Colombian History

Pre-Columbian Era
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Pre-Columbian artifact - Museo de Oro Bogota
The most advanced of the Pre-Columbian indigenous groups were the Tayronas
, who settled along the Atlantic Coast and, as you can still see during the Lost City Trek, on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada near Santa Marta. Their economy was based on fishing, agriculture and commerce and the organization of their social systems was surprisingly complex. As evidence of this we can find public plazas for ceremonies and paved roads for communication.
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Other tribes in this period include the Muisca
who settled in the central highlands of Colombia, near Guatavita. Carbon dating puts the earliest settlements of this tribe at an incredible BC 545. The Sinú, another tribe, located themselves in what is now known as the Department of Cordoba. Much of their wealth was given to their dead in funeral ceremonies, although it was since plundered.

Finally the Quimbayas, who evidence suggests practiced ritual cannibalism, lived in and around Valle de Cauca. Their society was developed like the Tayronas, including a class system and effective economy.

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Colonization
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Colonial CartagenaThe Spanish first landed in Colombia in 1499 led by Rodrigo de Bastidas. Subsequent to these years, between 1500 and 1507, explorer Rodrigo de Bastidas arrived in Colombia and established the first settlement in the country. In 1525 he founded Santa Marta and named the Magdalena River. 8 years later, in 1933, Pedro de Heredia founded Cartagena which swiftly became the focal point of the Spanish invasion. Here they stored their gold and erected huge fortifications to protect themselves from pirates who, at the time, included Sir Francis Drake.

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Santa Fe de Bogotá, now Colombia’s capital city, was founded in 1538 by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. Jiménez de Quesada, with the aid of many others, conquered much more land for the Spaniards (as far as Popayan and Cali) and named the entire region conquered Nuevo Reina de Granada, because it reminded him of Granada in Spain. In 1594, this name was given to a much wider area, including Panama and Venezuela.

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Independence from Spanish Rule
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Bolivar on a HorseMany date the beginnings of Colombia’s independence back to the publication of a translation of The Rights of Man by Antonio Nariño. He was imprisoned in Spain but returned to Colombia (or Nuevo Granada as it was known) in 1797. Here he led a military campaign in the south in 1813, but was once again imprisoned by the Spanish.
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At the same time Simon Bolívar was leading a campaign for independence in Venezuela, and he joined the independence movement in Cartagena in 1812. His attempts at this time were unsuccessful, and he was forced to flee to the West Indies. His return in 1816 was to be more successful and it followed riots in Bogotá (including the infamous revolt on July 20th, 1810). After joining forces with Francisco de Paulo Santander’s army, Bolívar defeated the Royalist Army, winning the crucial and infamous battle in Boyacá on August 7th, 1816.

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Bolívar took up presidency of what was now called Gran Colombia, which included Colombia, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, Bolivia. This unity lasted until the 1830s.

The Spanish mark on Colombia is still very much felt. The educational institutions, the architecture and the culture itself still very much reflect the years that the country spent under Spanish rule, not to mention the language. The main failure of the Spanish was the establishment of a durable political system, and amid corruption and violence, the search continued long afterwards.

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=> Read about the History of Colombia in Modern times: from the civil wars to the Violence and the drug years in Modern History of Colombia.
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