Starting from paleolithic times, the territory of present-day Colombia was continuously occupied by countless tribes and populations. Cultures developed and declined, leaving traces that archaeologists strive to decipher, but despite the efforts relatively little is known about the peoples that inhabited the territory long before the arrival of European colonizers.
At the moment of the Spanish conquest, numerous tribes were scattered over the territory, belonging largely to three major families: Carib, Arawak, and Chibcha populations.
The first European that is said to have set foot on Colombian land was Alonso de Ojeda, who in 1499 disembarked in the place currently known as Cabo de la Vela, in the northernmost peninsula of the continent. From the Caribbean coast, conquest and colonization gradually advanced inland, and soon the first settlement, Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien, was founded in the isthmus that separates the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Santa Maria soon disappeared, consequence of the humid climate and the numerous attacks from local populations, but two other permanent settlements, Santa Marta and Cartagena, founded in 1525 and 1533 respectively, still exist and are among the oldest continuously inhabited cities on the continent.
For most of the Colonial period, the majority of the land of present-day Colombia was part of the General Captaincy of Nueva Granada, subordinated in turn to the Viceroyalty of Peru. The Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada was created in 1717 and firmly established in 1739.
The Royal Botanical Expedition to Nueva Granada was the most important scientific event that marked the colonial period. Between 1783 and 1816, a team of naturalists led by botanist José Celestino Mutis explored the territory of present-day Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, and parts of Peru and northern Brazil, in order to make an inventory of the plants and wildlife encountered in the extremely diverse ecosystems of the region. The Expedition resulted in one of the most comprehensive natural science archives of all times, and far from having a purely botanical impact, it helped construct a national conscience among the dwellers of the colonies and intellectually prepare the process of Independence.
The 19th century was marked by the Independence from the Spanish Empire and the creation of modern-day Colombia. Far from being a one-off event, Independence was a process that lasted for more than a decade, starting on July 20, 1810 with the Colombian Declaration of Independence. The territories gained their independence in fierce battles, the most decisive of which was the Battle of Boyacá, on August 7, 1819. Consequence of this battle, the Nueva Granada Viceroyalty was finally free of Spanish reign.
The Republic of Colombia was then declared, comprising the present-day Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, and parts of Guyana and Brazil. Its first president was Simon Bolivar. The Gran Colombia collapsed, however, in 1830, when Venezuela and Ecuador parted ways and became standalone countries.
During 1848-1849 the Liberal and Conservative Parties, which were to violently dispute power for nearly two centuries, were founded. Slavery was abolished in 1851.
The Thousand Days' War (1899-1902) was one of the most difficult armed conflicts of the turn of the century, ended in the independence of Panama, formerly a department of Colombia, and in the payment of a $25,000,000 compensation from the United States for the lost territory two decades later.
In the 1930's, the country entered war again, with Peru, for border delimitations in the Amazonian basin. Following the conflict, Colombia gained access to the Amazon river through the port of Leticia.
At the same time, in 1930, the liberal Rafael Olaya Herrera became president, ending 45 years of Conservative government. Liberal government would last until 1946, when one of the most violent periods Colombian history would begin, known to this day as La Violencia (The Violence).
La Violencia formally started on April 9, 1848, when liberal leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was assasinated in broad daylight on the streets of Bogota. During the decade that followed, political violence spread across the country and resulting in the death of an estimated 300,000 Colombians.
This dark period ended on 1953 with a military coup that delivered the power to General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. Pinilla's military dictatorship, the only one in the history of Colombia, lasted until 1957 when liberals and conservatives signed an agreement that would enable them to alternate power. As a consequence of the agreement, numerous guerrilla groups were created by sectors of the populations that were unable to get political representation. The oldest of them, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) was founded in 1964. The country's oldest paramilitary groups also date to that period.
The internal conflict developed and intensified during the last decades of the 20th century, aided by the drug trafficking industry. Various peace accords with guerrilla groups were signed, but they were followed by intensification of paramilitary violence against demobilized fighters. In the 1980s, thousands of members of left-wing Union Patriotica, formed by demobilized members of the M-19 guerrilla group, were killed.
The 1990s were one of the most violent decades in Colombian history, with by drug trafficking, guerrilla and paramilitary violence spreading throughout the country. In 2006, an agreement was concluded to demobilize the country's main paramilitary group, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia. However, violence resurged in the form of criminal gangs ("bacrim").
After years of negotiations, an accord was reached with the country's oldest and largest guerrilla, FARC, in 2016. Despite the accord being rejected by popular vote in October 2016, it was finally adopted two months later with modifications of the political opposition. The accord was implemented starting from 2017, thus ending another episode of Colombia's convoluted history.
The history of Bogota can be traced back to pre-Columbian times. Back then, the territory of the present-day capital was inhabited by the Muiscas, a population from the Chibcha family that lived in an area corresponding to the highlands of the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyaca. The Muiscas were able farmers, hunters and fishermen and had built more than a hundred and fifty settlements, among which one named Bacatá.
On August 6, 1538, the town of Santa Fé de Bogotá was said to be founded by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. Although no documents exist to attest this date, tradition says this is when the first Christian mass was celebrated on the location of the current-day Santander Park. Soon, the newly created settlement grew to become the capital of the Nueva Granada Captaincy.
The colonial times were first marked by the unrest that characterized the conquest of the local tribes, and later by the process of urban consolidation, helped by the various monastical orders, including franciscans, dominicans and later jesuits, that established missionary centers in Santa Fé.
After a period of relative prosperity, urban growth stopped around the beginning of the 18th century. In 1743 and 1763, strong earthquakes shook the city, seriously affecting buildings such as the Primate Cathedral or the Santo Domingo church. Construction then regained momentum, and various religious monuments and public works date back to second half of the 18th century. The country's first public library, founded in 1777, and the first theater, El Coliseo were two of the buildings that served the 16.172 inhabitants living in Bogota during the census of 1793.
The beginning of the 19th century saw new natural catastrophes striking the city: a smallpox epidemic between 1801 and 1802 killed almost 14% of the population, and an earthquake in 1805 destroyed a quarter of the buildings. Nevertheless, Bogota went on growing, and new barrios such as Chapinero, Las Aguas or San Cristobal appeared on its outskirts.
On July 20, 1810, the "independence cry" (grito de independencia) took place in a house that currently hosts the Museum of Independence. It was the event that would mark the beginning of the country's independence from Spanish reign.
The city expansion continued throughout the decades that followed, and the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th witnessed the first modern infrastructure works ever seen by Bogota: the city aqueduct, sewage system, public lighting and tramway line. By 1938, the Colombian capital had a population of over 300.000 inhabitants, and the four hundredth anniversary of its foundation sparked a new impetus in public works.
Everything came to a halt on April 9, 1948, when Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, the most prominent politician of the Liberal Party, was killed on the streets of Bogota. Known as the Bogotazo, the event signified not only the beginning of La Violencia, but the destruction and looting of a large part of the city's historical heritage, public infrastructure networks and businesses existing at the time. It was the most important event in the Colombian contemporary history, that would change the capital's appearance forever.
The population exploded in the second half of the century, when millions of people escaping the violence that ravaged the country arrived in Bogota. This gave rise to an unseen increase in both formal and informal construction. Many neighborhoods today considered "traditional" were built in the 50s, 60s or 70s. In other cases, lands outside the city limits would host precarious informal settlements that became official parts of the city.
Currently, Bogota is home to almost 9 million inhabitants and every crucial moment of its past is reflected in the configuration of one of the most contrasting cities of the world.
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