Colombia, the only nation named after Christopher Columbus, is
located in the northwest corner of South America. The third largest
country in Latin America, with an area of 440,000 square miles
(1,139,000 km2) and about the size of the states of Texas and
California combined, it is the only country in South America with
coastlines on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. More than 800
miles (1,300 kms) of its coast are on the Pacific and 1,000 miles
(1,600 kms) border on the Caribbean Sea. Three enormous chains of
the Andes Mountains-called Cordilleras-run across the country from
south to north. Highest of the ranges is the Cordillera Central with
lofty peaks rising more than 18,000 feet (5,500 mts), crowned by
The five main features of Colombia's geography are:
1. The Caribbean coastal area in the north.
2. The Andean highlands and valleys in the center.
3. The vast eastern plains, called the Llanos.
4. The Amazon jungle, called La Amazonia.
5. The tropical rain forest along the Pacific Ocean.
The climate of Colombia is greatly influenced by the mountains
and the altitude of each region. The plains and coastal regions are
usually warm and tropical; the central highlands are autumnlike, with
an average temperature of 660F and light rains are normal there. By
travelling from one region to another, a visitor can enjoy any season
in Colombia, at any time of the year.
Colombia's territory is divided into 22 Departments (States),
four Intendencies and four Comisarias. The latter two political
divisions do not have the necessary population or economic develop-
ment to become Departments.
Bogota, the nation's capital, is located 8,600 feet (2,630 mts)
above sea level and is partially encircled by the Eastern Cordillera.
Colombia was not actually discovered by Christopher Columbus,
but by one of his shipmates, Alonso de Ojeda, in 1499. When the
Spaniards began their conquest Colombia was inhabited by numerous
tribes of indians who differed widely in their cultures and customs.
Between the discovery of the land and the founding of Santa
F6 de Bogota in 1538 the territory was widely explored and the first
settlements established. The military rule of the Conquerors gradually
gave way to a system of Civil administration. The year 1550 marks
the end of the period of the conquest when a civil government and
administrative system began giving unity to the colonial regime. By
1717 the Kingdom of New Granada, as it was called, became an im-
portant center for the Spanish possessions.
Independence from Spain was proclaimed in 1810 and the Re-
public of Greater Colombia was actually formed in 1819. It included
Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama.
The first President was Sim6n Bolivar, who also freed Colombia
from the Spanish rule. The brilliant and heroic General Bolivar,
known as The Liberator, along with his great General Francisco de
Paula Santander achieved Colombia's independence at the Battle
of Boyac6, on August 7, 1819. Afterwards, he appointed Santander
vice-president and entrusted him with the governing of part of the
newly formed nation. Bolivar then began traveling southward with
his troops and won independence for Ecuador, Peri and Bolivia.
Pre-Columbia ........................ ? 1510
Conquest ................................ 1510 1550
Colony .................................... 1550 1810
Independence ........................ 1810 1819
Republic ................................ 1819 -
The National Government
Colombia has had over 160 years of civil government interrupted
only for brief periods. Colombia is a centralist democratic republic
governed under a Constitution which, despite several amendments,
basically remains as originally adopted in 1886. The government is
composed of three branches: Legislative, a bicameral congress made
up of a House of Representatives and Senate; Executive, consisting
of the President, and 13 cabinet members, appointed by the Presi-
dent; and Judicial, a system of courts with a 20-member Supreme
Court. The members of the Senate and the House of Representatives
are elected by direct popular vote every four years. The President is
elected by direct popular vote for a four-year term and may not suc-
The 13 Ministers who compose the cabinet share joint responsi-
bility with the President for dispositions made in their respective
At the Department level of Government, a Governor appointed
by the President, acts both as an agent of the National Government
and as departmental administrator.
The Government of Colombia seeks friendly diplomatic and
commercial relations with all countries. It has been active in organi-
zations such as the United Nations, the Organization of American
States (OAS) and their agencies. It is a member of the United
Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Latin
America Free Trade area, (LAFTA), the Andean Group and the Inter-
national Coffee Organization.
Colombia has two principal labor confederations. The oldest and
more important of these is the Colombian Federation of Workers
(CTC). The National Union of Colombia Workers (UTC) has a member-
ship composed mostly of agricultural workers.
Colombia has the fourth largest population in Latin America,
with 23 million people. The national language is Spanish, and 95
per cent of Colombians are Roman Catholic.
In prehistoric times, perhaps 10,000 years before the birth of
Christ, an indigenous culture began to evolve in the Andean high-
lands, the generic name of the tribes later known as Chibchas, Quim-
bayas and Agustinians. These three, among the many primitive tribes,
eventually achieved a high degree of civilization, each tribe having
developed its own distinctive cultural elements.
Three ethnic types have contributed to the composition of the
Colombian people; predominantly the Spanish and Indian, and to a
lesser extent the Negro. Mestizos-intermarriage of Indians and
Spaniards-constitute 60 per cent of the population. Inter-mixing be-
tween Spaniards and Negroes gives a 14 per cent mulatto popula-
tion. The remaining 26 per cent is broken down as follows:
W hite ...................................... 20 per cent
Negro ...................................... 4 per cent
Indian .................................... 2 per cent
About 50 per cent of the population is under 21 years of age.
Transportation over land in Colombia is difficult because of the
three chains of mountains that fan out through the nation. There are
other natural barriers, too, such as a broad strip of jungle that
separates the Pacific Ocean and Panama from the western range of
the Andes. La Amazonia reaches to the frontiers of Brazil, Peru and
Ecuador and the vast eastern plains-Los Llanos-form borders with
Venezuela and Brazil. In the last 20 years, however, transportation
has greatly improved .
There are now 30,000 miles of highways in Colombia (48,200
km). Among the most important highway projects now underway are
the Pan American Highway crossing the country from north to south,
and the 1,700-mile (2,700 km) Caribbean Highway, a part of the Pan
American Highway, that runs east to west and joins the Atlantic ports
of Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta with Venezuela.
Colombia's railway system total 2,153 miles (3,500 km). The
Atlantic Railway, finished in 1961, connects Atlantic and Pacific
ports with the capital, Bogota, and other major cities.
Colombia has many navigable rivers. Since colonial times, the
giant, 1,000-mile (1,550 km) Magdalena River was the main route
between Bogota and the outside world. Today, the river is still used
for transporting cargo. Other important rivers are the Amazon,
Putumayo, Orinoco and Cauca. Because of Colombia's' rugged ter-
rain, air transportation is an important means of transportation as
some of the nation's regions are only accessible by air. Avianca is
the country's major airline, the first to operate in America and the
second oldest commercial airline in the world. Colombia's airlines
enjoy an enviable record for safety and service.
Most of Colombia's foreign trade moves through its five ocean
ports: three on the Atlantic and two on the Pacific Ocean. Colombia
has its own merchant marine fleet called the Flota Mercante Gran-
colombiana. Approximately 25 per cent of the country's imports and
exports are carried in their vessels.
The first schools and universities in Colombia were founded by
Catholic missionaries from Spain. Although the church maintains
some private schools to this day, the Government began to stress
public education ever since the beginning of the Republic.
The Ministry of Education and the National Government super-
vise and finance public education in Colombia. The system is
different than in the United States. Elementary education consists
of five years of grade school. Before entering secondary school a
pupil must pass the five years elementary program. After another six
years in secondary school, a student obtains the degree of "Bachi-
Iler" and can continue his studies in a university.
Colombia also has public technical schools for those interested
in studying education, agriculture, business or nursing. Of the coun-
try's 112 institutions of higher education, 36 are universities. The
leading university, scholastically, is the National University. It was
founded in 1868 and the largest branch is located in Bogota on a
beautiful campus with many modern buildings. The Javeriana Pon-
tifical Catholic University is the oldest, founded in 1622, followed
by Colegio del Rosario in 1653.
There are almost 33,000 schools in Colombia with more than
135,000 teachers and nearly 4 million students. 70 per cent of the
country's population can read and write. The Government is attempt-
ing to increase this percentage and has pledged itself to achieve
universal compulsory secondary education by the end of the 1970s.
Colombia is mainly an agricultural country and its most im-
portant product is coffee. Because of the closeness of the Equator,
there is little change in seasons and crops can be cultivated the
year round. A wide variety of crops can be grown because of the
differences in altitude, soil and climate. The altitude of the specific
area has a very important influence on crops. There are nearly 10
million acres of land being cultivated with the major crops being:
coffee, bananas, cacao, cotton, sugar cane, tobacco, corn, fruits,
beans, other vegetables, coconuts, rubber sesame, anise and grains.
Coffee is grown on small mountainside farms that are between
3,000 to 6,000 feet (900 to 1,800 mts.) above sea level. The average
coffee plantation is less than eight acres, and most farms are worked
by the owners. Colombia has 300,000 coffee growers who belong to
the National Federation of Coffee Growers. This organization helps
the small farmer with production, processing and improving of Co-
lombian coffee. It also assists in raising the standard of the coffee
Colombia is the largest producer and exporter of mild coffee.
It is said to be one of the world's best. The United States buys
about 40 per cent of Colombia's coffee.
Next to coffee growing, cattle raising is Colombia's most im-
portant farming activity utilizing more than one fifth of the nation's
The Government is interested in increasing the production of
crops other than coffee. Since 1961, the Colombian Institute of
Agrarian Reform (INCORA) has helped farmers to acquire land and
grow other products. They assist the small farmers with technical
aid and helps them in the marketing of their products.
Colombia is also rich in mineral resources. Among the world
producers of emeralds, Colombia ranks first. The country also has
rich supplies of platinum, gold, iron, petroleum, coal and nickel.
ECONOMIC MAP OF COLOMBIA
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SODIUM C -
Art and Music
Colombia has a rich cultural background. Its colonial archi-
tecture adapts many Spanish styles to the particular geography and
climate of the country. New building styles-mainly houses and
churches-were developed, influenced by the province in Spain from
which the colonists came. One style, from southern Andalucia has
many moorish details. Another, the castilian style, came with the
colonists from northern Spain. The city of Santa Marta, founded in
1525 is one of the oldest in South America. It still preserves the
distinctive Spanish colonial architecture of its day. Other fine ex-
amples of typically Spanish colonial cities in Colombia are: Carta-
gena, Popayan, Tunja and the old section of Bogota.
Authorized by the Spanish Crown and organized by the Viceroy
Antonio Caballero y G6ngora, the Botanical Expedition (XVIII Century)
had as its original purpose the study of plant life in northern South
America. Paintings, sketches, and maps of the regions explored, to-
gether with physical and geographical data, made the work of the
Expedition highly significant.
Nineteenth Century paintings were marked by the work of the
costumbristas, who portrayed national subjects. Contemporary paint-
ings show modern, cosmopolitan influences. Outstanding figures of
the present generation include Pedro Nel G6mez, a fine landscape
painter. Among the representants of the modern trends are: Alejandro
Obreg6n and Fernando Botero.
Colombia's music and folklore are highly distinctive. The coun-
try's folk music reflects the Colombian people in a variety of moods
from many of the different regions. The people preserve their auth-
entic music and dances by supporting annual folk festivals in dif-
ferent areas. Typical native folk instruments are the bandola, cuatro,
maracas and the tiple, which resembles the guitar. Many of the
rhythms are derived from a combination of music forms brought to
the New World by the Spanish and Spanish-Negro settlers.
Colombia has rare wealth in handicrafts traditions, influenced
by climate, geography and history.: Spaniards arriving in the New
World found indians here with many highly developed craft skills. To
these they added their own Spanish cultural values, rich in Moorish
and Arabic influence. Later, Africans imported as slaves made their
distinctive artistic contribution.
Colombian literature and writing are noted for their beauty and
pure form. Before the country's independence from Spanish rule,
many writers concentrated on scientific subjects. One of the best
known is Francisco Jose de Caldas (1770-1816) known as El Sabio
(the wise man). He wrote about the physical sciences, mathematics,
botanic and astronomy. During this period there was also an in-
creased interest in politics, human interest topics and nationalistic
subjects. Among the foremost writers are Camilo Torres and Antonio
Narifo. Both concentrated on political philosophy, humanism and
In the field of prose writing, a leading member of the "costum-
brista" school was Jos6 Maria Vergara y Vergara (1831-1872). His
writings described the changing customs in Bogota. One of this
critic and historian's famous books is "Las Tres Tazas"-The Three
Another outstanding Colombian novel is the book "La Maria",
written by Jorge Isaacs describing the life in the beautiful Cauca
Valley where he was born.
The finest example of realism in literature is "La Voragine" by
Jos6 Eustacio Rivera. It is the story of life in the Amazon Jungle
Among the more famous writers of the romantic school, Rafael
Pombo (1833-1912)' was most gifted and versatile. His fables are
favorite reading among the children.
In recent years, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is one of the best
known authors. He wrote a novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude",
that has been translated to several languages.
Among the poets that have enriched Colombian literature, one
of the early poets, dramatist and political writers is Luis Vargas
Tejada (1802-1829). The post romantic trend is represented by Jos6
Asunci6n Silva (1865-1896). A favorite also, is Guillermo Valencia
(1873-1943), a romantic poet. Among the outstanding contemporary
poets, Le6n de Greiff holds a special place in Colombia literature.
K X M r -Z- X AcA
Colombia has 21 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants.
Colombia's four major cities are: Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barran-
Bogota, the country's capital, and largest city. It is situated
almost in the center of the nation and is 8,600 feet (2,630 mts)
above sea level. Although near the Equator, its climate is cool all
The Spaniard Gonzalo Jim6nez de Quesada founded the city in
1538. It was settled before by the Chibcha indians, who called it
Bacata. Today Bogota has a population of 3 million and reflects a
blend of Colombian tradition with Spanish colonial influences. Many
historical landmarks have been preserved and the Capitol, Municipal
Palace and Cathedral are all centered around a main square,
called the Plaza Bolivar. In changing to a modern city, Bogota re-
tains its dignity.
Bogota houses the Gold Museum, unique in the world, with a
collection of over 15,000 pre-Columbian art works.
Medellin is Colombia's second largest city with over 1 million in-
habitants. It is first in industrial importance and is the capital of
the Department of Antioquia. In addition to being a major center of
coffee trade, Medellin is an important producer of textiles. Other
important industries are food processing, metallurgy, woodworking,
chemicals, pharmaceuticals and rubber products. It lies in a narrow
valley of the central mountain range and is 5,500 feet (1,480 mts)
above sea level.
Cali, the capital of the Department of Valle del Cauca, with 1
million inhabitants, is the principal sugar producing region of Co-
lombia. It is progressive commercial, industrial and agricultural
center, where modern technology is blended with colonial tradition.
In addition to coffee and sugar, cotton, corn, beans and tobacco are
also important crops here. Deposits of coal, gold, silver, and plat-
inum are also found in this region.
Barranquilla is a busy port city, has a population of 800,000,
making it Colombia's fourth largest city. It is located at the mouth
of the Magdalena River, near the Caribbean, and is the capital of
the Department of Atl6ntico. Barranquilla is also one of the nation's
main commercial cities. It is tropical and cosmopolitan.
Places of Interest
There are many interesting places to see and things to do in
Colombia. In the capital city of Bogota you can go to a bullfight,
ride a cable car to the high peak called Monserrate, visit a museum
with over 15,000 precious gold figurines or, nearby, explore an
enormous underground cathedral built from the excavations of a
salt mine and able to hold 8,000 people.
There was a time when a powerful Indian chieftain ruled the
lands around the city of Bogota. The legend of the treasure of El
Dorado tells of the tribes' wealth. According to the story, when the
Indians heard of the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, and their
search for the riches, the chieftains threw the gold and jewels in a
deep, volcanic lake near Bogota to hide them. Some people believe
the treasure of Eldorado may still be there.
Colombia has mountain peaks almost 4 miles high-some of
which are covered with snow all year round. The country's most
popular sports are soccer, baseball, bicycle racing and Tejo. The
latter is played with a disk, and similar to the horseshoe game.
For those interested in archeology, a visit to the San Agustin
Archeological Park is a must. There are hundreds of relics and
gigantic stone statues representing the gods of sun, rain, light and
power. The primitive people inhabited the region south of Bogota for
nearly 2,000 years.
On Colombia's great Eastern Plains, called the Llanos, there
are still cowboys tending herds of thousands of cattle. Hunters can
find animals such as cougars, alligators and deer on this vast ex-
panse of 110,000 square miles.
The Guajira Peninsula is another unspoiled region of the coun-
try. It is the northernmost tip of the continent of South America
and even today, there are more than 100,000 nomadic Indians re-
siding here who earn their living by tending livestock. Temperatures
there can reach 90F. By far the most remote region of Colombia is
the southeastern part of the country that lies in the Amazon Basin,
called Amazonia. This land of dense forests and jungles has Leticia
as its principal port on the Amazon River.
For anyone making the trip to the historical city of Popayan,
there are beautiful old colonial houses, churches and art. Visitors
can almost feel how it might have been to be living in Spanish
Santa Marta, a city almost 500 years old, was one of the first
great cities founded by the Spaniards in South America. It is a sea-
port on the Caribbean having eight separate bays. Its modern hotels
and sparkling white beaches make it a growing attraction for tourists.
Another interesting town only 51 miles from Bogota is Guata-
vita. When the original village was flooded, it was rebuilt in the
architectural style of Spanish Colonial days.
In the Department of Boyaca, there are fertile valleys and rich
deposits of coal and emeralds. Some of the old Colonial churches
have been restored and are more than 400 years old. The final
battle involving Colombia's emancipation in 1819 occurred in this
region. An interesting village in Boyaca is Villa de Leyva, founded in
1572. It is surrounded by groves of olive trees.
The traditional city of Poyaydn, in the Department of Cauca, is
the birthplace of many of the country's most illustrious statesmen
and presidents. It is also noted for its Holy Week processions, which
are very similar to those that take place in C6rdoba, Spain.
Cartagena is an ancient, walled fortress city. Narrow streets
are found side by side to modern hotels and casinos. The city is an
interesting mixture of Spanish traditions and the festive customs
of Colombia's coastal people.
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