say there are only two things certain in life:
death and taxes.
the latter is getting you down you might like
to reflect on the former, not in a grim or sad
way, but by being pleasantly surprised by exploring
one of Cartagena's best kept secrets: Manga's
Cementerio de Santa Cruz.
Situated just a short taxi ride away from the
historic central district, the cemetery offers
an interesting and peaceful excursion for visitors
looking for something a bit different. I went
there on the invitation of Luisa Alvarez, an
architect who is leading a campaign by the "Projectistas
Cementerio Santa Cruz" to have the historic
cemetery restored and protected. "London's Highgate
and Buenos Aires' La Recoleta attract thousands
every year" she said, "so could Manga."
Cartagena was founded in 1533, but the Manga
cemetery probably dates from the late 1700's.
In those days Manga was a swampy island, a short
distance outside the city limits; the perfect
place for a graveyard. Today Manga is one of
Cartagena's more exclusive suburbs, and beautiful
homes like the Casa Román surround it.
Unlike many other cemeteries, there is no ornate
entrance gate to welcome visitors, just a secure
door, the whole yard surrounded by a high wall.
Once inside however, the main walkway opens
up with graves of the wealthy either side of
it. Away from the central walkway, the more
historic graves are generally to the right,
while the left mainly holds the poor. Our guide
was an elderly caballero called Manuel
"mochila" Victor Herrera, a cheerful man with
a single bottom tooth who has worked at the
yard for many years.
By taking a stroll around the graves one cannot
but learn a little of the history of Cartagena
de Indias. The earliest graves predate Colombian
Independence. In fact one of Luisa's dreams
is to pinpoint the burial site of the Nine
Martyrs of Independence, executed by Spanish
royalist Pablo Morillo by firing squad in 1816:
their corpses were buried in Manga in unmarked
graves, along with the approximately 6000 Cartagena
citizens who starved to death during Morillo's
ruthless six month siege of the city. In 1849,
a cholera epidemic decimated the population
of Cartagena by another 4,000, or approximately
a third of its people. Many people were buried
in unmarked graves during these two periods.
of the more ornate tombs were built prior to
1900, in marble imported from Italy. The man
who imported that marble, and the marble used
in buildings and monuments in other parts of
Cartagena was Juan Bautista Mainero Trucco,
is himself buried in the yard. Cartagena-born
Rafael Nuñez, writer of the Colombian
Constitution and national anthem, victorious
leader of the Conservatives during the civil
wars of the late 1800's, was first buried here
before being transferred to Cabrero. His family
tomb can be seen on the left hand side towards
the end of the main walkway.
Another famous person buried here is Juan
Jose Nieto, an important figure in the period
from 1840 to his death in 1866: a friend of
Santander and enemy of Bolivar, he eventually
became governor of Cartagena, and he led revolutionary
military campaigns against various elected Presidents.
Felipe Jaspe, a kind of Colombian Gaudi,
designed many famous Cartagena landmarks, including
the beautiful Parque Centenario, Torre del Reloj,
Parque Bolivar, Cartagena's Calvo Library, and
Teatro Heredia. He was the first to bring some
architectural organization to the cemetery where
he is now buried.
Many of Cartagena's most famous families are
represented in Manga: the Román, Velez, Lemaitre,
Gomez, Pombo, Pareja, Calvo-Muñoz, Rumie and
Ganem families all have prominent tombs.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez' mother, Doña Luisa Santiaga
Iguarán, was buried here in 2002.
Perhaps the most impressive tombs are the Castillo
Espriella and Espriella Abadia family
vaults, exact copies of each other near the
end of the main walkway, and at the entrance,
the imposing Fernado Velez Danies mausoleum.
Less affluent folk are buried in small square
spaces that are built into the perimeter wall,
closed off with a memorial plaque of inscription,
though some are marked merely with their name
and date scratched into the wet mortar. One
of the most interesting of these smaller tombs
is Monica Restrepo, entombed in the rear
wall, who died in 2000. Her tomb features a
bronze heart, spirals, sea-shells, ceramics
and a sun symbol all set into the face-block.
Some graves stand out because it is of polished
granite, not the customary Italian marble, or
because they have English names inscribed upon
them. One such grave reads thus, in English:
"Sacred to the memory of Captain Robert Watson,
late commodore of the West India and Pacific
Steam ship company, died 8 Jan 1891. This stone
was erected in loving memory by his brother
captains." Is this the same Captain Robert
Watson who first settled Lizard Island off the
coast of Queensland, and whose wife, child and
Chinese servant died of thirst in 1882, drifting
in the sea in a barrel which they used to escape
an Aboriginal raid? Until further reserch reveals
the truth, one can only wonder.
Walking around the left hand wall, the visitor
will come upon bags of skeletons, stored in
the spare wall-cavity tombs. Luisa told me these
are the bones of desconocidos, unknown
people buried in unmarked graves, accidentally
disinterred during more recent burials.
A bit further along the same wall you come to
the "osario" a special section reserved
for the bones of young children.
The Cementerio (sometimes referred to as a `Jardin
de Paz', or Garden of Peace), is suffering from
tree root under growth (Luisa said the trees
grow very quickly here: must be all that blood
and bone) and some monuments have a distinct
tilt to them. The smell of shady jobo
fruit trees is unmistakeable in the West yard,
where we saw workmen and visitors picking up
the small orange fruits and eating them. Unfortunately,
vandalism has destroyed some tombs, and theft
is a problem, as people steal the ornate marble
statues for their gardens, or the bronze and
aluminium escutcheon plates for scrap.
Some tragic family histories can be read, like
the grave marked with the names of the wife
and daughter of Wiliam Bradford. His
wife Helen Sanchez was buried in 1876,
in the same grave as their 5 month old daughter
Anna, buried in 1868. After reading touching
epitaphs such as these, both Luisa and I left
wanting to know more about Manga's permanent
Liusa has made representations to various government
agencies trying to secure funding for further
work, but so far her requests have fallen on
deaf ears. She is not one to give up easily
however, and welcomes any suggestions or offers
of assistance. Her number is Cartagena 664
0820, and her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Glen David Short is a freelance writer based
in Cartagena. His new adventure travelogue,
Odd Odyssey: California to Colombia by bus and
boat' has just been published by Trafford
B A C K -
and Photos Copyright 2005 Glen David Short