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Colombia is situated on the northwest corner of South America and would have been used as a travelling route by ancient cultures migrating between the Americas. It is believed that the first people arrived in Colombia approximately 12 thousands years ago. Evidence found around Bogota (El Abra and Tequendama) suggest that a primitive hunter gatherer society lived in the area. A number of tribes existed in the region and traded surplus goods with each other. Artifacts including pottery and primative tools have been found in shell mound sites near the Carribbean coast in northern Colombia and around the Magdalena River basin that have been dated to around 4000BC. During this time the Palaeo-Indians lived around these regions and developed fishing and agriculural practices.

virrey click on the image to enlarge
Around 500 BC, larger and more advanced societies started to develop including the Muisca, Tayrona, Tumaco, Calima, San Agustin, Tierradentro, Quimbaya, Nariño, and Tolima et Sinu. By 100 AD many of these early cultures, including the Quimbaya, Tayrona, and the Muisca had developed highly skilled metalurgy techniques that allowed them to create intricate gold figurines and ornaments. They also produced ceramic pots and sculpures that have been found in buried chambers. The different cultural groups lived peaceful but generally separate existances until the Spanish arrived in the early 1500’s. They traded agricultural products, gold ornaments and pottery, and belonged to the Chibcha language group. The simularities between the languages suggests that their ancestors were related. The Muiscas, which lived in the mountains around Bogota, along with The Tayrona culture, that was based around the coastal plains and jungle that fringed the Carribbean Sea, developed a complex political system called the cacicazgo. It was based around a pyramidal power structure that was headed by a cacique. The complexity of this system was only surpassed by the Incas.

emiliano figueroa click on the image to enlarge
Alessandri's rule is hortly interupted by a military government, but in 1925 he is succeeded by Emiliano Figueroa Larraín. Continuing political and economic instability results under the rule of the quasidictatorial Carlos Ibáñez del Campo (1924-31). After some interim presidencies Arturo Alessandri Palma becomes president again in 1932. A strong middle-class party, the Partido Radical (Radical Party, PR), emerges. It becomes the key force in coalition governments for the next 20 years. In 1938 Pedro Abelino Aguirre Cerda of the PR becomes president in a coalition of the left. He is succeeded in 1942 by the Radical Juan Antonio Ríos Morales. In 1946 his co-partisan Gabriel González Videla is elected president.

Carlos Ibáñez del Campo click on the image to enlarge
The Tayrona people were also highly skilled archetects and builders. The lost City of Ciudad Perdida, that was only rediscovered in 1975 is one of the largest ancient cities found in the Americas, and is thought to be the main center of the Tayrona culture that lived in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region in northern Columbia. The city was lost to the rainforest for hundreds of years before being accidentally discovered. The Tayrona people are considered one of the most advanced early civilisations in South America. Ciudad Perdida pays testimony to this theory with its intricate network of stone terraces, stairs, and water channels set in the heart of a tropical rainforest. The indigenous cultures of Colombia were decimated by the Spanish in their relentless pursuit of land and, ultimately the precious minerals that these lands contained.

Alonso de Ojeda click on the image to enlarge
Alonso de Ojeda, a companion of Christopher Columbus, landed on the northern coast of Colombia in 1499. The first Spanish settelment was established in 1510 on the coast of the Gulf of Uraba (Caribbean Sea) but was abandoned after a few years due to confrontations with the indigenous people. Santa Marta and Cartagena (founded in 1525 and 1533, respectively) were the first permanent settlements. The wealth of the indigenous people quickly became apparent with numerous sightings of the gold ornaments and figurines that many indigenous people wore. Emeralds were also common, particularly, around the Bogota area. Rumors also abound in the early settlements about an indigenous ritual that involved a tribal elder painting himself in gold, and then sailing into the middle of a large lake to offer gold and emeralds to the Sun God. This ancient ritual of the Muisca people became the legend of El Dorado in Spanish circles. It was too much for the Spanish to take to think of all these precious stones and gold just sinking to the bottom of a lake. This led the Spanish to embark on numerous expeditions in search of the lake and subsequent riches. In 1538, the Spaniards eventually found the lake (Laguna de Guativita) and established a settlement in the area. They also killed off the local indigenous tribes, claimed all of the areas riches, and established an emerald mine. The area is now home to Colombia’s capital, Bogota.

In 1544, the country was incorporated into the viceroyalty of Peru,
Álvaro Uribe click on the image to enlarge
where it remained until 1740, when it became a part of New Granada (comprising the territories of present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama). In 1810 the first major moves towards independence began in Bogota. For a decade the independence movement, led by Simon Bolivar battled the Spanish authorities and forces. On August 7 1819, the Republic of Greater Colombia was declared. The new country extended over all of the territories of the former New Granada (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama). Bolivar was elected the first president of Greater Colombia and his ‘deputy’ Francisco de Paula Santander was named vice president.

Regional differences soon caused tension. In 1830 Venezuela and Ecuador declared their independence and Colombia and Panama officially became known as the Republic of New Granada. In 1863 the name was again changed to the United States of Colombia. In 1886 the current name, Republic of Colombia was adopted. Along with the name change a new constitution divided Colombia into regional departments that each had there own government institutions and a certain degree of autonomy from the centralized government in Bogota. The region of Panama officially declared its independence in 1903 when the US offered its support in exchange for rights to build the Panama Canal. Colombia initially resisted Panama’s move towards independence by sending in troops to bring the territory back under its control, but US warships prevented any sizable force from entering the area. Colombia had no alternative other than to accept the power of the US and the decision of the Panamanians.

Colombia's history over the past 100 years has been characterized by widespread and often violent conflict. There have been two official civil wars, The Thousand Days War (1899-1902), which cost an estimated 100,000 lives, and the period of La Violencia (The Violence) during the late 1940’s and 1950’s. During this period up to 300,000 people died. The trigger point for the ‘violence’ was the assassination of the popular Liberal candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan. The military has also seized power on three separate occasions. In 1830, 1854, and from 1953 – 1957. On the first two occasions civilian rule was restored within one year.

In July 1957, former Conservative President Laureano Gomez (1950-1953) and former Liberal President Alberto Lleras Camargo (1945-1946, 1958-1962) issued the "Declaration of Sitges," in which they proposed a "National Front," whereby the Liberal and Conservative parties would govern jointly. The presidency would be determined by an alternating conservative and liberal president every 4 years for 16 years; the two parties would have parity in all other elective offices. In 1964, the FARC organisation was founded and started their guerrilla war against the government. In 1974 another organisation, The 19th of April Movement (M-19) was formed largely in response to the fraudulent election in 1970. In the 1970 election, Misael Pastrana Borrero was elected over the populist candidate Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. The M-19 organisation was mainly an urban guerrilla movement that engaged in violent conflicts with local authorities. Around the same time the production and distribution of cocaine continued to grow, and the increasingly wealthy druglords engaged in conflicts with each other and the M-19 group. On November 6, 1985, the M-19 stormed the Colombian Palace of Justice and held the Supreme Court magistrates hostage, intending to put president Betancur on trial. The end result was a shoot out between M-19 and the military. Most of the guerrillas lost their lives along with many members of the military. There were also civilian casualties. Both sides blamed each other for the violent confrontation.

In June 1995, Cali cartel leader (one of the major drug lords) Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela was arrested, although this did little to interrupt the operations of the organisation. Ernesto Samper, who was president at the time, was plagued by allegations that he had connections in the drug organisations and that drug money financed his election campaign.

In May 2002, Álvaro Uribe was elected president. Uribe campaigned on a platform of erradicating coca crops, and cooperating with the US to extridite people on the US’s wanted list (mainly druglords) As a result, the violence increased during the early stages of his presidency. In 2003 he again reiterated his plans to win the drug war that has dominated Colombia’s political debate and international reputation. The ‘drug war’ is far from over however, even though many crops and trafficing routes have been destroyed, new crops and drug routes have been established. Coca crops have even been found growing in national parks, where environmental laws prevent spraying.
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