Bogota, Colombia

From New World Encyclopedia
—  Capital District  —
Bogotá Distrito Capital
Centro Internacional in Bogotá
Centro Internacional in Bogotá
Flag of Bogotá
Official seal of Bogotá
Motto: Bogotá, 2600 metros más cerca de las estrellas
Bogotá, 2600 meters closer to the stars
Country Colombia
Department Flag of Bogota.svg Distrito Capital
Foundation August 6, 1538 (traditional)[1]
Founder Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada
 - Mayor Gustavo Petro Urrego
 - Capital District 1,587 km² (612.7 sq mi)
Elevation [2] 2,625 m (8,612 ft)
Population (2011 estimate)[3]
 - Capital District 6,840,116
 - Density 4,310.1/km² (11,163.1/sq mi)
 - Metro 7,881,156
HDI (2011) 0.904 very high
Website: City Official Site
Mayor Official Site
Bogotá Tourism

Bogotá (officially Bogotá, D.C. for "Distrito Capital," meaning "Capital District"), formerly called Santa Fe de Bogotá, is the capital city of the South American nation of Colombia, as well as the largest and most populous city in the country. The inclusion of its metropolitan area, the municipalities such as Chía, Cota, Soacha, Cajicá and La Calera, brings its population to well over 7 million people.

Bogotá is the educational, cultural, commercial, administrative, financial, and political center of Colombia. As with many large, cosmopolitan cities, it is a city of diverse contrasts, both economically and culturally.

Often referred to as the "Athens of South America" for its cultural and scientific institutions, Bogota is a flavorful mix of its Spanish, English and the indigenous peoples' heritages.


Before the arrival of the Spanish, the area near present day Bogotá was sparsely inhabited by the indigenous Muisca. They were master goldsmiths who are thought to have originated the myth of El Dorado with their tradition of rolling their new chief in gold dust. [4] The area of present-day Bogota was originally called Bacatá by the Muiscas meaning “planted fields.” [5] It was the center of their civilization before the Spanish explorers colonized the area, and it sustained a large population. The European settlement was founded on August 6, 1538, by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada who quickly dispatched the local Muisca tribes, and named the area "Santa Fé de Bacatá" after his birthplace Santa Fé and the local name. "Bacatá" had become the modern "Bogotá" by the time it was made the capital of the New Kingdom of Granada, which was then part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, and later of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. The city soon became one of the centers of Spanish colonial power and civilization in South America.

In 1810-11 its citizens revolted against Spanish rule and set up a government of their own, but had to contend with internal divisions and the temporary return to power of Spanish military loyalists, who resumed control of the city from 1816 to 1819, when Simón Bolívar captured it after his victory at Boyacá. Bogotá was then made the capital of Gran Colombia, a federation combining the territories of modern-day Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. When that republic was dissolved in 1830 into its constituent parts, Bogotá remained the capital of New Granada, which later became the Republic of Colombia. [6]

The city grew slowly because Bogotános (cachacos) wanted to preserve their old culture, including their cherished churches, convents, and ornate Spanish colonial style homes. [6]

Did you know?
The city of Bogota, Colombia has been called the "Athens of South America"

The city expanded rapidly after 1940 as large numbers of rural Colombians migrated there in search of greater economic opportunities. It is sometimes called the "Athens of South America."

On April 9th, 1948, sparked by the murder of the political leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitan, the people took to the streets, raided the shops and burned the churches and official buildings. At the time, Bogotá was a city of 400,000 people that had withstood many earthquakes, but the 'Bogotázo' as this is known, left the city in ruins. Shortly after the Bogotázo, the first modern buildings were constructed, followed by skyscrapers and shopping centers. [7]

In 1956, the municipality was joined to other neighboring municipalities forming a "Special District" (Spanish: Distrito Especial). With the Constitution of 1991, Bogotá was confirmed as the Capital of Colombia acquiring the name "Santa Fe de Bogotá," and changing the category from Special District to "Capital District" (Spanish: Distrito Capital).

The increase of drug trafficking in the last 25 years has exacerbated the ongoing civil conflict, although the frequent car bombings and other acts of terrorism that plagued Bogotá a decade ago have subsided. Occasional political assassinations are however, grim reminders that the violence has not been completely eradicated. [4]

In August 2000 the capital's name was officially changed back from "Santa Fé de Bogotá" to the more usual "Bogotá D.C.."


Downtown from Salitre Magico Park.
International Center of Bogota.

Bogotá's lies at latitude 3°41'24"N to 4°49'54"N and longitude 74.3°W. The city has an area of 612.74 square miles (1,587 sq km). Including the metropolitan area, its surface is 668.73 square miles (1,732 sq km). [8]

Bogotá is located in the center of Colombia, on the east of the "sabana de Bogotá," 8661 feet (2640 meters) above sea level on a plateau of the eastern mountain range of the Andes. Although "sabana," as it is popularly called, is literally "savanna," the geographical site is actually a high plateau in the Andes Mountains. The extended region is also known as "altiplano cundi-boyacense" which literally means "high plateau of Cundinamrca and Boyaca."

The Bogotá River crosses the 'sabana' forming Tequendama Falls to the south. Tributary rivers form valleys with flourishing villages, whose economies are based on agriculture, raising livestock and artesian production.

The 'sabana' is bordered to the east by the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes mountain range. Surrounding hills, which limit city growth, run from south to north, parallel to the Guadalupe and Monserrate mountains. The western city limit is the Bogotá River; Sumapaz paramo borders the south and to the north Bogotá extends over the mentioned plateau up to the towns of Chía and Sopó.


Due to its high altitude and proximity to the equator, Bogotá has a constant, mild to cool climate year 'round. Temperature fluctuations are relatively small with the average monthly high temperatures ranging from 59ºF to 62ºF (14.9ºC - 16.7ºC) while the average monthly low temperatures range from 42ºF to 48ºF (5.6ºC - 8.7ºC). [9] Dry and rainy seasons alternate throughout the year. The driest months are December to February while April, May, September, October and November are the wettest. Bogotá averages 31.5 inches (799 millimeters) of rain annually spread over an average of 185 rain days. [9]

Frost usually occurs in dry season and during this period, the temperature falls below 0°C. The lowest temperature ever recorded was -8°C (17°F) inside the city and -10°C (14°F) in the nearby towns of the savanna.

Climatic conditions are irregular and quite variable due to the El Niño and La Niña climatic phenomena, which occur in and around the Pacific basin and are responsible for very pronounced climatic changes.

Urban layout and nomenclature

The urban layout dates to Colonial times, and is a square layout adopted from Spain. The current street layout has calles which run perpendicular to the hills in an east-west direction with numbering increasing toward the north, and toward the south from calle 1, and carreras which run parallel to the hills in the south-north direction with numbering increasing east and west from carrera 1. New urban sectors incorporate diagonal – similar to streets – and transversal – similar to carreras. Streets are numbered.

Bogotá has over one thousand neighborhoods or divisions forming the developed urban network. Neighborhoods of higher economic status are primarily located to the north and north-east. Poorer neighborhoods are located to the south and south-east, many of them squatter areas. The middle classes usually inhabit the central, western and north-western sections of the city.


City Hall

Bogotá is the capital of the Republic of Colombia, and houses the National Legislature, the Supreme Court of Justice, and the center of the executive administration as well as the residence of the President of the Republic. The Principal Mayor and District Council are responsible for city administration and are both elected by popular vote.

The city is divided into 20 localities: Usaquén, Chapinero, Santa Fe, San Cristóbal, Usme, Tunjuelito, Bosa, Kennedy, Fontibón, Engativá, Suba, Barrios Unidos, Teusaquillo, Los Mártires, Antonio Nariño, Puente Aranda, La Candelaria, Rafael Uribe Uribe, Ciudad Bolívar, Sumapáz.

Each of the 20 localities is governed by an administrative board elected by popular vote, made up of no less than seven members, as determined by the District Council. The Principal Mayor designates local mayors from a trio proposed by the respective administrative board. [10]


Bogotá is Colombia's largest economic center and the headquarters of major commercial banks, and to the Banco de la República, Colombia's central bank as well as Colombia's main stock market (established 1928). Because of its status as site of the country's capital, it is home to a number of government agencies, which represent a major component of the city's economy. Bogotá houses the military headquarters and is the center of Colombia's telecommunications network. Public services include energy, sewer and telephones. Energy and sewer bills are stratified based on the location of the residence. Thus, the wealthier sections of society help subsidize the energy bills of the poorer sections of society.

Most companies in Colombia have their headquarters in Bogotá, and it is home to many foreign companies doing business in Colombia and neighboring countries. Bogotá is a major center for the import and export of goods for Colombia and the Andean Community in Latin America and is the home of Colombia's tire, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries, but its chief activities are commercial. It is the hub of air travel in the nation and the home of South America's first commercial airline Avianca (Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia). [11] Bogotá also receives money from exports such as flowers and emeralds. In downtown Bogotá, millions of dollars in domestically produced rough and cut emeralds are bought and sold daily. [12]


The largest and most populous city in Colombia, Bogotá had 7,881,156 inhabitants residing in 2,262,251 dwellings in its metropolitan area according to the 2005 census.[13]

Reliable figures on ethnicity are difficult to establish as the national census dropped references to race after 1918, recognizing the impossibility of objective racial classification and not wishing to emphasize ethnic or racial differences. In the late 1980s estimates concluded that mestizos (white-Indian mix) constituted approximately 50 percent of the population, whites 25 percent, mulattoes (black-white mix) and zambos (black-Indian mix) 20 percent, blacks 4 percent, and Indians 1 percent. The varying groups are found in differing concentrations throughout the nation, with the whites tending to live mainly in the urban centers, particularly in Bogotá. After the 1940s, the mestizos began moving to the cities, where they became part of the urban working class or urban poor. [14]


In less than 50 years, Bogotá went from being a small city with less than 500,000 inhabitants to a metropolis of more than 7 million. [15] Between the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, as the population grew, violence and crime increased excessively, resulting in Bogotá being considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world in the mid 1990s. At one point it had a homicide rate of 80 per 100,000 people. Since then however, Bogotá has gone to great lengths to change its crime rate and its image. The change was the result of a participatory and integrated security policy that was first adopted in 1995. Because of its success, this security policy has continued to be implemented ever since. In 2005, Bogotá's murder rate had declined to 23 persons per 100,000 inhabitants, a 71 percent drop from 10 years before. Interestingly, by the way of comparison, the city today has a lower murder rate than Washington, D.C., Caracas, São Paulo, Mexico City, Panama City, and Rio de Janeiro. [16]

While Bogotá was successfully reducing homicides, other Colombian cities were experiencing substantial increases in the homicide rate, due to the armed conflict and drug trafficking in the late 1990s. Bogotá also reduced the number of fatal traffic accidents from 25 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1995 to 8.7 in 2003. The city reduced other crimes by 35 percent between 1998 and 2004. [17]

In a travel warning dated June 4, 2007, the US State Department stated

"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the dangers of travel to Colombia. Violence by narcoterrorist groups and other criminals continues to affect all parts of the country, urban and rural…. Violence has continued to decrease markedly in most urban areas, including Bogotá, Medellin, Barranquilla, and Cartagena…. Terrorist groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), and other criminal organizations, continue to kidnap civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips. No one can be considered immune from kidnapping on the basis of occupation, nationality, or other factors…. U.S. government officials and their families in Colombia are permitted to travel to major cities in the country, but only by air. They are not allowed to use inter- or intra-city bus transportation. They also are not permitted to travel by road outside of urban areas at night. All Americans in Colombia are urged to follow these precautions." [18]


Central Square, National University of Colombia, Bogotá, D.C..

The District Education Department is the entity responsible for preschool, primary, secondary and middle school education in Bogotá. According to article 67 of the Colombian Political Constitution, "the State, society and family are responsible for education, that will be obligatory between 5 and 15 years of age and that will consist of minimum one preschool year and nine years of basic education." The "Bogotá, a Great School" plan guarantees a total coverage of educational needs so that the education system is available to all children in the designated education years. [19]

Bogotá has many public and private schools, universities, technical institutes, and language schools, among others. Its colleges and universities have a major impact on the city and region's economy. Not only are they major employers, but they also attract national and international industries to the city and surrounding region, including highly needed technology industries. The city is Colombia's educational hub.

Private universities include Los Andes University, the Javeriana University, Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, University of Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano, University of La Sabana, La Gran Colombia University among others, while public universities include the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Colegio Mayor de Cundinamarca, Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas Universidad Militar Nueva Granada Universidad Pedagógica Nacional. [8]


Simón Bolívar Metropolitan Park.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church

Class structure in Bogotá, and in all of Colombia, is based on a mixture of occupation, wealth, and ethnicity. The “marginal” classes account for the vast majority of the population, however, they usually lack steady employment and eke out a meager living. The lower class is usually employed as physical laborers. These two groups are comprised mostly of African, American Indian, or mixed descent. The middle and upper echelons of the social structure usually perform more highly skilled work, although the middle classes lack the wealth (and perhaps the European heritage) of the upper class. The upper class is comprised of a very small group of wealthy, traditional families, almost exclusively of pure Spanish decent. [20]

Protection of one's family pride and name, collectively known as one's abolengo, is extremely important to traditional Colombian elites. Family ties are critical in business and political life, and young men or women commonly follow their fathers' footsteps into business or political arenas. Elite cliques called roscas (the name of a twisted pastry) also often act behind the scenes in business and political dealings. [20]

As a result of colonial influence, gender roles in Colombia are still marked by sexual segregation and a difference between male and female goals and aspirations. Men occupy a dominant role within the household and assume responsibility as breadwinner, disciplinarian, and for maintaining family pride and position within the community. The traditional Colombian female expectations include a subservience to her husband and care of the children and household. However, it is still her husband's responsibility to make decisions about the household's basic necessities. The gender roles differentiation is less pronounced in Bogotá and other urban centers, however as women are beginning to occupy more prominent positions in society and higher-paying jobs this gender separation is declining. In order to preserve family status, honor, and virtue, most women from upper class and from some middle class families avoid working outside the home. Instead they dedicate themselves and their time to their family, social issues and the church. Women from these groups are also considered among the most politically active in Latin America, and hold a number of prominent public positions. [21]

Arts and entertainment

Downtown Bogotá, the National Capitol Building houses the Colombian Congress.

The Teatro Libre International Jazz Festival, an internationally renowned jazz festival, is held annually in Bogota the first week of each September. World class musical performances including opera, zarzuela and operetta, interpreted by Colombian and international artists occur at the Colón Theatre, the Camarín del Carmen and Colsubsidio Roberto Arias Pérez Theatre. The Philharmonic Orchestra of Bogotá performs at the National University León de Greiff Auditorium.

There are approximately 80 museums in Bogotá, exhibiting fine arts, contemporary and modern art, religious art and historical, archaeological, scientific and technological exhibits among others. [8]

In addition to the museums, Bogotá has 12 libraries, 36 churches with colonial and republican treasures, 132 national monuments, 25 universities, 21 theaters and 20 cultural centers. [22]

For the year 2007, UNESCO recognized Bogotá with the title of "The Book Capital of the World" for the quality of its programs to promote reading and the diffusion of books. [8]


Bullfighting in Bogota

The country's most widely played and watched sport in Bogotá is football (soccer). Bogotá's Millonarios and Santa Fé teams have some of Colombia’s strongest rivalries in Colombia. The Colombian national team has also qualified for several FIFA World Cup finals and several Summer Olympic tournaments. [20]

Bullfighting, originally introduced to South America by the Spanish, remains popular in Bogotá. Baseball and basketball have also become more popular in Bogotá and throughout Colombia. The only indigenous sport is tejo, a game derived from the Chibcha Indians, that is similar to quoits. [20] The objective of tejo is to throw a small metal disk at a gunpowder detonator, with the winner determined by the number of explosions in proportion to the number of throws.

Festivals and fiestas

Several festivals or fiestas celebrate occurrences of local importance and are often government subsidized. They promote and preserve popular tunes and dances as well as traditional costumes. The pre-Lenten Carnival is celebrated nationally. The Bogotá Carnival (Spanish: Carnaval de Bogotá) commemorates the founding of the city, and is a combination of various cultural events including masquerades, dances, and parades and others. The Iberoamerican Theater Festival held in Bogotá every second year and is one of the largest theater festivals in the world.

Music and dance

Dancing is very popular throughout Colombia, with many vibrant and popular styles. Popular dance styles include Salsa, Merengue, and Bambuco. The last one is a very complicated dance with many different steps. Cumbia music and dance are considered Colombian national treasures whose rhythmic cadence and melodies reflect the mulatto and indigenous flavor. Cumbia, although originating on Colombia's Caribbean Coast, is now nationally popular. Cumbia is a blend of indigenous, African and Spanish influences that originated with African slaves and indigenous cultures congregating on the moonlit beaches to dance, socialize and celebrate life. [23]

Other traditional types of music popular in the Bogotá region are the Bambuco and the Guabina. Both types of music have considerable mestizo influence, using themes that emphasize the earth, mountains, and lakes. [21]

The Church

Primary Cathedral, Bogotá.

Roman Catholics account for an estimated 90 percent of the Colombian population. [24]

To most Colombians, the primary rites of the church such as baptism, first communion, marriage, and extreme unction are the turning points in the life cycle and identify them as a social being. One's Catholic faith is considered to be a part of a person's cultural heritage and, like one's language, is passed on to become an integral part of a person's being. Close personal relations with members of the religious hierarchy were often maintained by members of the upper class and the upper middle class. The majority of the clergy was of upper-class or middle-class origin and therefore shared their interests and attitudes and felt a close affinity with them. In addition to providing most of the membership of lay religious associations, the upper social levels supported Catholic charities with their time and money.

The church continues to exercise considerable influence in education, social welfare, and labor union organization. Catholic control over education in Colombia is probably strongest in Latin America. The church had its own Secretariat of Education responsible for more than 3,500 schools and universities. The church system was estimated to include over 85 percent of the students in preschool, 20 percent of those in the primary grades, more than 50 percent of those in secondary school, and almost 40 percent of those in universities. Church institutions of higher education were among the most highly respected in the nation.

The Catholic Church was also active in several other areas. It is estimated to be responsible for about 1,100 charitable institutions, including orphanages, hospitals, and leprosariums. The church was also represented in the National Indian Institute because of its involvement with the mission territories, although the government is slowly taking over the functions of the church in the Indian territories. [25]



Health services in Bogotá are administered by the District Department of Health and funded by a contribution of four percent of all employees’ income. Non-employed persons are covered under a subsidized health regime, in which the contribution depends on the income level. [26]

The city has many health centers, private clinics and state hospitals that render medical and hospital services. There are 142 public medical clinics and 22 health organizations that render services to more than 4,900,000 patients. [8]


Bogotá has an extensive modern transportation system comprising in excess of 15,000 buses, busetas (medium size buses), colectivos (vans or minivans), taxis and the Transmilenio (92 articulated buses implemented in 2001). Buses are the main means of mass transportation. Bogotá is also a hub for national and international bus routes with the main terminal serving routes to the majority of cities and towns in Colombia and international services to Ecuador and Venezuela.

Bogotá's main airport, Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado, handles all domestic and international flights. In 2007, a major expansion was begun that will expand the airport's capacity from the current 8 million passengers per year to 16 million passengers per year. A smaller airport, Guaymaral Airport, serves as a base for Police Aviation and all general aviation activities.

Sister cities


  1. James D. Henderson, Helen Delpar, Maurice Philip Brungardt, and Richard N. Weldon, A Reference Guide to Latin American History (Routledge, 2000, ISBN 978-1563247446), 61.
  2. Bogotá una ciudad Andina (in Spanish). la Alcaldía Mayor de Bogotá.. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
  3. 2005 Census (in Spanish). Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística DANE. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Fodors. Colombian History Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  5. S. Arias and M. Meléndez, "Sacred and Imperial Topographies in Juan de Castellanos's Elegías de varones ilustres de Indias" in Mapping Colonial Spanish America: Places and Commonplaces of Identity, Culture and Experience. (Bucknell University Press, 2002, ISBN 0838755097).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bogotá City Hall History Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  7. World Facts. Bogotá Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Bogotá, Colombia. Bogotá DC Retrieved November 9, 2007
  9. 9.0 9.1 World Weather Information Service. Bogotá, Colombia. Retrieved November 9, 2007
  10. Official Website of Bogotá Tourism. Government and Administration Retrieved November 7, 2007
  11. Encyclopedia Britannica. Bogotá, Colombia.
  12. City of Miami. Bogotá, Colombia Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  13. DANE. Censo General 2005 Resultados Area Metropolitana de Bogotá Retrieved November 21, 2007.
  14. Library of Congress Country Studies. Race and EthnicityRetrieved November 10, 2007.
  15. Comunidad Segura. Bogotá’s success story.
  16. Shelley de Botton, February 14, 2007. Bogotá: profiling a security plan that is integrated and participatory Comunidad Segura.
  17. Hugo Acero, August 12, 2006. Bogotá’s success story Comunidad Segura. Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  18. U.S. Department of State. June 4, 2007.Travel Warning Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  19. Bogotá City Hall. Education Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Encyclopedia Britannica. Colombia
  21. 21.0 21.1 Countries and Their Cultures. Culture of Colombia Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  22. Bogotá City Hall. General Information Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  23. Soaring Steps. Cumbia Dance History - Cumbia Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  24. CIA World Fact Book. Colombia.
  25. The New York Times Company - About, Inc. Religion in Colombia.
  26. Bogotá City Hall. Bogotá Health Services Retrieved November 9, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Arias, Santa, and Mariselle Meléndez. Mapping Colonial Spanish America: Places and Commonplaces of Identity, Culture and Experience. Bucknell University Press, 2002. ISBN 0838755097
  • Henderson, Alexander C., Helen Delpar, Maurice P. Brungardt, and Richard Weldon. A Reference Guide to Latin American History. Routledge, 2000. ISBN 978-1563247446
  • Leech, Gary. Beyond Bogota: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0807061459
  • Sowell, David. The Early Colombian Labor Movement: Artisans and Politics in Bogota, 1832-1919. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1992. ISBN 978-0877229650

External links

All links retrieved November 17, 2023.


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