Despite its name, Colombia was not founded by the explorer Christopher Columbus; he never even set foot in the country throughout the history of Colombia. In fact, in 1499 the territory was discovered by his companion Alonso de Ojeda, who arrived there from nearby Santo Domingo, landing at Cabo de la Vela.
It was not until 1525, however, that the Spanish began a process of colonization of Colombia, leading to it becoming an integrated colony of the Spanish empire. Alonso de Ojeda’s brief presence in Colombia after his initial discovery gave rise to the El Dorado myth; that there existed a magical city where everything was made of gold.
This myth and the promise of lots of gold encouraged further development of the region by the Spanish. After a couple of initial settlements in the early years of the sixteenth century that was short-lived, in 1525 a man named Rodrigo de Bastidas founded the first proper settlement in the territory: Santa Marta.
The city is the oldest in Colombia that still remains today and the second oldest in South America. Its location on the northern coast made it an ideal port city, as well as its surrounding fertile countryside being suitable for vegetation. For reasons unknown, Bastidas also set about killing all the indigenous peoples. It was from Santa Marta that the Europeans were able to go forward with their conquest. In 1533, Cartagena was founded by Pedro de Heredia and became the main center of commerce and trade in Colombian history. Several years later, a joint effort was carried out to extend Spanish power from the coastal regions into the interior. One expedition set off from Santa Marta, another from Ecuador and the third from the Venezuelan coast. All three were successful in establishing control over the areas they passed through.
Santa Fe de Bogota was founded in 1538, and all three expeditions eventually ended up there, sparking a battle for control of the newly founded territory. Santa Fe de Bogota would later become the capital city of its own viceroyalty.The battle for supremacy between the three explorers continued until 1550, when finally the Spanish king Charles V issued a decree that established a court of justice at Bogota, naming it the Royal Audience of the New Kingdom of Granada. Charles V then placed this new colony under the already-formed Viceroyalty of Peru.
Colombia maintained this political status until the eighteenth century, when it became its own viceroyalty, encompassing the present-day territories of Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela.The new Spanish colonizers used a number of processes in order to consolidate their new found power. Primarily they used the system of the encomienda, which literally translates to ‘an entrusting’. In other words, the indigenous population was forced to work for their new Spanish owners, but the latter had to provide adequate care for them. Religion was another major tool for power; many key religious figures were sent to the Americas to evangelize the indigenous population and convert them to Catholicism.