02 March 2015

The Historical Characters on Colombia’s Banknotes

Posted in Blog

At Uncover Colombia we strongly recommend to learn about the local currency before you leave home and travel on your holidays to Colombia.

Another important factor when travelling to Colombia is knowing the exchange rate before you arrive and the value of each banknote. This way you will know the amount you are handing over to pay for goods and services and avoid instances when dishonest people might try to take advantage of sightseers that are still green behind the ears. We advise jotting down the exchange rates in a notebook, which you can consult whenever you want, rather than checking apps on your smartphone in a crowded place. As you will come to find, Colombia is a safe place to visit for holidaymakers and has some of the friendliest people - but like the Colombian saying goes "No dar papaya!" (Don't put yourself in a position where someone can take advantage of you).

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Rather than use your mobile phone to access the Colombian peso exchange rate, write the information down!

In this blog we will give you some information as to what Colombian banknotes look like, their value, and to help them jump off the page, a little information about the remarkable individuals on the bills.

The smallest denomination banknote in circulation is the 1000 Colombian peso bill (c. £0.25 / $0.40), which features the portrait of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on both sides. A former mayor of Bogotá, Gaitán was a charismatic leader of the Liberal Party in Colombia. He was assassinated during his second presidential campaign in Bogotá on 9th April 1948. It is widely speculated that due to his popularity, he would have been elected President if he were not slain. His murder provoked a violent 10-hour riot in the city known as the 'Bogotazo', which left most of downtown Bogotá wholly looted and burned and resulted in the death of over 3,000 people.

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Uncover Colombia Tour

Although the designer of the 1000 peso bill has denied the story, it has been speculated that the figure in the crowd below Gaitan's outstretched arm and where his signature ends is non-other than a young Fidel Castro. Fidel, the future Comandante was in Bogotá in early 1948 for a Latin American student conference and met Gaitán just days before his assassination.

The 2000 Colombian peso banknote (c. £0.50 / $0.80), shows Francisco de Paula Santander on the obverse and Bogota's Casa de la Moneda on the reverse. Santander was once Simón Bolivar's right-hand man during the liberation campaign and became the acting President of Gran Colombia between 1819 and 1826 while Bolivar ventured back into battle for South American Independence. After Bolivar's death, Santander was elected by Congress as the President of the Republic of New Granada between 1832 and 1836.

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Uncover Colombia Tour

 

The Casa de la Moneda or coin mint was founded in 1621 and struck the first gold coins in the Americas for the Spanish Crown. The building retains its original façade and the impressive doorway that is located on 11th Street (#4-93) in the heart of La Candelaria. It is now home to the sizeable numismatic collection of the Banco de la Republica. Entry is free and a visit to the museum is highly recommended.

Jose Asunción Silva appears on the 5000 Colombian peso bill (c. £1.30 / $2.00). Asunción Silva was one of Colombia's most renowned poets and the entire 'Nocturno' poem appears in microtext font on the plinth on the reverse of the bill. Many of his foremost works of prose were lost in a shipwreck in 1895 and not long after, on 23rd May 1896, he shot himself in the heart with a revolver in his house in La Candelaria. The house, located on Calle 12C (#3-41), is now the Casa de Poesia Silva museum that showcases his life and works.

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Uncover Colombia Tour

"La Pola", Policarpa Salavarietta features on the 10,000 Colombian peso banknote (c. £2.60 / $4.00). Policarpa, the only woman to appear on a Colombian bill is considered to be a heroine of Independence in Colombia. Working as a seamstress, Policarpa infiltrated Spanish Royalist homes in Bogotá, gathering and passing on information to Revolutionary Forces. She was eventually captured and sentenced to death by firing squad in Bolivar Square. La Pola marched to her death with two priests and was led by a guard. Instead of reciting prayers with the priests, Policarpa cursed the Spaniards and foretold their downfall in the coming revolution. She refused to kneel to the Spanish firing squad and turning to face them, famously yelled, "I have more than enough courage to suffer this death and a thousand more. Do not forget my example." Policarpa Salavarietta is a symbol of freedom in Colombia. November 14th was declared by Congress to be the 'Day of the Colombian Woman' in honour of the anniversary of her death. Her hometown of Guaduas is shown on the reverse of the banknote.

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Uncover Colombia Tour 

 

The face of Julio Garavito Armero appears on the 20,000 Colombian peso bill (c. £5.20 / $8.00). Garavito was the foremost astronomer and a distinguished mathematician and engineer in Colombia. The International Astronomy Union recognised Garavito's studies and investigations in astronomy by naming a crater in his honour on the dark side of the Moon. This is represented on the banknote with the Moon displayed on one side of the bill, and the Earth, as viewed from the Moon's surface on the other side. Due to the blue colour of the banknote, there is a local folk superstition that bringing offerings of blue candles and blue flowers and praying at Garavito's tombstone in the Bogotá's Central Cemetery can help one to become wealthy.

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Uncover Colombia Tour

The Colombian author Jorge Isaacs features on the largest denomination 50,000-peso banknote (c. £13.00 / $20.00). Isaacs, the son of an Englishman, was a prominent Colombian writer, politician and soldier. His only novel, Maria, was published in 1867 and became one of the most notable works of the Romantic movement in Spanish-language literature. The story narrates the idyllic and tragic love between María and her cousin Efraín, both natives of Valle del Cauca. In the middle of a romantic and rural landscape, the young characters fall in love with each other but events foil the fulfillment of their affection. The first obstacle is Efraín's departure for six years to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, in order to pursue his college education. When Efraín returns, the couple is able to live together, albeit for only three months, before he is forced to travel to London to study medicine. Two years later Efraín returns to Colombia to find that María has died of illness. Heart-broken, Efraín decides to leave Cauca indefinitely, this time without a fixed destination. The novelist Jorge Isaacs died from malaria in Cali in 1895. A paragraph from Maria is printed on the reverse of the banknote alongside a picture of Hacienda "El Paraiso", owned by the Isaacs' family and the setting for the novel.

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Uncover Colombia Tour

 

The Uncover Colombia Team