Plaza Bolívar and around
The Plaza de Bolívar, marked out by the city's founders (as Plaza Mayor), is at the heart of the city. Around the Plaza are the narrow streets and mansions of the
Barrio La Candelaria
, the historical and cultural heart of the city occupying the area of some 70 city blocks to the south of Avenida Jiménez de Quesada, north of Calle 6 and east of Carrera 10 . Because the main commercial and residential focus of the city moved down the hill and to the north early on, much of the original colonial town remains. It is one of the best-preserved major historical centres in Latin America, and as such has attracted artists, writers and academics to fill the sector with theatres, libraries and universities, for which Colombia has a very high reputation in the Spanish-speaking world. There are some delightful sights, especially the colonial houses with their barred windows, carved doorways, red-tiled roofs and sheltering eaves. The local authorities are helping to preserve and renovate properties and the cobbled streets, a feature of Candelaria. Many of the best of Bogotá's churches and colonial buildings are in this district. Some hotels are found in this part, more along the margins, for example Avenida Jiménez de Quesada. The streets are relatively uncrowded and safe, although care should be exercised after dark. West of Carrera 10 and south of Calle 6 is seedier and not recommended for pedestrians.
Plaza de Bolívar is the central square of Bogotá, with a statue of the Liberator at its centre. The cathedral stands on the northeast corner of the square. The first was completed in 1553 to replace a small chapel where Fray Domingo de las Casas said the first mass in Bogotá. The present building was constructed between 1807 and 1823. It has a fine, spacious interior, redecorated (1998) in cream and gold with high ceilings across three naves. There are lateral chapels in classical style, a notable choir loft of carved walnut, wrought silver on the altar of the Chapel of El Topo and elaborate candelabras. Treasures and relics include paintings attributed to Ribera and the banner brought by Jiménez de Quesada to Bogotá in the sacristy, which also houses portraits of past Archbishops. There are monuments to Jiménez and to Antonio Nariño inside the cathedral. In one of the chapels near the altar is buried
Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos
(1638-1711), the most notable painter in colonial Colombia. A number of his paintings can be seen in the Cathedral, which is open most days from 0900-1200. Next to it is the
Capilla del Sagrario
, built at the end of the 17th century. There are two aisles with wooden balconies above and a fine red/gilt ceiling and screen. The inside of the dome was painted by Ricardo Acevedo Bernal. There are several paintings by Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos. Mass is celebrated at 0800 and 1700 during the week. Next door is the
, with splendid bronze doors, and opposite, at the bottom of Calle 10, is
originally Bogotá's oldest university, founded in 1573, and where many notable Colombians of the past were educated, including Antonio Nariño, Antonio Ricaurte and General Santander. The imposing early-20th-century classical building, now an important secondary school, fits appropriately into the corner of Plaza Bolívar.
Colegio de San Bartolomé
On the south side of the Plaza de Bolívar is the
, originally the site of the Viceroy's Palace. In 1846, Thomas Reed, born in Tenerife and educated in England, was commissioned to build the Capitolio, but it was fraught with difficulties from the start. Construction was suspended in 1851, to be recommenced in 1880 by Pietro Cantini, who finished the façade to the original design in 1911. The rest was finally 'finished' in 1927 by Alberto Manrique Martín. Many other architects and engineers were involved at various times. In fact it is still being restored, now by the Instituto Nacional de Vías (National Road Institute), which has a department that specializes in maintaining national monuments. The Capitolio houses several Ministries, the Supreme Court, Consejo de Estado and Congress. On the corner of Carrera 8/Calle 10 is the
. The building dates from the 17th century when it housed commercial premises with living quarters above and typical wrought-iron balconies. There are also preserved examples of later modifications to the building from the 19th and 20th centuries. It now belongs to the
Casa de Los Comuneros
Instituto Distrital de Cultura y Turismo
and includes the main tourist office of the city.
, Bogotá's city hall, is on the west side of the Plaza. It is known as the Lievano Building, and is in the French style of the early 20th century. Until 1960, the ground floor galleries were business premises. On the north side of the Plaza you will see the
Palacio de Justicia.
The former building was badly damaged when the Army recaptured it from the M19 guerrillas who attacked and took it over in 1985. Eventually it was pulled down and a new one was completed in April 1999.
On the northeast corner of Calle 11/Carrera 7 is the
Museo 20 de Julio
, also known as the
, in a colonial house, which houses the famous flower vase that featured in the 1810 revolution. The owner of the vase, the Spaniard José González Llorente refused to lend the vase for the decoration of the main table at an event in honour of Antonio Villavicencio, a prominent 'Creole'. This snub was used as a pretext by the Creoles for the rebellion against the Spaniards which led to the independence nine years later of Nueva Granada. A copy of the Declaration of Independence is on display. The museum has collections of the Independence War period, including documents and engravings and some fine portraits of Simón Bolívar. Two doors above the museum (Calle 11 No 6-42) is an attractive inner courtyard, now a restaurant, which is worth a look.
Casa del Florero
Just off the plaza is
, built by the Jesuits between 1605 and 1635 with plans from Rome. Over the choir and the galleries is a rich ceiling in Moorish style and emeralds from Muzo in Boyacá were used in the monstrance. Paintings by Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos are in the nave. Opposite is the
Iglesia de San Ignacio
Plazuela de Rufino Cuervo
, one of the few original squares in Candelaria, a garden of trees and flowers with balconied buildings around and the dome of the Capilla del Sagrario visible above. The Palacio Arzobispal (Cardinal's Palace) is to the left. To the right of the square is The
, with a display of present and past regional dress, and a collection of hand- woven textiles showing pre-Columbian techniques. This is the house where Manuela Sáenz, Bolívar's mistress, lived. At the back of the square is
Museo de Trajes Regionales
, where Antonio Nariño's translation of Thomas Paine's 'Rights of Man' was published in 1794. This had a profound influence on the growing demand for independence from Spain . You can read an extract from the text in Spanish on the wall of the building.
East of Carrera 6
Opposite, on the corner of Calle 10/Carrera 6 is the
, one of the finest colonial buildings in Colombia. It belonged originally to the Society of Jesus, and was once the seat of the oldest University in Colombia and of the National Library. It has a splendid collection of colonial art and paintings, including a whole room of works by Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos, all kinds of silver, furniture, glassware and utensils of the time. Particularly impressive is the collection of portable writing cabinets with inlay marquetry in one of the upstairs rooms. There is a private chapel and two charming patios.
Museo de Arte Colonial
Further up Calle 10, at No 5-51, is the
Palacio de San Carlos
, where Bolívar lived for a time. He is said to have planted the now huge walnut tree in the courtyard. On 25 September 1828, there was an attempt on his life and his mistress, Manuela Sáenz, thrust him out of the window (a plaque facing Calle 10 marks the event) and he was able to hide for two hours under the stone arches of the bridge across the Río San Agustín, now Calle 7. Santander, suspected of complicity, was arrested and banished. Later, it was the home of the Presidents of Colombia at various times until 1980. At present it houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Opposite is the
. It opened in 1892 on the fourth anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America. It presents operas, ballets, plays and concerts and is the home of the Colombian Symphony Orchestra which performs there regularly. The auditorium is late 19th century, lavishly decorated and seats 1200. Guided tours can be arranged Mondays-Fridays 0900-1700 or ask if you can have a look around when the theatre is not in use. Next door is the
, named after the writer of children's books, who lived here. The foundation is dedicated to services to children, including a library, workshops and a film studio.
Fundación Rafael Pombo
Across Carrera 5 is the
The building was originally constructed to house part of the National University but is now a museum devoted to the Colombian armed forces and has a interesting collection of weapons. There is also a detailed presentation of the independence campaign of 1819.
One block north is the
Casa de Moneda
(The Mint). The mint was established on this site in 1620 and the present building dates from 1753, constructed with traditional materials including stone and adobe. Note the courtyard and thick walled arcades. The exhibition traces the history of currency from the earliest trading in gold, salt and tumbago to the present day. There is good commentary (much also in English) with interactive exhibits. The hoard of 1630 coins, known as the
Tesoro del Mesuno
, which was found in 1936 on a small island in the Río Magdalena, is displayed. There is a coin and banknote exhibition upstairs and occasional extra art shows. Next door, a permanent display of Fernando Botero's work was opened in 2000 as
, with three salons of his sculptures and paintings as well as an impressive collection of works by Picasso, Matisse, Lucian Freud, Henry Moore, Dalí and Giacometti, among others. Well worth a visit.
Opposite and running the full block between Carrera 4 and Carrera 5 is the
, a facility of the Banco de la República, and one of the best-endowed libraries in Latin America. There are research rooms, art galleries and three reading rooms. The cafeteria on the sixth floor has a good view and reasonable food. They also have premises on
Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango
the other side of Calle 11. There is a splendid concert hall, where public concerts are usually cheap or free. The library is very popular with students, who will be found queuing an hour before it opens at 0800 to secure a study place in the reading room. On the corner of Calle 11/Carrera 4 is
Iglesia de La Candelaria
, part of an Augustinian friary originally established in 1560. This is an 18th-century three-nave colonial church with some fine carving and a gilded reredos. The structure is in poor shape and desperate steps have been taken to buttress the southwest corner.
A few blocks north of here is
Casa de Poesía Silva
. The poet José Asunción Silva lived here until his death in 1895. This is a good introduction to the restored colonial house, with a peaceful garden patio. There is a museum, bookshop and a fine audio and book library with taped readings of almost every Spanish-speaking author. CDs can be bought in the bookshop. There are also lectures and poetry readings.
Up from the Casa de Poesía to Calle 14/Carrera 2, turn right up a delightful narrow way (Callejón del Embudo) to the
Plaza del Chorro de Quevedo
, which is believed to be the centre of the Muisca village of Teusaquillo (or Tibsaquillo) and was certainly where Jiménez de Quesada took possession of the territory in the name of King Charles of Spain to form the kingdom of New Granada on 6 August 1538. The centre of the city later moved down to flatter ground (around what is now the Parque Santander), but a commemorative chapel (now a cultural centre) was built on the corner of this plaza and many other houses were built around and below. The name dates from about 1800 when Father Francisco Quevedo provided a
(well) for the local people. From time to time during the day you will see many students here taking a break from their studies at the several universities nearby, adding to the activity (and the safety) of the area until around 2000 in the evening.
South of Plaza Bolívar
Down Calle 13 is the first home of the
. It still houses a professional acting school with occasional public performances. The main home of this company is now in Calle 62, Chapinero, . Also on this street is the
Teatro Libre de Bogotá
, part of the government of the Barrio and an information point. Look in at the attractive colonial patio, with its trees and lawns. At present, under the guidance of the Corporacíon, efforts are being made to reinstate the 'cobbled' streets with modern techniques but with very successful results. They have another office across the street which also has information and sells T-shirts, etc.
Corporación La Candelaria
One block south of the plaza is the museum of
, formerly the church of the convent of Clarissa nuns, built between 1619 and 1630 and preserved very much as it was in the 17th century. There is a comprehensive collection of religious art including paintings by Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos, and some fine interior decoration with coffered ceilings and lattice screens and windows behind which the nuns attended Mass concealed from the public. Note the extensive remains of the original wall paintings. Though discreet signs on the walls tell you what to look for, a guide is a great help, ask at the entrance. Concerts are occasionally staged here.
Opposite is the
, built in 1802, one of the first in Latin America, while further south, at Carrera 8/Calle 8 is the
, formerly a private house, renovated in the republican style around 1880. It was acquired by Bancafé in 1977 and now has a collection of 19th-century paintings, clothes and furniture. The
Museo del Siglo XIX
Botica de los pobres
is a fascinating recreation of a 'poor man's chemist' shop of the period. Note the decoration of the rooms on the second floor and the staircase woodwork. A 19th-century-style coffee shop was opened in 2000, which has good coffee to order, mini sandwiches and snacks, it is not cheap but is very pleasant. There are newspapers and books to read.
Another block south, past the front of the Palacio de Nariño to Calle 7/Carrera 8, is the
, in the old 16th-century monastery of San Agustín, with an interesting collection of traditional arts and crafts, particularly ceramics, wood and textiles. It has a colourful shop, a reasonably priced bar and a good restaurant serving Colombian food accompanied by regional music. The entrance to the
Museo de Artes y Tradiciones Populares
, the presidential palace, is on Calle 7. It has a spectacular interior with a fine collection of contemporary Colombian paintings. Enquire if there are guided tours. The ceremonial guard is normally changed daily at 1730.
Opposite is the
Iglesia de San Agustín
, built between 1637 and 1668, the tower being a later addition. It is strongly ornamented with an interesting coffered ceiling in the crypt. Note the ceilings in the nave and also the chandeliers. It was restored in 1988 and inside has a bright, cheerful appearance. There are several paintings by Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos. The Image of Jesus was proclaimed Generalissimo of the army in 1812.
East of here is the
, which is sponsored by the Banco Popular. This is the restored mansion of the Marqués de San Jorge, which is itself a beautiful example of 17th- century Spanish colonial architecture. The museum is arranged in themes rather than periods and is not well labelled. However it is an impressive and comprehensive collection of decorated ceramics from all the early cultures of Colombia. The restored murals of the original house are also interesting.
North of Plaza Bolívar
A block further east is the
, the most striking church in Bogotá. The architecture is bright and interesting with a graceful western tower and fine cupola over the transept, all in red and white, brick/stone construction. It has recently been repainted to brighten this corner of Candelaria. Inside the red/white motif continues with elegant arches and an impressive altar. The stained glass windows, unusually illustrating fruit and flowers, are slanted to give maximum light to the congregation and the windows in the apse are particularly fine. The overall impression of freshness and light is emphasised by the detail in the rose windows of the clerestory and the intricate ornamentation inside and outside the building. Time your visit to see inside; masses are normally at 0700, 1200 and 1800. Next to the church along Carrera 5 is the
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora María del Carmen
Colegio Salesiano Leon XIII
, a boys college. Inside, a cobbled 'street' leads upwards with three courtyards and the buildings of the former Carmelite community on the left, all in the same style as the church, now serving the school. On the corner of Carrera 5/Calle 9 is the former Carmelite chapel with its bell tower above and a rounded balcony on Calle 9 housing the altar of the chapel. This building, known as the
Camarín del Carmen
was faithfully restored as a colonial building in 1957 and is now used as a theatre. The entrance is Calle 9, No 4-77.
From Plaza Bolívar, Carrera 7, which was the first important street of Bogotá, runs four blocks to Avenida Jiménez de Quesada, connecting the administrative centre of the city with Parque Santander, the first residential area and now the commercial hub of the capital. This street is locally known as the Calle Real del Comercio. On the corner of Carrera 7/Calle 12A is the
Palacio de Telecomunicaciones
, the headquarters of the country's postal services on the site of the colonial church of Santo Domingo. In the building there is the
. Up Calle 13 and left at Carrera 6 there are two universities:
La Gran Colombia
38 Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario
near the corner at Calle 14, No 6-25. The latter school is the second oldest in Bogotá, was founded by Father Cristóbal de Torres of the order of Santo Domingo in the 16th century and is a typical cloistered school of the period.
José Celestino Mutis
, the botanist, taught natural sciences and medicine here. You can buy a good cheap lunch at the cafeteria and great crêpes. Alongside is the chapel of the Order -
. Inside is an embroidered Virgin made by Queen Isabel de Borbón for Father Cristóbal on his appointment as Archbishop of Santa Fe de Bogotá. The elegant façade has some fine stone carvings above the entrance.
Museo del Oro
Although not strictly in the Barrio de Candelaria, the cluster of interesting buildings around the
are appropriately part of Old Bogotá, with three of the finest churches in Colombia. After crossing Jiménez de Quesada, the
Iglesia de San Francisco
is immediately to your left. It is an interesting mid-16th-century church with paintings of famous Franciscans, choir stalls, a famous ornate gold high altar (AD1622), and a fine Lady Chapel with blue and gold ornamentation. The remarkable ceiling is in Spanish-
(Moorish) style. Try to see this church when fully illuminated. Behind it along Avenida Jiménez de Quesada is the
Palacio de San Francisco
, built between 1918 and 1933 for the Gobernación de Cundinamarca, on the site of the Franciscan friary. Designed in the republican style, it has a fine façade and competed to some degree with the Capitolio Nacional. It is now part of the Rosario University. Next to the San Francisco church and overlooking Parque Santander is the
Iglesia de la Veracruz
, first built eight years after the founding of Bogotá, rebuilt in 1731, and again in 1904. In 1910 it became the Panteón Nacional e Iglesia de la República. José de Caldas, the famous scientist, was buried under the church along with many other patriots victims of the Spanish 'Reign of Terror' around 1815. It has a bright white and red interior and a fine decorated ceiling. Fashionable weddings are held here. Across Calle 16 is the third major church
La Tercera Orden
, a colonial church famous for its carved woodwork along the nave and a high balcony, massive wooden altar reredos, and confessionals. It was built by the Third Franciscan Order in the 17th century, hence the name.
On the northeast corner of the Parque de Santander is the
Museo del Oro
(the Gold Museum), in the splendid premises of the Banco de la República. This collection is a 'must', and is perhaps the finest museum in all of South America. There are more than 35,000 pieces of pre-Columbian gold work in the total collection, most of which is held here. The rest is divided between other regional Museos de Oro (all of which are worth a visit), sponsored by the Banco de la República throughout Colombia. Many thousands of pieces are displayed.
On two upper floors, a full display is made of the dozen or so pre-Spanish indigenous groups that have been identified in Colombian territory, and how they found and worked gold and other metals. It is a fascinating story, illustrated by many examples of their work. They used techniques, some might say, unsurpassed by goldsmiths of today.
The first display floor sets the scene, each culture set in its geographical and historical environment, explaining the characteristics of their art. There are illustrative models including one of Ciudad Perdida as it would have looked when inhabited. In each section there are helpful portable boards with explanatory notes in English. The second floor has many more examples of the extraordinary goldwork of these pre-Columbian peoples. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the Salón Dorado, a glittering display of 8000 pieces inside an inner vault - an unforgettable experience.
On the ground floor there is a souvenir/bookshop, and exhibition rooms. Audio guides can be hired at the ticket office. On the first floor, 20-minute films are shown throughout the day, times and languages are displayed. The museum was closed for refurbishment in 2008 but is due to reopen at the end of the year. There is a temporary exhibition on show at the Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango.