At the northeastern corner of the old walled city is Cartagena’s grandest arcade, stretching with imperial purpose from Santa Clara to Santa Catalina Fortress. Behind the 47 painted archways are a string colorful souvenir shops, well stocked with all the emeralds, Botero knockoffs, hammocks, hats and molas that your coworkers and catsitters might desire. These unusually proportioned alcoves are interspersed with equally cramped bars, galleries, and other businesses. It’s a fun place to shop and photogenic spot to enjoy, but the rather oppressive barrel ceilings that overarch each vault (boveda) come with a bit of history.
The vaulted alcoves were originally built into the massive sea wall between 1792 and 1796, and at first used to store provisions. They were repurposed during the early 1800s as an incredibly uncomfortable prison. The extent city’s thick walls—up to 15m (50ft) against the sea and its uncertainties—can really be appreciated while you bargain for a new pair of earrings.