D.he Tarzan from Mompox is on a journey with no beginning or end. Every day, the young boy with the Johnny Weissmüller figure jumps headlong into the Río Magdalena at the top of the promenade, pats three or four kilometers downstream, swims with iguanas and caimans, then gets out of the water and runs his swim distance back on the promenade, only to jump into the river again and repeat his exercise three times, four times, five times, endless times in a row, as if he were caught in a time loop. Nobody knows why the Colombian Tarzan swims so tirelessly along the Río Magdalena and makes a fool of a human perpetual motion machine in front of everyone’s eyes. And he probably has no idea that none other than himself is the best ambassador of the so beautifully lost city of Mompox, which long ago said goodbye to its own time beyond ours and now slowly, very gently, almost shyly returns to the present.
Mompox, this proud, pious, heroic city in the Colombian province of Bolívar, has three lives, and all three intertwine to form a trinity unlike any other in South America. It was founded on May 3, 1537 by the conquistador Alfonso de Heredia as one of the first Spanish settlements on the subcontinent and baptized with the amazing name Santa Cruz de Mompox: The conquerors chose the holy white cross on a red background as the city’s coat of arms, which looks exactly like the Swiss flag and today a confusing sight for Central Europeans, of all places, in this flat, roaring hot area. And they granted the chief of the local indigenous people the honor of patronage because this Cacique Mompoj from the Malibúes was a brave warrior who heroically resisted the Spaniards – a noble gesture that did not keep any of the Malibúes from being enslaved become.
The greed of the privateer John Hawkins
The conquistadors called this area “Tierra de Dios” because it appeared to them like the Promised Land: a fertile hybrid landscape of water and earth full of rivers, lakes, lagoons, fields, forests and pastures, full of fish, crabs, shrimps, maize and cassava and tropical fruits as colorful as a rainbow. The Río Magdalena flowed as the main and lifeline through this “depresión momposina”, the maritime lowlands in the middle of the Colombian hinterland, and gave Mompox its strategic importance. Because he made the city the hinge between the gold mines in the mountains of the Andes and Cartagena de Indias on the Caribbean coast, the starting point of the Spanish naval units in the motherland, those armadas made of galleons that sailed heavily loaded with the treasures of the Incas to Seville, always on the Hat and often on the run from the corsairs of England, France and Holland.
Mompox grew into a prosperous pearl in the viceroyalty of New Granada, rich and beautiful and peaceful, famous in the New and Old World for its fine gold and silver ironwork. This art is called “Filigrana de Mompox” to this day, because the jewelry is so filigree as if it were made from threads as thin as a hair, and because it hugs the necks and wrists of the Momposinas as delicately as silk, whose beauty is celebrated a thousand times in Colombia and has been described. But once the peace was in dire danger. Because even its location three hundred kilometers off the Caribbean coast did not protect Mompox from the greed of the privateer John Hawkins. He sailed down the Río Magdalena to plunder the treasure chest of New Granada, but God stood by his land so that the English villain could not cause any significant damage – “Terra de Dios”, the conquistadors were right.
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