One of the essential elements of the two-story colonial house in Cartagena is the balcony. In fact there is no other city in the world which can boast the number of wooden balconies which present themselves to the eye in the streets of Cartagena de Indias.
From some of them spill over cascades of color from climbing flowering vines – or leaping from one balcony to another. Cartagena balconies are a real feast for the eye because of the color and greenish of the tropical plants used for decorating them, especially the bougainvillea or veranera, hibiscus and other ornamental plants.
From colonial times and until very recently the balcony had a very practical purpose: in the late afternoons people used to sit on the balconies to freshen up taking the breeze coming up off the sea, to read, knit, embroider, sew, chat about the day’s events or to watch passers-by.
In the US the demise of the porch as a locus of family activity, including evening meals, is comparable. Ain’t no front porches no mo.
Today an ever growing number of the houses in the historical center are owned either by rich Colombians or rich foreigners (If you can buy a house in the center of Cartagena at current prices you are rich by any Cartagenero’s definition) who do not live here on a regular basis but instead use them to spend vacations or to rent them for events such as weddings, graduation parties, “quinceañeras” celebrations which are sweet sixteen or coming out parties (fifteen here resembles sixteen in the US in that it’s an important milestone for young women) etc. So the sad fact is that even if the balconies still admit a fine breeze they have lost the social function they once had.
The longest wooden balcony in the Americas is here in the Old Walled City of Cartagena de Indias, located high along the long wall of the monastery of San Pedro Claver, on Calle de la Ronda just around the corner from Plaza San Pedro.