While the Aztecs and the Incas built empires that extended control over vast regions of pre-Columbian America, Colombia was settled by a number of smaller groups of peoples such as the Tayronas and the Muiscas. Just before the arrival of the Spaniards, the area was characterized by communities of people who crafted a fantastic abundance of South America’s finest goldwork. A dramatic change, however, would soon change the course of Colombian history.
When the Spanish arrived at the Caribbean coast of Colombia, they beheld with great interest the incredible wealth of the local indigenous people. Gold-craving Spaniards soon heard intriguing tales of a city of gold somewhere tucked away within Colombia’s interior, stories which inspired the legend of El dorado. They searched for this place with obsessive zeal, and eventually encountered the Muiscas, who ritualistically tossed gold offerings into the waters of the Gautavita Lagoon.
The Spanish conquest of present-day Colombia would see the founding of Bogotá (over the Muisca city of Bagatá), Cali and other cities. After years of Spanish colonial rule, enforcing slavery and heavy taxes, Colombia won independence in 1819 with the help of revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar. The period that followed, however, saw a number of civil wars as tensions between the country’s early political parties escalated.
Today, many Colombian towns continue displaying colonial architecture, where cobbled roads and whitewashed buildings invite visitors to explore the country’s intriguing past. Cartagena de Indias’ heavily fortified, the pirate-proof walled old town earned World Heritage Site accreditation, as did the historic center of Santa Cruz de Mompox.
Take a look at the following articles to learn more about the history of Colombia.