November 15, 2018, 9:45 pm
It is impossible to escape “history” when you are in the city center—practically every street corner marks some momentous moment in Colombian or South American history. Many streets still retain their colonial charm and quite often you’ll find plaques reminding you that you are walking the same streets as Antonio Nariño, the first vice president of Colombia and a monumental figure in Colombia’s liberation from Spain, or Policarpa (commonly known as “la Pola”), a famous colonial and revolutionary martyr and a personal hero of mine. You could spend days, weeks, maybe even months walking the streets of Bogota’s historic center and still not see all the history there is too see, and I could spend hours telling you which places I, personally, think you should visit in Bogota’s historic city center; today I’ll just focus on five of my favorites.
1. La Plaza de Bolivar
Bolivar Plaza is not necessarily the busiest part of the historic center anymore, but there is definitely a lot to see here. At one time, Bolivar Plaza was the place to be in Bogota. Surrounded by colonial houses, farmers would bring their produce to sell in the plaza and under Spanish rule public punishments were dealt in the middle of the plaza. Now, though, hardly any remnants of a market or zone of public punishment remain in Bolivar Plaza. Today, Bolivar Plaza is a symbol of independence—in the middle of the plaza stands a statue of Simon Bolivar (liberator of South America) that I have been told is the first public monument constructed in the city. At Bolivar’s side, you can gaze up at the incredible National Cathedral (perhaps the most colonial and historic building in the plaza), the very modern Palace of Justice (Palacio de Justicia), the Mayor’s Office building that carries hints of European architecture, and the Congress building that blocks a direct view of the House of Nariño (Casa de Nariño, i.e. the White House of Colombia).
Not only can you see some of the most important governmental buildings from Bolivar Plaza, but you can also people watch for hours, buy corn kernels to feed to the near obese pigeons that inhabit the plaza, get your picture taken with an out-of-place llama, or simply stand in awe as you think about all the history that has happened, literally, right beneath your feet.
2. La Florida
La Florida is a restaurant that was established in 1936 in the heart of Bogota (Carrera 7 No 21-46). Although recently renovated, La Florida offers some of the most traditional hot drinks, cold drinks, breads, pastries, and “onces” (“onces” refers to the small meals or snacks Bogotanos typically have in the late afternoon before or instead of dinner) dishes you can find in Bogota. Some of my favorite orders in La Florida, and the ones I most recommend are: tamales tolimenses, agua de panela (sugar water) with cheese and almojábana (bread made with corn flour and artisan cheese), and hot chocolate with cheese and fresh bread, and any of the out-of-the-norm fresh fruit juice combinations they offer. If you are looking for a nice and traditional place to order typical “onces” in Bogota, La Florida is most definitely the place to go.
3. La Casa de la Moneda
La Casa de la Moneda, literally translated as “House of the Coin,” is a smaller, free-entry museum in the historic neighborhood, of la Candelaria that not only tells the story of how currency came to be in Colombia, but also displays examples of coins and bills that were once in circulation. The coins, bills, and artifacts on display in La Casa de la Moneda are numerous and impressive. Because of Colombia’s history, the currency of this Andean nation has gone through and continues to on a remarkable journey and transformation. I promise, you won’t be disappointed by the extraordinary collection of currency on display in this museum.
4. Iglesia de San Francisco
There are many, many, MANY churches in the historic center of Bogota. Almost every two or three blocks, you will inevitably see a church. However, out of the churches I have been in, the Iglesia de San Fransisco left the strongest impression on me. To be completely honest, I was not expecting to see churches in Bogota that impressed me more than the churches I had toured when I lived in Europe. That was before I walked into la Iglesia de San Fransisco. The opulence, the richness, the artifacts, the atmosphere that has been preserved inside this church is beyond compare. When you walk in, you don’t know which should demand more your attention, the magnificent and exceptionally embellished altar directly in front of you, the altar to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception lined with golden columns interspersed between vivid turquoise stripes, or the exceptional collection of art inside the altars to individual saints. As you walk around, admiring the church, you can’t help but become filled with awe. If you can only visit one church in Bogota, this is the one I’d recommend.
5. La Candelaria
La Candelaria, as previously mentioned, is one of the most well known neighborhoods in Bogota, and is also one of the most historic neighborhoods in the city. Located a few minutes walk from Bolivar Plaza and home to la Casa de la Moneda, the Botero Museum, and the newly opened Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Center, among other important museums and landmarks, la Candelaria lends you, possibly, hours of walking down narrow, colonial streets lined with colonial style houses and buildings. Once home to Spanish colonizers and their criollo descendants, the Candelaria has, in recent times, become known as the bohemian sector of Bogota and as a popular zone for expats to take up residence. In addition to housing bohemian Colombians and expats, the colonial homes of the Candelaria also, now, house avant-garde hostels, starving artist shops, off-the-beaten-path coffee and artisan shops, museums, and libraries. As there is so much to see and do in La Candelaria, I’d recommend saving an entire afternoon, minimum, to get a real taste of the area.
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