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Antioquia, a department in northwestern Colombia comprising an area of 24,600 square miles. In 1985, the department had a population of 3,828,000, concentrated in the temperate valleys of the Central and Western Cordilleras. The capital of Antioquia is Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia. Named after the Syrian city of Antioch, the department has played a leading role in the economic development of Colombia, and its people, known as paisas, are sometimes said to constitute a "race" different from that of other Colombians.

Little is known about Antioquia's indigenous population, which may have numbered as many as 600,000 at the time of the arrival of the first Spaniards under Jorge de Robledo, who founded Santa Fé de Antioquia in 1541. Early settlers were lured by reports of gold in the area, especially the lode at Buriticá and the placers of the Nechí and Cauca rivers. Gold mining, sustained by the labor of African slaves, remained a mainstay of the local economy throughout the colonial period, eventually being supplemented by commerce, stock raising, and agriculture. The region experienced considerable economic growth in the late eighteenth century, a development that some historians attribute to reforms introduced by Juan Antonio Mon y Velarde, a judge of the Bogotá audiencia (high court), who conducted a visita (official investigation) of Antioquia from 1782 to 1785.

Between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, Antioqueño colonizers established many new settlements to the south and southwest of the original province. This process of expansion is prominent in the myth of Antioqueño distinctiveness, although colonization was probably not as egalitarian as was once believed. Part of the territory colonized by the Antioqueños was detached from the department to form the new department of Caldas in 1905. Its capital, Manizales, was founded by Antioqueños in 1848.

In the twentieth century, Antioquia and Caldas became major coffee producers, accounting for 36 percent of Colombia's total output by 1914 and 47 percent by the late 1950s. Antioquia also became Colombia's principal industrial center with the establishment of large factories producing textiles, apparel, and other consumer goods. The department's economic growth was spurred by improved transportation, notably completion of a railroad in 1929 linking Medellín with the Magdalena River at Puerto Berrío and extensive road construction afterward.

Numerous explanations have arisen to account for the entrepreneurial skills of the Antioqueños as well as their propensity to colonize. Some have attributed these qualities to the Basque ancestry of early settlers in the region. Others have stressed habits derived from their experience in mining or have argued that gold mining and associated commerce generated the capital necessary for investment in industry. By the late twentieth century, however, Antioquia's economic primacy had diminished as other regions industrialized.

See alsoColombia: From the Conquest Through Independence .


James J. Parsons, Antioqueño Colonization in Western Colombia, rev. ed. (1968).

Keith H. Christie, "Antioqueño Colonization in Western Colombia: A Reappraisal," in Hispanic American Historical Review 58 (1978):260-283.

Jaime Sierra García, Cronología de Antioquia (1982).

Ann Twinam, Miners, Merchants, and Farmers in Colonial Colombia (1982).

Additional Bibliography

Botero Herrera, Fernando. Estado, nación y provincia de Antioquia: Guerras civiles e invención de la región 1829–1863. Medellín, Colombia: Hombre Nuevo Editores, 2003.

Londoño-Vega, Patricia. Religion, Culture, and Society in Colombia: Medellín and Antioquia, 1850–1930. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002.

                                           Helen Delpar

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