself!

Visit Getsemani as part of Uncover Colombia’s 5-Day Cartagena and Islas del Rosario Tour.

by Mark Boultwood

About the author:

Mark Boultwood is an Englishman currently living in Bogota, Colombia. Mark first ventured to South America in the late 1990s, years later found himself volunteering at an animal refuge for a year, caring for a Jaguar in the depths of the Bolivian jungle. His passion for travel and new experiences landed him a decade-long role specialised in leading small group tours from Mexico right down to the tip of Argentina and almost every country in between. His interests include wildlife photography, hiking and collecting treasures from the places he travels. He is a freelance correspondent for Uncover Colombia.

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