World Facts Index > Colombia > Bogota

Bogota is full of contrasts. Since it was founded in 1538 untill today it has been growing steadily and shaping its identity. Its typically colonial quality is still evident today. Towards the end of the 19th century, the Spanish style was replaced by other European tendencies. France's influence is evident in many of the palaces built during this period. In the residential areas, the English tendencies are evident in the houses built during the mid-twentieth century. Towards the end of the century, as in most big cities in the world, skyscrapers and huge shopping centres were built, following the North American tradition. In order to witness this vast variety of architecture in the city, the best thing is to visit the different areas which still retain their original features, and immerse yourself in a city full of charm, knowledge, entertainment and the wonderful aromas of its cuisine.

La Candelaria

This area dates back to Bogota's foundation and is the oldest in the city. Keep your eyes peeled when walking through its streets, as there are many places of interest. It is located between calle 7 and Avenida Jiménez de Quesada, and between Carreras 1 and 15. It can be divided into two different zones, easily distinguishable in terms of style and location. Towards the East is the residential part of the area, famous for its colonial houses, with their wooden balconies and clay roofs. The once white walls, are now painted in bright colours, which give a warm, welcoming feeling to its streets. In this area there are many places which are worth while stopping at, such as the Casa de Poesía Silva, the Fundación Alzate Avendaño, the Palacio de San Carlos, the Casa del Marqués de San Jorge, the Museo de Numismatica, the Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango, the Teatro Colón, and the churches La Candelaria, San Ignacio and Nuestra Señora del Carmen.

Towards the West of the Carrera 7, you will find the Plaza de Bolívar, with the Capitolio Nacional and the Edificio Liévano, built during the Republic, as well as the Palacio de Justicia, the Museo 20 de Julio, the Primada Cathedral, the Capilla del Sagrario and the Archbishop's Palace. A few steps towards the South, you will come across Palacio Echeverry, and Palacio de Nariño, the presidential residence.

Part of a project to bring life back to the city centre was to build a new area, to the South of La Candelaria, called Nueva Santa Fe, which is a perfect example of 2oth century architecture in Bogota. And very nearby, you will see the impressive building of the General Archives of the Nation.

Towards the North of La Candelaria, very near the crossing between Avenida Jiménez de Quesada and Carrera 7, there are other interesting sites, such as the Palacio de San Francisco and the churches of La Tercera, La Veracruz and San Francisco. Other places of interest are the Plaza de Santander, the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) and the Rosario University, on the square bearing the same name.

Centro Internacional

The area surrounding the Tequendama Hotel is known as the International Centre. However, there are so many places very near the International Centre, that it is probably worth widening your tour to include some of the places close by. The International Centre is an important shopping and trading area in Bogota, and is full of interesting buildings and entertainment spots.

Opposite the hotel is the church of San Diego. Slightly further North is the Torre Colpatria, and towards the East, is the Museo de Arte Moderno and the Biblioteca Nacional. In front of these two buildings, is Parque de la Independencia, which is also next to the Planetarium and the Santamaría Bullring. At the foot of the hill there are several renown restaurants, such as El Patio, Il Caffe and Liberty.

In the North of this area the most interesting sites are the Museo Nacional and the Parque Central Bavaria, a wonderful example of modern architecture in in the city. Behind the hotel, you will find the Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada Convention Centre.

El Salitre

This is the area to go for if you are looking for sports and entertainment. There are many parks and open green spaces, where you can walk, run, or just sit and relax. Some of the places worth visiting are the Unidad Deportiva El Salitre, if you are interested in sports, the Jardín Botanico (Botanical Gardens), Acuaparque, the entertainment park, Palacio de los Deportes, Museo de los Niños (Children's Museum) and Parque Simón Bolívar, the largest open green space in the city. Towards the Southwest, you will find Maloka, an interactive centre, and Ciudad Salitre, one of the most successful town-planning projects in Bogota.

Avenida Chile

Also known as calle 72, this is one of the most important business sectors in Bogota. Perhaps the most interesting place in the area is the Granahorrar shopping centre, right next to La Porciúncula church. Slightly towards the East, the striking Nuestra Señora del Pinar church is also well worth visiting.

This area is full of all different types of restaurants. Further North you will come across the Colegio Gimnasio Moderno, a school famous for its beautiful installations and for having educated several important national politicians.


This was one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in Bogota in the mid-twentieth century. It is between calles 60 and 70 and Avenida Caracas and Carrera 7. Although it has gradually lost its exclusiveness during the second half of the century, it is now an important shopping area, and is also interesting for its buildings. Check out the neo-gothic style in buildings such as Nuestra Señora de Lourdes church and the Teatro Libre.

El Campín

On Avenida Ciudad de Quito, between calle 53 and 63, el Campín is an important sports and entertainment area, with concerts organised regularly in the stadium Nemesio Camacho el Campín, the largest in Bogota, and the Coliseo Cubierto el Campín. In the surrounding area circus performances and entertainment parks are regularly set up.

Carrera 15

Between calle 72 and 100. The main advantage of this area is the fact that it is entirely pedestrian, and is therefore comfortable to walk around in. It is one of the main shopping areas in the North of Bogota and has cafés, restaurants and shops all along Carrera 15. It is also one of the most popular places to go out at night in Bogota. Have a look at the Mercado de las Flores (Flower Market), in the Parque El Virrey, just off calle 87.

La Zona Rosa

This area is particularly famous for its restaurants and discotheques. The night life here is perhaps the most lively in Bogota. During the day, it is full of people shopping, and at night you can either eat, dance and generally party. The variety of places is so wide, that it caters for every possible taste in food, music and atmosphere.

La Calera

Towards the East of the city, this in one of the areas with a vast number of restaurants and discotheques in Bogota. It is also one of the places with the most beautiful and spectacular views of the city, whether in daylight or at night. At the weekends, it is also a very popular place among cyclists, who ride up and down one of the steepest streets in the city.

Parque de la 93

The area around this park is now one of the most exclusive areas in Bogota. The number of restaurants with cuisine from every corner in the world, most of them with terraces overlooking the park, make this an ideal place to spend an evening.

History of Bogota

Three and a half centuries after Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada founded Bogota, the Spanish writer Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo referred to Bogota as 'The Athens of South America'. Needless to say, Quesada's intention was not precisely to reproduce ancient Greece in the New World. Like all his fellow Spanish citizens, he arrived in search of El Dorado, and although he went away without it, the only important city he founded, eventually became famous for precisely the reasons he stood out for himself. Jiménez de Quesada was no violent man; he was a Law graduate, a writer, and one might even say, a poet.

When Jiménez de Quesada first saw the land in 1538, he immediately understood he was on good land. Impressed by the savannah with its rivers, protected by enormous hills surrounding it, he immediately decided this would be the site for the city. Not even the difficulties in building at such heights above the sea made him doubt whether it was a good idea.

Thus, on the 6th of August, 1538, Santa Fe was founded, on the West Range of the Andes, at 2,640 metres above sea-level, 700 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean and 370 from the Pacific. The city was named after Santa Fe in Granada, Spain, where Quesada was from. Soon after 'de Bogota' was added to the name, after 'Bacata', the name the natives gave to the place. In 1819 it became simply 'Bogota'. And when it was 453 years old, it went back to being Santa Fe (or Santafé) de Bogota, its official name now.

Santa Fé did not remain a quiet place for long. The gold-seekers came and went incessantly. The city changed hands, from Santo Domingo (Now the Dominican Republic) to Lima (the capital of viceroyal Peru) in 1550. The great distances between Nueva Granada (as what is now Colombia was then known) and the centres of power in Hispanic America meant that the local governors often worked independently, and the situation became somewhat chaotic at times, with an almost complete absence of government at times.

In 1739, a new viceroyalty was established in Santa Fé. Here is when the cultural flourishing of the city started, and towards the end of the 18th century, there was a period known as the 'Ilustración Granadina' (Granada Enlightenment). People such as Celestino Mutis, who taught Newtonian physics and founded the Botanical Gardens and the Observatory, or Antonio Nariño, precursor of Colombia's independence.

Santa Fé was the site of the first movements for independence. In 1810, the first insurrection took place and on the 20th of July the first step towards New Granada's independence was taken. The fight continued over the years and in 1813 a brief period of independence commenced. However, Santa Fé fell once again to the Spaniards in 1816. The following years were full of panic and terror, which nevertheless ended on the 7th of August 1816, with Simón Bolívar's triumph in the battle of Boyaca. One of Bolívar's plans was to make Santa Fé the capital of Gran Colombia (a confederation of states which stretched over most of the continent). However, Bolívar's dream didn't come true, and the city simply became the capital of the Republic of New Granada, which would eventually be renamed Colombia in the second half of the 19th century.

After the country's independence, Bogota became not only Colombia's geographical centre, but also its historical centre, and, as such, has been witness to further fights and battles. Towards the end of the 19th century, the civil wars between federalists and centralists, feed later disputes between the Liberal and Conservative parties.

During this period the feeling of resentment towards Spain and everything Spanish becomes blatant. There seems to be difficult contradictions to deal with: a feeling of familiarity together with resentment, a desire both to imitate and to break with Spain. Examples of colonial architecture may be seen in areas such as La Candelaria. Very nearby, however, at the beginning of the 20th century, several French style palaces are built. It was the start of the Republican period. The population of the city was already at 100,000. A new cultural flourishing takes places, with the creation of universities, and the traditional Bogota character appears (men dressed in black drinking coffee, speaking about politics and other issues). At the same time, the tram starts working, and the gaps between social classes starts widening, with the immigration of people to the city.

The cold and rain in Bogota also start to become famous. Bogota's history is, one might say, rather wet. The legend says the mythical Bochica separated two stones to empty the lake which covered the savannah, and thus prepared the territory for Jiménez de Quesada to build the city many, many years later. During the Republican period it wasn't the lakes, but the rain which gave the people of Bogota their identity. While the architecture started acquiring a Parisian feel to it, the people started looking more and more like Londoners. Historians have written about the rain in Bogota on many occasions. For a long time, at certain times in the afternoon, Bogota was a river of umbrellas. However, although it still is rainy and cold, this image of the capital has almost disappeared. After all, the increase in population and the pollution have had an effect on the temperature here, as in many other places.

On the 9th of April, 1948, Colombia's 20th century history was split into two halves. It all started in the capital, with the murder of the political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitan, a liberal loved by the people and despised by the governing class. The people took to the streets, raided the shops, burnt the churches and official buildings. Until that day, the city of 400.000 people had withstood many earthquakes. But the 'Bogotazo' as this is known, left behind a ruined city. That was the end of the tram journeys and the end of a city which aspired to be like London or Paris.

From then onwards the North American influence is clear. The first modern buildings went up, and twenty years later, the first skyscrapers and shopping centres appeared. The migration from the provinces continued its course and the contrasts between the rich North and the poor South became even more striking.

Recent local governments have concentrated on bringing people back to the city centre and improving the transport system to take 9 million citizens to and from their destinations every day. At the moment, the underground is being extended, new transport systems are being established and roads are being built.

Bogota is a city where energy and chaos, insecurity and emotion, violence and creativity come together. It is certainly not a quiet place, but then one could never say it was boring either. Those who enjoy Bogota find that strange fascination by its chaos. The city is full of contrasts, as we have said. Grey by day, and colourful by night, surrounded by green mountains protecting the vast valley, sunshine announcing rain, professional beggars, abject poverty next to modern shopping centres, a true synthesis of classes, styles and regions. People sip coffee while waiting for the rain to stop. At once, modern, classical and primitive. Bogota is what you call an authentic city.


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