Bogotá, Santa Fe de

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Bogotá, Santa Fe de

The capital and largest city of Colombia, Santa Fe de Bogotá is also the capital of the department of Cundinamarca. In 2005 the city had a population of 7.8 million. It is located in the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes on the eastern edge of a basin known as the sabana of Bogotá at an elevation of about 8,600 feet. Rising sharply above the city to the east are two peaks, Monserrate and Guadalupe. Because of its altitude, Bogotá has a cool climate with an average temperature of 57°F.

Although Bogotá has been an important administrative, cultural, and economic center since the sixteenth century, its growth was long impeded by its inland location and high altitude. Before the advent of modern modes of transportation, access to the Magdalena River and the Caribbean Sea required a long and arduous journey. Communication with the Pacific Ocean and other regions of Colombia was equally difficult.

In the 1530s the area around modern Bogotá was part of the domain of the powerful Chibcha chieftain, or zipa, called Tisquesusa. Spaniards under Gonzalo Jiménez De Quesada (d. 1579) reached the sabana in 1537 and proceeded to subjugate the region despite Chibcha resistance. There is some confusion about the circumstances of the founding of Bogotá. The traditional date for the city's foundation is 6 August 1538. According to historian Juan Friede, Jiménez laid claim to the zipa's territories in the latter's capital, called Bogotá (Bacatá), on 6 August 1537. However, the formal establishment of the Spanish city of Santa Fe took place on 27 April 1539, at a nearby site called Teusaquillo.

Santa Fe (Santafé) quickly became the principal city of the Kingdom of New Granada, which embraced most of modern Colombia. An audiencia, or high court, was installed in Santa Fe in 1550; a bishopric was established in 1553 and elevated to the rank of archbishopric in 1564. In the eighteenth century, the Spanish government selected Santa Fe as the capital of the new Viceroyalty of New Granada.

Despite its status as a colonial capital, Santa Fe de Bogotá grew slowly; its population was only about 28,000 in 1761. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the city's intellectual life was stimulated by the scientific teachings and projects of José Celestino Mutis (1732–1808), a Spanish botanist who lived in Santa Fe from 1761 to 1808. This period also saw the establishment of the city's first newspapers and journals, notably the Papel Periódico (1791–1797) and the Semanario … del Nuevo Reino de Granada (1808–1810).

The city played a major role in Colombia's independence movement from Spain. A dispute in Santa Fe between a Creole and a Spaniard on 20 July 1810 helped to trigger the deposition of the viceroy, an event commemorated as Colombia's national holiday. After independence, Santa Fe, now renamed Bogotá, became the capital of Gran Colombia and later (1831) of New Granada or Colombia.

Colombia's political instability and sluggish economy during the first decades after independence inhibited change in Bogotá, which had a population of only about 30,000 in 1851. The heart of the city was still the square on which the eighteenth-century cathedral was located. The square was given its present name of Plaza de Bolívar after a statue of Simon Bolívar was erected there in 1846. In 1848 President Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera laid the cornerstone of the national capitol on the southern side of the square, but work on the project soon halted (1851).

After 1870, the expansion of commercial agriculture, especially the development of coffee exports, brought modest economic growth to Colombia, which was reflected in Bogotá. The population grew from about 41,000 in 1870 to 121,000 in 1912. Colombia's first successful bank, the Banco de Bogotá, opened its doors in 1871, followed by the Banco de Colombia in 1875 and others. Although Bogotá lagged behind Medellín in textile manufacturing, numerous industries were established during this period, among them the brewery Bavaria (1891) and Cementos Samper (1909). Work was resumed on the capitol (though it remained incomplete until the mid 1920s), and on other public buildings, such as the Teatro Colón, which was modeled on the Paris Opéra. Efforts were also made to improve the quality of urban life through improved paving and the construction of sewers, aqueducts, parks, and bridges. Gas lighting was introduced in 1876 and illumination by electricity in the early 1890s.

During these years affluent Bogotanos began moving north to the nearby hamlet of Chapinero, which was annexed to the city in 1885. By this time a trolley line extended from the Plaza de Bolívar along the Carrera Séptima, the city's main thoroughfare, to Chapinero. Between the 1880s and 1909, Bogotá was gradually connected by rail to the Magdalena as well.

Throughout the nineteenth century, Bogotá's elites enjoyed a reputation for sardonic wit and literary distinction and boasted of the city's claim to be the "Athens of South America." They were also noted for their conservative political views and, like the city's population as a whole, for their devotion to Catholicism. William L. Scruggs (1836–1912), who served as U.S. minister in the 1870s and 1880s, observed that "there is probably no city on the continent where the external forms of religion are more rigidly observed."

Scruggs was also impressed by the insubordination of the lower classes, who were mainly Mestizos. The economic quickening of the late nineteenth century brought dislocation to many workers, and government monetary policy contributed to an inflationary trend in the 1890s. In 1893 the publication of a series of articles in a leading newspaper accusing the lower classes of drunkenness and immorality produced a riot that left from forty to forty-five persons dead. During the disorders the rioters attacked police stations as well as the homes of public officials.

Bogotá's growth accelerated after 1930 for several reasons. With the expansion of commercial agriculture and import-substitution industrialization, Colombia's economy was growing at a more rapid rate than before. Bogotá became more important as a manufacturing center, accounting for 29 percent of the nation's industrial employment by 1975. The enlarged socioeconomic role of the state increased the size of the bureaucracy and gave birth to numerous public agencies headquartered in the capital. Agricultural modernization and endemic rural violence displaced many peasants who migrated to Bogotá. As a result, by 1973 Bogotá contained 13.6 percent of Colombia's population as compared to 4.1 percent in 1938. In 1964 more than 50 percent of the city's population had been born in other parts of the country.

The aspirations and tensions fueled by these changes contributed to the rise of the charismatic Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán (b. 1898), who served as mayor of Bogotá in 1936–1937. During the violence that followed his assassination in 1948 (referred to as the Bogotazo), hundreds of buildings and shops in the central business district were damaged or destroyed, including the departmental headquarters of Cundinamarca, the ministries of justice and interior, and two buildings of the archdiocese. (In 1985 a government assault against guerrillas who had taken possession of the Palace of Justice severely damaged the building and cost nearly one hundred lives.)

Since 1930 the northward drift of the upper and upper-middle classes has continued, accompanied by a similar movement of offices and commercial establishments. Lower-income residential areas have become concentrated in the central, southern, and western sectors, with much self-built irregular housing in the latter two. In 1983 municipal authorities created the Corporación Candelaria to restore and preserve fifty-four blocks in the city's central district, mainly in the historical quarter called the Candelaria.

In 1954 the national government incorporated Bogotá into a Special District (Distrito Especial) that also included six nearby municipalities: Bosa, Engativá, Fontibón, Suba, Usaquén, and Usme. The chief executive officer, or Alcalde Mayor, of the Special District was appointed by the president until 1986, when the position was made elective. In the constitution of 1991 the Special District was renamed the Capital District (Distrito Capital). It was to be governed by an elective mayor and district council, along with neighborhood officials. The constitution also restored to the city its colonial name of Santa Fe de Bogotá.

Between 2002 and 2006 violence in Colombia decreased: Murders fell by 37 percent, kidnappings by 78 percent. There is a much larger police presence on the streets of the capital city, and new restaurants and bike paths have opened. Yet, for an estimated one-fifth of the more than three million who fled or were displaced from civil war-torn areas, affordable housing and basic services are still needed.

See alsoColombia: From the Conquest through Independence .


Pedro M. Ibáñez, Crónicas de Bogotá, 4 vols., 2d ed. (1913–1923).

Juan Friede, Invasión del país de los Chibchas: Conquista del Nuevo Reino de Granada y fundación de Santafé de Bogotá (1966).

Alan Gilbert, "Bogotá: Politics, Planning, and the Crisis of Lost Opportunities," in Latin American Urban Research, vol. 6: Metropolitan Latin America: The Challenge and the Response, edited by Wayne A. Cornelius and Robert V. Kemper (1978), pp. 87-126.

Enrique Durand, "Bogotá: Echoes of the Past," in Américas 39 (November-December 1987):24-30.

David Sowell, "The 1893 Bogotazo: Artisans and Public Violence in Late Nineteenth-Century Bogotá," in Journal of Latin American Studies 21 (1989): 267-282.

Additional Bibliography

Castillo Daza, Juan Carlos del. Bogotá: El tránsito a la ciudad moderna 1920–1950. Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2003.

Corradine Angulo, Alberto. Apuntes sobre Bogotá: Historia y arquitectura. Bogotá: Academia Colombiana de Historia, 2002.

Díaz, Rafael Antonio. Esclavitud, región y ciudad: El sistema esclavista urbano-regional en Santafé de Bogotá, 1700–1750. Bogotá: Centro Editorial Javeriano, 2001.

Mejía P., Germán. Los años del cambio: Historia urbana de Bogotá, 1820–1910. Bogotá: Centro Editorial Javeriano, 1998.

Pérgolis, Juan Carlos. Bogotá fragmentada: Cultura y espacio urbano a fines del siglo XX. Bogotá: TM Editores (Universidad Piloto de Colombia), 1998.

Preciado Beltrán, Jair, Robert Orlando Leal Pulido, and Cecilia Almanza Castañeda. Historia ambiental de Bogotá, siglo XX: Elementos históricos para la formulación del medio ambiente urbano. Bogotá: Fondo de Publicaciones Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas, 2005.

Rentería Salazar, Patricia, and Oscar Alfredo Alfonso Roa. La ciudad-transformaciones, retos y posibilidades. Bogotá: Centro Editorial Javeriano, 2002.

                                          Helen Delpar