What the door knockers in Colombia’s Cartagena de Indias tell us about the city’s history

Nov 11, 2019 by

Add beautiful door knockers to your list of reasons to visit Cartagena de Indias in Colombia.

San Felipe de Barajas Castle, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Photo by Gabriela García Calderón.

The city of Cartagena de Indias in Colombia is known for its impressive city walls, built during the Spanish colonial period to protect it from attacks by pirates and privateers. The city has one of the mightiest fortresses in South America and the Caribbean.

Door at the historic center of Cartagena de Indias. Photo by Gabriela García Calderón.

You could almost say that Cartagena de Indias is an “open-air museum full of secrets.” Some of those secrets are concealed by what is another hallmark of the city: its door knockers, or the “old metal doorbells that many doors had […] before electric doorbells existed,” according to travel blog El rincón de Sele. The entry says:

For centuries, it was, no doubt, a symbol of distinction to the extent that there was a saying in Spanish that went “To each house its door knocker,” referring completely to terms of social class and power. […] During the colonial period in America there were cities that were rich in the diversity and the laboriousness of those knockers, with Cartagena de Indias as one of the most well-known examples in present-day Colombia, which at first was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, and then during the 18th century became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada.

Each design had a meaning, as the website Fuscia notes:

The lizard meant that [the owner] was a part of or descended from the royal family. The lion meant that [the building] belonged to the military or the church, almost always those were used for church doors.

The fish or sea figure meant [the owner] was a trader. The hand was said to be the hand of the Virgin Mary of Fatima, thus, it was a religious family.

Door at the historic center of Cartagena de Indias. The metal buttons is a sign of social class. Photo by Gabriela Garcia Calderón.

The door knockers were made by expert forgers according to the requests of the house owners. Today, descendants of those forgers are still in the business, such as Jesús Acevedo Pombo, from the Cartagenero neighborhood of Getsemaní. A 2013 article by a local newspaper told his story:

Jesús says that, at first, he only received requests of lions, rings and hands, which were the classic figures from the colonial period.

Now, people are less interested in following the tradition and have begun innovating by asking for mermaids, seahorses and even devil’s heads.

On Twitter, it’s possible to find photos of some of the door knockers:

Door knockers of Cartagena. The beauty of small things.

View image on Twitter

The city with the best door knockers in South America: Cartagena de Indias (photos from Instagram).

The travel and curiosity website Atlas Obscura has an entry about Cartagena’s door knockers too:

View image on Twitter

Now you have one more reason to visit Cartagena de Indias!

Source: What the door knockers in Colombia’s Cartagena de Indias tell us about the city’s history · Global Voices

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