Colombia's Modern History

After the discovery of the new world by Christopher Columbus the first settlement on Colombian territory was founded by Alonso de Ojeda in 1502. The colony was abandoned three months later. The first European to set foot on Colombian territory was Juan de la Cosa, a member of Ojeda’s expedition party.

From 1509 to1510 Alonso de Ojeda founded the settlement of San Sebastian de Uraba which was also ultimately abandoned. The first permanent Spanish settlement was established in 1525. In 1513 Vasco Nunez Balboa claimed the Pacific Ocean and adjoining lands for the Spanish Crown.

In 1537 Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada founded the city of Santa Fe de Bogota. Quesada’s forces took advantage of a division between the Musica Zipa in Bogota and the Zaque in Tunja to attack and subdue their confederation. The Muisca were assimilated into the Encomienda system and their villages destroyed or abandoned. Some Tairona were able to retreat higher into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta but many other groups such as the Caribs were wiped out.

Most of Spanish occupied South America originally came under the organization of the Viceroy of Peru. The New Kingdom of Granada arose in the 16th century and corresponded more specifically to modern day Colombia with the addition of parts of Venezuela. It was governed by the president of the Audiencia of Bogota. This territory became part of the Viceroy of New Granada in 1717 and then permanently in 1739.

The Viceroy of New Granada included modern day Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama (which became independent in 1903) and parts of north-western Brazil, northern Peru, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

In the 19th century the Spanish American wars of independence took place in opposition to Spanish rule. Instability in Spain after the invasion of Napoleon spurred the liberation efforts on. Internal struggles and vying autonomous juntas created chaotic conditions in the country.

Colombian Independence Day is celebrated annually on July 20th in commemoration of the day in 1810 when the citizens of Bogota established a local ruling council; the first step towards independence.

The independence of South America from Spain is attributed to Simon Bolivar. In 1819 Venezuelan born Bolivar set out to cross the Andes hiking; a journey which took him and his men through some of the harshest extremes of nature. The image of this journey is frequently represented in South American art. Bolivar’s plan to surprise his enemies worked and after victory in battle he successfully took control of New Granada.

Bolivar declared the lands of Venezuela, New Granada, Ecuador and Panama to be Gran Colombia. Bolivar was named president of the republic and Franciso de Paula Santander was made Vice-President.

Bolivar continued to be involved in anti-Spanish military action. He is known as the liberator of South America and countless public buildings, monuments, inscriptions and artworks are dedicated to him. He is seen as a visionary, leader, military strategist and patriot. He has come to represent the ideals of liberty and revolution in the Latin America culture.