Cartago, the Oldest Existing Spanish Settlement in Costa Rica
Cartago sits in the shadows of the mighty Irazu Volcano whose eruption destroyed the city in 1723, and has become the wrath of several major earthquakes in 1822, 1841, and again in 1910. And , in 1963 during the visit of the late President John F. Kennedy, the Irazu again erupted covering San Jose with ash and badly damaging the agricultural areas around Cartago.
The city government of Cartago is trying to attract tourism to it’s city which is rich in history and abundant in natural beauty with the surrounding mountains and the Orosi Valley with it’s coffee plantations. Agriculture related to growing vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and broccoli thrives here due to the rich black volcanic soil. Flowers such as orchids and roses grown in the cool moist climate on the slopes of the Irazu are exported all around the world.
Cartago’s rich history began in 1563 when the Spanish conquistador Juan Vasquez de Coronado handpicked the valley. He said, “I have never seen a more beautiful place.” So the Spanish settled here and today it remains the oldest existing Spanish settlement in Costa Rica. It served as the first capital of Costa Rica until 1823 when the capital was moved to San Jose.
Tourist say, well Cartago doesn’t look like a Spanish Colonial City like for example Granada, Nicaragua with it’s spectacular Spanish colonial architecture. Well, Cartago was practically destroyed 1723 eruption of the Irazu Volcano. And when it was rebuilt, it never retained the same Spanish influence in it’s architectural designs.
Today, Cartago is home to the famous Costa Rica Institute of Technology, one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning and one of central America’s most important engineering schools, especially computer technology.
However, the most important and most beautiful structure in the city is the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles, which was destroyed in the 1910 earthquake and then rebuilt to it’s present splendor. The Basilica is packed each year on August 2nd when pilgrims come on foot from the most remote areas of Costa Rica to ask the holy “Black Virgin” known as La Negrita to pray for cures to their illnesses and to purify their souls.
Cartago is located east of the capital city of San Jose- 25 km (approximately 15 miles).
What to wear when visiting Cartago? Elevation is 4,000 feet so the weather is cool. And often rainy so you will need a warm jacket and one that is water proof is best, and good walking shoes. Also umbrella.
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