In 1607, a huge corner building was erected in Cartagena, Colombia to function as a convent housing the nuns of the Order of the Poor Clares. For more than a century, this place witnessed the history of the 'Corralito de Piedra' and functioned as a charity hospital, jail, and medical school.
The Order of the Poor Clares was founded in 1212 by Clara Portinari, inspired by the sanctity of La Porciúncula, and who came to the city for missionary work. They lived on alms and donations, but it was the 2,500 pesos and a piece of land donated by Doña Catalina de Cabrera from Cartagena that allowed them to build the convent with plans from master builder Simón González, who also designed the Cathedral of Santa Catalina de Alejandría in the Plaza de la Proclamación.
More than 300 years later, the place is now a luxurious hotel within the walled center of the city, called the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Hotel.
The building is characterized by its high and closed walls, a square shape, which makes all places such as corridors, the main floor and the first floor connect naturally with the central courtyard. The chapel, as in other convents across the Atlantic in Spain, was small and rectangular with a single nave. The main door was always closed and only some nuns were authorized for visits. Their only contact was through the lathe, where they sold the bread and cookies they made to survive. Their routine was based on hearing mass, going to confession, communion and the community's own work.
On Oct. 15, 1995, the doors of the hotel were opened for the first time at a moment that could not have been better, in time for the Non-Aligned Countries Summit, with important figures visiting such as Prince Hussein of Jordan, Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat.
Other illustrious guests included fashion icons, musicians, Nobel Prize winners, actors and film directors like Jean Paul Gauthier, Mick Jagger, Don Juan Carlos Borbón, Sofía of Greece, Gabriel García Márquez, Sting, Shakira, Sofía Vergara, and Fernando Botero.
The last name on the list is very important, since the hotel is the only one in Colombia and world with a suite designed as a special tribute to Botero alongside his endorsement and signature.
Gabo's stories at Santa Clara
On Oct. 26, 1949, Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, went to see exhumations at the Santa Clara convent in Cartagena. At the age of 22, the young reporter saw a skull with a 22 meter long copper hair coming out of the crypt and was inspired to write his work Of Love and Other Demons.
Gabo once said that what fascinated him most about Cartagena was the mysterious future of its houses.
"They all seem to have a life of their own, the more so the more dead they seem, and they change shape and utility over time, moving from place to place and from office while their owners pass through life without too much noise," he said.
After half a century with the idea in his head, García Márquez needed a second visit to the Santa Clara to be able to put the final touch on the girl with the immense hair that remained on his mind. In the 1980s, when he began to plan his house in Cartagena, he bought the lot next to the convent.
The Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena Hotel is located at Calle del Torno 39-29, in the San Diego neighborhood of the Historic Center.