Luís Felípe Jaspe - Cartagena's architectural genius
Cartagena's architecture is justifiably famous, protected by UNESCO preservation orders, with some edifices dating back nearly five centuries. But the most eye-catching buildings date back a mere century or so, and nearly all of them were built by one man: Luis Felipe Jaspe.

Jaspe was born in 1846, one of four sons. Jaspe and Simon Bolivar share a common ancestor, through Don Domingo Jaspe y Ponte, Basque emigrants who came to Colombia circa 1559. A teacher of philosophy, geography, physics and mathematics, Jaspe's career spanned more than 40 years.

A quick glance at the long list of buildings he was associated with soon demonstrate why he is one of Cartagena's most illustrious citizens:

The Camellon de los Martires or Walkway of the Martyres, occupies the area between Parque Centenario and the Muelle de los Pegasos, the exact place where the Independence leaders were executed, was built in 1871.

Parque del Centenario completed in 1912 to celebrate the Centenary of Independence. Jaspe designed the park's monuments Estatua La Libertad, La Juventud, and El Trabajo - the Statues of Liberty, Youth and Labour - made from imported Italian marble, as were the busts of the Martires.

Parque Fernanadez de Madrid, completed in 1889.

Torre del Reloj, or Clock Tower, built above the much older gates to the city in 1888.

Parque Bolivar, perhaps the most beautiful of all of Cartagena's public parks, containing a huge bronze statue of Simon Bolivar and completely restored in 2000, it was originally built by Jaspe in 1896.

The magnificent Teatro Heredia. For many years Cartagena had no theatre, just a huge salon called El Coliseo, where you had to supply your own seating. The local business leaders commissioned Jaspe to design a new theatre, 6 years in construction, which was originally called Teatro Municipal, but later changed to Teatro Heredia. It was opened on 11 November 1911, a date marking the Centenary of Independence. Its ornate interior is one of the most breathtaking in the world, and is probably Jaspe's crowning achievement.

Jaspe is also noted as a builder who completed other people's designs, and a restorer of older colonial works. He built the beautiful marble Obelisco, commemorating the names of the proclaimers of the Act of Independence of 1811, which was designed by his friend Pedro Malabet. Following the designs of Nicloas Samer, a German architect, he built the old Banco de Bolivar which is today the Bartolome Calvo Library. Jaspe re-built the Church of San Diego in 1905, which today houses the Escuela de Bellas Artes. He built several mansions in Manga, notably Casa Niza and Villa Susana, which today is better known as the old Magali Paris building. The Ermita de Cabrero was another of Japse's projects.

Some of Jaspe's major works have been demolished: the original Puente Roman bridge, that linked Cartagena to Manga has been replaced, and the ugly Centro de Covenciones stands where his grand Mercado Publico once stood.
Luis Felipe Jaspe died in 1918. Many descendants of Jaspe still live in Cartagena. He is buried in Manga's Cementerio de Santa Cruz, a cemetery that he himself designed.

Glen David Short is a freelance writer based in Cartagena. His new adventure travelogue, `An Odd Odyssey: California to Colombia by bus and boat' has just been published by Trafford Publishing.

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Text and Photos Copyright 2005 Glen David Short