Exploring Cartagena Through its Doorknockers | Travel+Leisure
Images courtesy of Leora Novick

Images courtesy of Leora Novick


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.

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.

Fish/Sea Creature/Mermaid
These are some of the more commonly seen Aldabas; as they represent a large portion of the working class, specifically, the sea merchants.

The Lion is a universal sign of strength, pride, and power. This Aldaba represents the army, the protectors of the city and the great walls of the historic city of Cartagena.

This Aldaba lies at the top of the hierarchy and symbolizes royal status. The residents inside were either members of the royal family, or could claim some legitimate connection to the royal class.

The hand represents a member of the clergy or the religious sect. Some say it is even a nod to the hand of the virgin lady of Fatima.

TravelLeora Novick