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The Story of Cartagena's Doorknockers

Decorative doorknockers have a lot to say about the dazzle of the Colombia’s historic walled city.

It’s hard to know where to begin when visiting Cartagena. It’s dazzling; the oranges and greens glinting in the year-round sunlight. Boughs of flowers decorate the door wells. It’s only after your senses readjust that other design elements begin to sharpen in your peripheral vision and city takes on a new historical dimension.

One such motif: doorknockers. Some large, some small; shaped like mermaids, sea creatures, even oversized lizards.

The Aldabas come from medieval times, when social hierarchies meant families were eager to display status. The size of the Aldaba was an immediate indication of your social status and wealth. It was the ultimate status symbol, and a constant reminder of your place in Cartagenian society. Beyond the size of each Aldaba was the symbolic meaning of the item itself. Each shape corresponded to the owner’s profession. The lizard represents royalty; a nod to the Spanish influence in this Colombian city, while a fish or mermaid denotes the merchant class, particularly those that sourced from the sea.

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Today, the Aldabas are merely decorative. You can find them on hotels, like The San Agustin, and scattered throughout the neighborhood, providing beauty and camera fodder for the throngs of visitors.

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