You first notice the white buildings at the top of the hill as you flash by them while landing at Cartagena’s Rafael Nunez International Airport. But if you do not know their significance, they quickly vanish from the forefront of your mind as you first step off the plane and into the heat of the day in this city with an eclectic mix of Caribbean flair and native style that sits right on the Gulf of Mexico in the northern tropical region of Colombia.
But once you learn of the significance of that small but eye-catching cluster of white buildings at the top of the hill that splits Cartagena almost in two, from either a local, a taxi driver or an online travel site, you realize you must make a point to get to the top of that hill. For at that top, some 500 feet above the rest of the city sits a chapel that truly dominates the religious history of Cartagena, while also offering the most spectacular 360° panoramic view from one side all the way around and back again. Here is a diorama aerial model of La Popa that resides in one of the show rooms surrounding the inner courtyard:
The story goes that the Convento de la Popa was founded in 1607 by local Augustian order Father Alonso de La Cruz Peredes after he received a divine message to build the chapel in honor of the city’s Patron, Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria. Of course, he and his local Catholic followers evicted the pagan worshipping residents in the process – but that part of the story barely gets a mention. The exquisite gold altar pictured is part of the homage to her namesake.
After walking inside the chapel and taking time to soak in the ornate beauty of the aforementioned alter and back drop, there is a side door to the right that leads into La Popa’s courtyard – a beautiful, serene area filled with native plants, trees and floors.
The several rooms that surround the other sides of the courtyard are filled with relics, religious artifacts, maps and garb worn by the priests and nuns who had resided there. The Convent itself is a very interesting place to visit, filled with over 400 years of history that you can feel as you walk through the rooms, particularly in the chapel itself.
In the second entry of this blog dedicated to La Popa discusses the other part of what makes La Popa such a popular tourist attraction – the spectacular panoramic view of the entire city of Cartagena. This is definitely one of the best, most interesting tourists spots in Cartagena, and a must see when you visit the city.
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