Bogota

Short history

Bogotá, Colombia’s capital, was founded in 1538 by Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. Initially named Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza, it was later dubbed Santa Fe. This city became the heart of Gran Colombia and also played a central role in the eventual independence of the Republic of Colombia from Spanish rule. Throughout the 19th century, Bogotá saw a dramatic rise in population, spurred by the political turbulence and the fervent movements for independence that swept the region. A landmark event in its historical narrative was the Insurrection of the Comuneros in 1781, which influenced visionary leaders like Antonio Nariño. 

In the 20th century, the city experienced substantial urban and population growth. By hosting the 1948 Pan-American Conference, Bogotá established itself on the international stage. Moreover, the city has become a significant center for the arts and education in South America, home to renowned institutions such as the National University of Colombia and the Gold Museum.

Geography

Bogotá is positioned in the heart of Colombia, resting on the high plateau of the Bogotá savanna in the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 2,640 meters above sea level. This location contributes to the city’s distinct relief and climate. The surrounding mountains provide a natural boundary and influence its cool and temperate climate. Despite being near the Equator, Bogotá experiences a relatively mild climate with average temperatures ranging between 12°C (54°F) and 16°C (61°F), characterized by wet and dry seasons.

The urban layout of Bogotá is a mix of colonial architecture and modern districts. The city is divided into zones including the historical center known as “La Candelaria,” commercial and business districts, and residential areas that extend towards the northern and southern parts of the city. The Sabana de Bogotá (Bogotá savanna), surrounding the city, is an important agricultural and flower farming region.

Population

As of the latest estimates, the city’s population surpasses 7 million inhabitants, making it one of the most populous cities in Latin America. The populace is predominantly of mestizo heritage, a mix that represents the blending of indigenous peoples, European settlers, primarily from Spain, and African ancestors. This mix has contributed to a cultural and ethnic diversity within the city.

Religion plays a significant role in the daily lives of many Bogotanos, with Roman Catholicism being the predominant faith, reflective of the city’s Spanish colonial heritage. Nonetheless, there is a growing diversity of religious beliefs, including Protestant Christianity and other faiths, honoring the city’s commitment to freedom of religion.

The primary language spoken in Bogotá is Spanish, serving as the common language for education, government, and business. However, due to its cosmopolitan nature and increasing global interconnectedness, English usage is on the rise, particularly among the younger generation and the business sector.

Main sights

  • Monserrate Sanctuary: Perched atop the eastern mountains of Bogotá, this site provides stunning views of the city below. The sanctuary is not only a place of pilgrimage but also a must-visit for its beautiful architecture.
  • Gold Museum (Museo del Oro): Hosting the world’s largest collection of pre-Hispanic gold artifacts, the Gold Museum is a dazzling display of the history and craftsmanship of ancient Colombian cultures.
  • Botero Museum: Celebrating the work of Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous artist, this museum houses an impressive collection of his paintings and sculptures, as well as works from other artists across the globe.
  • Plaza de Bolívar: The center of historical Bogotá, this grand square is surrounded by important buildings including the Primary Cathedral of Bogotá, the Palace of Justice, and the Capitol Building.
  • Simón Bolívar Metropolitan Park: Often referred to as the “lungs of Bogotá,” this urban park is a center for recreational and cultural activities.
  • La Candelaria: The colonial neighborhood at the heart of Bogotá, famed for its bohemian atmosphere, brightly colored houses, and a concentration of museums, theaters, restaurants, and historical landmarks.
  • Bogotá Botanical Garden (Jardín Botánico de Bogotá): Colombia’s largest botanical garden displays an extensive collection of Colombian flora.

Food

  • Ajiaco: A soup featuring chicken, three types of potatoes, and the herb guasca, often served with capers, cream, and avocado on the side.
  • Tamal Bogotano: Unlike other regions in Colombia, Bogotá’s version of this traditional dish is larger and usually prepared with chicken, pork, carrots, peas, and hard-boiled eggs, all wrapped in banana leaves.
  • Changua: A breakfast soup that combines milk, water, scallions, and eggs, often garnished with cilantro and served with bread on the side for dipping.
  • Fritanga: A collective term for a mix of fried offal, potatoes, and various types of meat, perfect for those looking to indulge in a more adventurous meal.
  • Cuchuco de Trigo: A traditional Andean soup made with wheat, potatoes, ribs, and peas, seasoned with cilantro and garlic, presenting Bogotá’s indigenous and Spanish culinary influences.
  • Arepa de Choclo: Sweetcorn arepas are especially popular in Bogotá, usually served with butter and cheese, offering a sweet and savory experience characteristic of Colombian street food.

Fun facts

  • Remarkable Elevation: At an elevation of approximately 2,640 meters (8,660 feet) above sea level, Bogotá ranks as the third highest capital in the world, following La Paz and Quito
  • Gold Museum Wonders: The Gold Museum in Bogotá is a treasure trove of history, housing over 55,000 pieces of gold and other materials from various pre-Hispanic cultures in Colombia. 
  • Ciclovía Tradition: Every Sunday and public holiday, over 120 kilometers (about 75 miles) of Bogotá streets are closed to vehicular traffic to allow pedestrians, cyclists, and runners free reign of the city. This initiative, known as Ciclovía, attracts up to 2 million participants each session.
  • Botero’s Generosity: Fernando Botero, an iconic Colombian artist, donated more than 200 artworks to the Botero Museum in Bogotá, including 123 of his own pieces and 85 from other artists. 
  • Historic Library Abundance: The Luis Ángel Arango Library, with an attendance of over 6 million visitors a year, is considered one of the most visited libraries in the world.