Colombia is located in northwestern Sout h America and has 440,831 square kilometers in size. In the northwest bordered by Panama, in the north by the Caribbean Sea in the east by Venezuela and Brazil in the south by Ecuador and in the west by the Pacific Ocean. Colombia is divided in 5 regions: the Caribbean, the Andes, the Pacific Coast, the Orinoquina and the Amazon.
The capital of Colombia is Bogotá and the official language is Spanish. Colombia has 45,6 million inhabitants and 35% of them are living in the biggest cities of the country; Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla. Almost 64% of the inhabitants are living under the poverty line. The population of Colombia is devided in – 60% Mestizo, 20% of European descent, 5% Afro-Colombian, 14% mixed African and Indian blood and 1% pure Indian.
The history of Colombia is an interesting, sadding and complex story.
Colombia is the only overland gateway to South America and is assumed to have been the route pioneered by the continent’s first human inhabitants, who migrated from North and Central America. Some tribes, such as the Inca, headed further south and built major civilizations, while smaller groups settled in what is now Colombia and eventually reached a high level of development. These people are little known internationally because they left few enduring monuments.
There are three main archeological sites in Colombia. They are San Agustín, Tierradentro and Ciudad Perdida. Some communities left behind artifacts – mainly gold and pottery – some of which are now in museums across the country. This art reveals a high degree of skill, and the goldwork is the continent’s best, both in techniques and artistic design.
In contrast to the Aztecs or Incas, who dominated vast regions, a dozen independent Colombian groups occupied relatively small areas scattered throughout the Andean region and along the Pacific and Atlantic (Caribbean) coasts. Despite trading, these cultures developed largely independently. Among the most outstanding were the Calima, Muisca, Nariño, Quimbaya, San Agustín, Sinú, Tayrona, Tierradentro, Tolima and Tumaco.
Colombia is named after Christopher Columbus, even though he never set foot on Colombian soil. It was Alonso de Ojeda, one of Columbus’ companions on his second voyage, who was the first European to set foot on the land in 1499. He briefly explored the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and was astonished by the wealth of the local Indians.
Their gold and their stories about fabulous treasures inland gave birth to the myth of El Dorado, a mysterious kingdom abundant in gold. In its most extreme interpretation, El Dorado was believed to be a land of gold mountains littered with emeralds.
From the moment the Spaniards arrived, their obsession with El Dorado became the principal force driving them into the interior. They did not find El Dorado, but their search resulted in rapid colonization. The legend of El Dorado became linked to the Muiscas and their famous Laguna de Guatavita. There, the expectations of the Spaniards were to some degree confirmed by the rituals of the Indians, who threw gold offerings into the sacred waters, though very little has been found despite numerous efforts; see Laguna de Guatavita.
Attracted by the presumed riches of the Indians, the shores of present-day Colombia became the target of numerous expeditions by the Spaniards. Several short-lived settlements were founded along the coast, but it was not until 1525 that Rodrigo de Bastidas laid the first stones of Santa Marta, the earliest surviving town. In 1533, Pedro de Heredia founded Cartagena, which soon became the principal center of trade.
In 1536 a general advance toward the interior began independently from three different directions, under Jiménez de Quesada, Sebastián de Benalcázar (known in Colombia as Belalcázar) and Nikolaus Federmann. Although all three were drawn by the Indian treasures, none intended to reach Muisca territory, where they finally met.
Quesada set off from Santa Marta, pushed up the Valle del Magdalena, then climbed the Cordillera Oriental, arriving in Muisca territory early in 1537. At the time, the Muiscas were divided into two clans – the southern one ruled by the Zipa from Bacatá (present-day Bogotá), and the northern empire under the Zaque in Hunza (present-day Tunja). The two caciques quarreled over territory and the rivalry considerably helped Quesada conquer the Muiscas without undue difficulty. In August 1538 he founded Santa Fe de Bogotá on the site of Bacatá.
Belalcázar deserted from Francisco Pizarro’s army, which was conquering the Inca empire, and mounted an expedition from Ecuador. He subdued the southern part of Colombia, founding Popayán and Cali along the way, and reached Bogotá in 1539. Federmann started from the Venezuelan coast and, after successfully crossing Los Llanos and the Andes, arrived in Bogotá shortly after Belalcázar. Thus, in a short period of time, a large part of the colony was conquered and a number of towns were founded.
The three groups then battled for supremacy, and it was not until 1550 that King Carlos V of Spain established a court of justice in Bogotá and brought the colony under the control of the Viceroyalty of Peru.
The colonial period:
In 1564 the Crown established a new system, the Presidencia del Nuevo Reino de Granada, which had dual military and civil power and greater autonomy. Authority was in the hands of the governor, appointed by the King of Spain. The Nuevo Reino at that time comprised present-day Panama and all of Colombia, except what is today Nariño, Cauca and Valle del Cauca, which were under the jurisdiction of the Presidencia de Quito (present-day Ecuador).
The population of the colony, initially consisting of indigenous communities and the Spanish invaders, diversified with the arrival of Blacks, brought from Africa to serve as the workforce.
Cartagena was granted the privilege of being the exclusive slave-trading port in which Blacks were sold as slaves and distributed throughout the colony. Most of them were set to work in mines and plantations, mainly on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. During the 16th and 17th centuries the Spaniards shipped in so many Africans that they eventually surpassed the indigenous population in number.
The demographic picture became more complex when the three racial groups began to mix, producing various fusions, including mestizos (people of European-Indian blood), mulatos (of European-African ancestry) and zambos (African-Indian). However, throughout the whole of the colonial period, power was almost exclusively in the hands of the Spaniards.
With the growth of the Spanish empire in the New World, a new territorial division was created in 1717, and Bogotá became the capital of its own viceroyalty, the Virreinato de la Nueva Granada. It comprised the territories of what are today Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela.
As the Spanish domination of the continent increased, so too did the discontent of the inhabitants. Slavery and the monopoly of commerce, taxes and duties – among other factors – slowly gave rise to protests. The first open rebellion against colonial rule was the Revolución Comunera in Socorro in 1781, which broke out against tax rises levied by the Crown, before taking on more pro-independence overtones. When Napoleon put his own brother on the Spanish throne in 1808, the colonies refused to recognize the new monarch. One by one, Colombian towns declared their independence. Unfortunately, political divisions and infighting appeared almost immediately.
In 1812 Simón Bolívar, who was to become the hero of the independence struggle, appeared on the scene. He won six battles against Spanish troops, but was defeated by the next year. Spain recovered its throne from Napoleon and then set about reconquering its colonies. The ‘pacifying’ Spanish troops reconquered the interior and full colonial rule was reestablished by 1817.
Bolívar retreated to Jamaica after the defeat and took up arms again. He went back to Venezuela, and after assembling an army of horsemen from Los Llanos, strengthened by a British legion, he marched over the Andes into Colombia, claiming victory after victory. The last and most decisive battle took place at Boyacá on August 7, 1819. Three days later he arrived triumphantly in Bogotá. Colombia’s independence was won.
The Politics of Colombia take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Colombia is both head of state and head of government and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives of Colombia. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
There are five areas in Colombia that can be distinguished to climate and landscape.
- The Andes Mountains in the West. Here lives the majority of the population mainly in the cities of millions like Bogota, Medellin and Cali.
- The Caribbean coast. Also here are a few major population centers such as Cartagena and Barranquilla
- The Pacific Coast
- The plains of the Orinoco
- The forest of the Amazon (the Orinoco and Amazon region covers 54% of the combined area of Colombia, but only 3% of Colombians lives there)
The Andean Cordillera:
The longest mountain range in the world, the Andean Cordillera, enters Colombia in the Nudo de los Pastos in the south of the country, where it divides into two. In the Colombian Massif, the country’s main hydrographic star, it separates into three mountain chains that cross Colombia from south to north and create a rugged terrain, with peaks higher than 5.300 meters above sea level, expansive highland plains, deep canyons and broad valleys.
These three mountain chains, crowned by perennial snow, boggy paramos, Andean rainforests, deserts and marshes, produce terrain that varies with altitude and whose fertile soils support an immense variety of crops. They are also where the majority of the country’s population live.
This region extends for 1.600 km along the Caribbean coast. It comprises desert on the peninsula of La Guajira; mountains covered by rainforest and perennial snow that form the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the highest coastal mountain in the world (5.770 meters above sea level); cienegas (swamps) and plains in the departments of Magdalena, Cesar and Sucre; bays with white sandy beaches such as the Gulf of Morrosquillo; jungles in the Gulf of Uraba, and a dazzling view of the Caribbean.
Near Cartagena lie the archipelagos of Rosario and San Bernardo, coral paradises with islets of mangrove. Some 700 km from the coast, the archipelago of San Andres and Old Providence forms an oasis of life amid the sea, with islands, keys and reefs spread over 500 km.
The Pacific Coast:
Stretching for 1.300 km, the Pacific coast is one of the wettest regions on Earth, with a rainfall of over 10.000 mm3 per year. The northern part, where the hills of Baudó sink into the ocean forming bays and sounds, is a jungle region of great biodiversity. The flatter south is bordered by cliffs and beaches lined with mangrove and crossed by wide rivers.
Located 56 km from the coast, the islands of Gorgona and Gorgonilla — one of the country’s national parks — are sanctuaries of flora and fauna. Their waters are visited by enormous whales arriving from the South Pacific, while more than 300 km from the coast, the island rock of Malpelo emerges from the depths of the ocean, surrounded by remarkable underwater life.
The plains of the Orinoco:
This vast region, which extends as far as the river Orinoco on the border with Venezuela, is a plain that spreads out eastwards, its savannas spotted with scrub and riverain forests. Crossed by broad rivers, the Orinoquia covers over 230.000 km2, representing 20% of the country. The Serrania de La Macarena rises in the southwest, a formation independent of the Andes and endowed with an immense biodiversity, in which natural elements of the Andes, the Amazon and the Orinoquia merge.
Of the 6.8 million km2 of jungle that make up the Amazon basin, 400.000 km2 belong to Colombia. This immense region is inhabited by numerous Indian communities who continue to preserve their ancestral way of life.
Flora & Fauna:
The vegetation in Colombia differs widely. Altitude affects not only temperature but also vegetation. In fact, altitude is one of the most important influences on vegetation patterns in Colombia. The mountainous parts of the country can be divided into several vegetation zones according to altitude, although the altitude limits of each zone may vary somewhat depending on the latitude.
The “tierra caliente” (hot land), below 1,006 m, is the zone of tropical crops such as bananas. The tierra templada (temperate land), extending from an altitude of 1,006 to 2,012 m, is the zone of coffee and maize. Wheat and potatoes dominate in the “tierra fría” (cold land), at altitudes from 2,012 to 3,200 m. In the “zona forestada” (forested zone), which is located between 3,200 and 3,901 m, many of the trees have been cut for firewood. Treeless pastures dominate the páramos, or alpine grasslands, at altitudes of 3,901 to 4,602 m. Above 4,602 m, where temperatures are below freezing, is the “tierra helada”, a zone of permanent snow and ice.
Vegetation also responds to rainfall patterns. A scrub woodland of scattered trees and bushes dominates the semiarid northeast. To the south, savannah (tropical grassland) vegetation covers the Colombian portion of the llanos. The rainy areas in the southeast are blanketed by tropical rainforest. In the mountains, the spotty patterns of precipitation in alpine areas complicate vegetation patterns. The rainy side of a mountain may be lush and green, while the other side, in the rain shadow, may be parched.
Because Colombia includes many different types of landscape and vegetation, the fauna is very rich. Especially in the jungle you find numerous species of birds, including toucans and parrots. It also explains various monkeys and tapirs. In the Andes is partly for the bear.
Colombia is situated on the equator and for that reason the temperature is constantly during the year. Because of the difference in altitude there are different climates. At an altitude of 4500 m or more there is constantly snow. The average temperature fluctuates from 30°C in the Caribbean coast till 0°C in the Andes. During the year Colombia has a spring climate.
Colombia has 2 seasons; the rain season from March till may and from September till December. The dry season from December till March and from June till august. In the northern part of Colombia there is a rainy season from May till October.
In Colombia there is always a good reason to celebrate, eat, drink and dance. They take care to keep alive the traditions inherited from Spaniards, Indians and Africans. Among carnivals, dances, parades, and cavalcades, the year runs its course to the rhythm of our tropical music and contagious good spirits.
The most important national holiday is the 20th of July, when they celebrate the independence of Colombia. During the year there are almost 200 festivals a year, from little local initiatives till big international events. Every city and every town has its own festivals, most of the time related to a local product or habit from the region, for example Feria de Cali, Feria de Manizales, Carnaval de Blancos y Negros and Feria de las Flores. Carnaval is an important festival that is mainly celebrated in Barranquilla.
Another important national holiday is the 24th of July, the date of birth of Simón Bolívar. Colombia is a religious country and that’s why eastern