Brief history of Bogotá summarized
We enter the brief history of Bogotá, as a summary.
Before the arrival of the Spanish in the region, the Muisca people lived on the plateau where present-day Bogotá is located. The Muisca capital was a prosperous town called Muequetá.
From there, the King, known as the zipa, ruled the Muisca civilization in an uneasy alliance with the zaque, ruler of a nearby city on the site of present-day Tunja. The zaque was nominally subservient to the zipa, but in fact the two rulers often clashed.
Upon the arrival of the Spaniards in 1537 in the form of an expedition by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, the Muequetá zipa was called Bogotá and the zaque was Tunja: both would give their names to the cities that the Spaniards founded on the ruins of their houses.
The conquest of the Muiscas
Quesada, who had been exploring overland from Santa Marta since 1536, arrived in January 1537 at the head of 166 conquistadors. The invaders managed to surprise the Tunja zaque and easily took away the treasures of that half of the Muisca kingdom.
Zipa Bogotá turned out to be more problematic. The Muisca chief fought the Spanish for months, never accepting any of Quesada’s offers to surrender.
When Bogotá was killed in battle by a Spanish crossbow, the conquest of the Muiscas was not long in coming. Quesada founded the city of Santa Fe on the ruins of Muequeta on August 6, 1538.
Bogota in colonial times
For various reasons, Bogotá quickly became an important city in the region, which the Spanish referred to as New Granada. There was already some infrastructure in the city and on the plateau, the climate was in accord with the Spanish, and there were plenty of natives who could be forced to do all the work.
On April 7, 1550, the city became a “Real Audiencia”, meaning that it became an official outpost of the Spanish Empire and that citizens could settle legal disputes there. In 1553 the city became the seat of its first archbishop.
By 1717, New Granada – and Bogotá in particular – had grown enough to be named a Viceroyalty, putting it on a par with Peru and Mexico. This was a big problem, as the Viceroy acted with all the authority of the King himself and was able to make very important decisions on his own without consulting Spain.
Independence and the Foolish Homeland
On July 20, 1810, the patriots of Bogotá declared their independence by taking to the streets and demanding the resignation of the Viceroy. This date is still celebrated as the Colombian Independence Day.
For the next five years, the Creole patriots fought mainly among themselves, giving the era its nickname “Patria Boba” or “Foolish Homeland.” Bogotá was retaken by the Spanish and a new Viceroy was installed, who began a reign of terror, tracking down and executing suspected patriots.
Among them was Policarpa Salavarrieta, a young woman who transmitted information to the patriots. She was captured and executed in Bogotá in November 1817. Bogotá remained in Spanish hands until 1819, when Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander liberated the city after the decisive battle of Boyacá.
Bolivar and Gran Colombia
After liberation in 1819, the Creoles established a government for the “Republic of Colombia.” Later it would be known as “Great Colombia” to distinguish it politically from present-day Colombia. The capital was moved from Angostura to Cúcuta and, in 1821, to Bogotá.
The nation included present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador. However, the nation was unwieldy: geographical obstacles made communication extremely difficult, and by 1825 the republic began to fall apart. AND
n 1828, Bolívar narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Bogotá: Santander himself was implicated. Venezuela and Ecuador separated from Colombia. In 1830, Antonio José de Sucre and Simón Bolívar, the only two men who could have saved the republic, died, essentially ending Gran Colombia.
Republic of New Granada
Bogotá became the capital of the Republic of New Granada and Santander its first president. The young republic was plagued by a series of serious problems. Due to the wars of independence and the failure of Gran Colombia, the Republic of New Granada began its life heavily indebted.
Unemployment was high and a major bank crash in 1841 only made matters worse. Civil strife was common: in 1833 the government was almost overthrown by a rebellion led by General José Sardá. In 1840 a civil war broke out when General José María Obando tried to take over the government.
It was not all bad: the people of Bogotá began to print books and newspapers with locally produced materials, the first daguerreotypes were taken in Bogotá, and a law unifying the currency used in the nation helped end confusion and uncertainty.
The war of a thousand days
Colombia was torn apart by a Civil War known as the “War of a Thousand Days” from 1899 to 1902. The war pitted Liberals, who felt they had unfairly lost an election, against Conservatives.
During the war, Bogotá was firmly in the hands of the Conservative government and although the fighting came close, Bogotá did not see any conflict. However, the people suffered because the country was in tatters after the war.
The Bogotazo and the Violence
On April 9, 1948, presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was shot dead outside his office in Bogotá. The people of Bogotá, many of whom had seen him as a savior, went berserk, starting one of the worst riots in history.
The “Bogotazo”, as it is known, lasted until late at night and destroyed government buildings, schools, churches and businesses. Some 3,000 people died. Informal markets sprang up on the outskirts of the city where people bought and sold stolen goods.
When the dust settled, the city was in ruins. The Bogotazo is also the informal beginning of the period known as “La Violencia,” a ten-year reign of terror that saw paramilitary organizations sponsored by political parties and ideologies take to the streets at night, murdering and torturing their rivals.
Bogotá and the drug lords
During the 1970s and 1980s, Colombia was plagued by the twin evils of drug trafficking and revolutionaries. In Medellin, legendary drug lord Pablo Escobar was by far the most powerful man in the country, with a billion dollar industry.
However, it had rivals in the Cali Cartel, and Bogotá was often the battlefield, as these cartels fought against the government, the press, and each other. In Bogotá, journalists, policemen, politicians, judges and ordinary citizens were assassinated almost daily.
Among those killed in Bogotá: Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, Minister of Justice (April 1984), Hernando Baquero Borda, Judge of the Supreme Court (August 1986) and Guillermo Cano, journalist (December 1986).
The M-19 attacks
The April 19 Movement, known as the M-19, was a Colombian revolutionary socialist movement determined to overthrow the Colombian government. They were responsible for two infamous attacks in Bogotá in the 1980s.
On February 27, 1980, the M-19 broke into the Embassy of the Dominican Republic, where a cocktail party was being held. Among the attendees was the Ambassador of the United States. They held the diplomats hostage for 61 days before the conflict was resolved.
On November 6, 1985, 35 M-19 rebels stormed the Palace of Justice, taking 300 hostages, including judges, lawyers, and others who worked there. The government decided to storm the palace: in a bloody shootout, more than 100 people were killed, including 11 of the 21 Supreme Court judges.
The M-19 eventually disarmed and became a political party.
Today, Bogotá is a large, bustling and prosperous city. Although it still suffers from many ills such as crime, it is much safer than in recent history: traffic is probably a worse daily problem for many of the city’s seven million inhabitants.
The city is a great place to visit as it has a little bit of everything: shopping, fine dining, adventure sports and much more. History buffs will want to visit the Museo de la Independencia on July 20 and the Museo Nacional de Colombia.
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