In Cartagena de Indias, from its founding right up until the beginning of the 20th century there was no nearby natural source of potable water. To compensate for this basic deficiency the Spaniards constructed cisterns throughout the city. Cisterns were built not only in the central patios of the houses, convents and certain plazas but also in the fortresses and along the walls.
The largest remaining cisterns are to be found in the Convent of La Popa and the Castle of San Felipe. Today in Cartagena it is, unfortunately, increasingly common to see a swimming pool where the patio used to be and of course the cistern has been eliminated with it. Such is “restoration” in Cartagena euphemistically understood. But where patios remain intact you’ll still often find a cistern still there.
In 1905 the Matute Aqueduct began to provide the city with water from Turbaco. Cartagena’s population was barely nine thousand people at that time, today it has close to a million. Nevertheless, day to day water needs are still supplied by a sole aqueduct, which opened in 1940, fed by the waters of the Canal del Dique, a man made canal to connect the Bay of Cartagena to the Magdalena River. Magdalena is the main river in Colombia.
“For a longtime the water in the cisterns was blamed, and with pride, as the cause of scrotal hernia that so many men in the city endured not only without embarrassment, but even with a certain patriotic insolence.” Gabriel García Márquez in Love in the Time of Cholera.