Bogota is simply one of the greatest and most beautiful cites on earth, a megalopolis which possesses a formidable democratic history, bejeweled with culture, stunning classical and progressive architecture, beautiful parks and breathtaking panoramas. But most importantly, Bogota’s golden prize; her stylish, highly educated, sophisticated and amiable people.
However, Bogota probably still remains the most misunderstood and least well known of the important cities of the world –at a great loss to the citizens of the world, for whom the time has definitely come to heal that misunderstanding.
The reality one finds in Bogota will most-often contrast with the first-time visitor’s expectations. Besides finding a very sophisticated, clean and safe metropolis, the real Bogota will also reveal to the visitor why it has garnished many international awards, including:
- The Golden Lion Award for Architecture at the 2006 Venice Biennale, in which Bogota was lauded for its social, economic and cultural advances, and for the city’s urban and architectural projects which have contributed to the quality of life of its inhabitants.
- During the XXI Assembly of the Union of Iberoamerican Capital Cities (the capitals of Latin America and of the Iberian Peninsula; Spain and Portugal), Bogota was named Iberoamerican Culture Capital in 2007, for the city’s efforts to transform its society and culture toward the advancement of human rights.
- In 2007, Bogota was designated by UNESCO as the World Capital of the Book, given its remarkable network of public and private libraries and mega-libraries, the promotion of reading and literary events, major literary festivals, including its Books in the Wind Festival, a mammoth free book exchange.
- The Digital City Prize was awarded to Bogota by the Hispano-American Center for Investigation of Telecommunication Corporations (AHCIET) in 2004.
- Special Mention was given to Bogota during the 2005 International Active and Healthy City competition, for the city’s contribution to the promotion of alternative and effective exercise, improving the quality of life.
- Besides the high international credit ranking that Bogota has historically enjoyed, the city was also praised as having the best managed credit in Latin America in 1996 by the Union of Iberoamerican Capital Cities –in which Bogota was also named the major market place for culture in Latin America.
- Bogota received UNESCO’s Peace Prize in 2002 / 2003 for making the city more cultural, habitable and humane.
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Bogota with its Access to Learning prize, due to the city’s “exceptional” efforts to expand access to information technologies, computers and the internet (of which Bogota is a leader in Latin America today).
- From Sweden came two more awards. The first prize, for Bogota’s innovative mass-transport system, the Transmileneo, and for the construction of a major inner-city park, Parque Tercer Milenio. Another award was also given to Bogota for its environmental innovations, such as the Day Without a Car (an idea that has since been emulated world-wide, but of which Bogota was the first major city to implement in 1998 and by legal decree in 2000).
…And many more.
Bogota is a truly sophisticated city, where ancient gryphons act as sentinels standing-guard from the National Capitol building as street performers delight passersby; a city of historical marvels and modern wonders; neighborhood cafés and world-renowned international restaurants; homeopathic healers and cutting-edge medicine; folkloric-dances and hip hop festivals; storytellers and world-class theatre; poetry and the world’s largest libraries; rock concerts and opera performances; urban nature and urbane fashion; public art and exclusive galleries; specialty boutiques and ultra-modern shopping centers; marshes and lakes; sometimes four seasons in one day—with springtime gardens, summer water sports, autumnal forests and winter pine trees; the world’s most extensive urban network of parks and bike paths and state-of-the-art mass transportation; towering skyscrapers of brick, marble, glass, granite and steel, Tudor-style residences and palatial mansions embellished by bougainvillea, lilies and a plethora of roses.
NOTE: It is a formidable project to change the misperceptions of a city which has been so long misunderstood. Who could appropriately and concisely present cities like New York, Paris or Rome to an audience who never knew such cities existed?
This is the challenge faced by projects such as Bogota Brilliance (BB), because unless you have really been to Bogota and spent some quality time in the city, then –given the void of substantive information about this city, it becomes a very difficult task to present the truth and grandeur of Bogota to an unsuspecting public.
No less challenging will be our mission to present Bogota as the world culture capital for the new millennium. Therefore, for the sake of points of reference and brevity, we have chosen to occasionally compare Bogota to the two most visited, most familiar cities in the world; New York and Paris. We do this in an effort to compare images that are already present in the minds of most world travelers, and because the authors of BB are also most familiar with those two cities. We would generally prefer not to have to compare any city with another, as we feel it is seldom appropriate or fair, but given the shocking gap of substantive or accurate information about Bogota, particularly in the non-Spanish language realm, we have no choice but to make these comparisons for now.
Bogota at a closer glance
For many centuries, Bogota had originally been called Bacata by the local indigenous population, the Zipas family of the Muisca nation, also part of the larger Chibchan language region. Though much of the written history has long been lost, it is known that the areas that include present-day Bogota had been populated sometime between 500 B.C. and 800 A.D., making Bacata about as old as the tribes living in Lutetia, the original name given to Paris, France.
But a special mention should be made of the fact that it was near Bogota, in the nearby lake and town called Guatavita from which the legend of El Dorado arose. Colombia surrendered more of her gold to Spanish conquistadors than any other nation in the New World. And to this day, Colombia has one of the largest gold reserves in the world, and Bogota is home to the world’s largest, most important Gold Museum, El Museo de Oro.
Colonial Bogota was originally known as Santa Fe de Bogota, founded by Spanish explorer Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada on August 6, 1538 –well before New York City’s initial Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, founded in 1614.
With the growth of colonial Bogota, the city became the seat of the Spanish Viceroyalty called the Kingdom of New Granada, and the city became one of the most important urban centers of power in the New World. After the victorious war for independence, Bogota was named the capital of the Gran Colombia, from which national heroes such as Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander (amongst many others) governed a vast nation that included current-day Venezuela, Ecuador, part of Peru and Panama. After some unfortunate but peaceful political secessions, along with other historical events, Bogota became the capital of the Republic of the New Granada, which a few years later was renamed as the Republic of Colombia.
The Colombian capital soon became a refuge of enlightenment and democratic thinking. A great center for trade and higher learning, the city’s cultural life immediately blossomed, ensuring Colombia’s place in history as the beacon of democracy in Latin America. In fact, it is because Bogota had (and still has) more universities per capita than almost anywhere else, and because of its zealous embrace of democracy that the city was long ago dubbed the Athens of South America.
Modern day Bogota is a beautiful and exciting city to discover. Here are just some of the surprising facts we found:
- Bogota, with its massive and high quality art scene, has over 170 art galleries, boasting more galleries than New York’s 148 or Paris’ 147.
- Bogota has over 140 Universities –more than double the amount that Boston has, and Boston (metro) is the city with the most universities in North America.
- Bogota has over 100 theatre venues and companies.
- Bogota has over 70 museums.
- There are about 4000 parks in Bogota.
- The world’s largest urban network of dedicated bicycle routes.
- Bogota is an eco-tourism haven that includes more marshes (all protected) than any other city on earth, not to mention the astonishing variety of flora and bird species.
- Bogota easily matches New York and Paris in the amount of stores and restaurants, but Bogota has the advantage of greater variety of choice, price point, and generally speaking, offering a superior quality of craftsmanship.
- Bogota has over 8,500,000 inhabitants (about 10,000,000 –in the metropolitan area), making it larger than New York City, Hong Kong or Singapore, more than twice as big as Toronto, Berlin or Sydney, and more than three times the size of the City of Paris and Buenos Aires (and within five years Bogota’s metropolitan population will even surpass the largest metropolitan populations of New York, Paris and Buenos Aires).
Bogota, which possesses some of the largest and finest reservoirs in the world, has also been rumored to have the best drinking water that can be found anywhere. Add to this, the fact that the beautiful high-altitude plateau on which the city lies, called the Sabana of Bogota, was chosen by Swiss immigrants who moved to Colombia long ago for its similarity to the verdant Swiss Alps, helped to catalyze Bogota’s now famous high quality lactate industry.
NOTE: There is a significant analysis about Bogota which is seldom addressed, but which has to be presented by BB in order to better understand why such a magnificent city could have gone so under-perceived by the larger international media.
Bogota has been one of the most geographically isolated cities in the world.
Until the advent of aviation, of which Colombia was pioneer (creating the first airline in the Americas, second oldest in the world and inventing scheduled air mail), Bogota was only accessible after long trips up-river from the Caribbean, after which people would have an arduous trip up the steep Andean mountains before finally arriving in Bogota. This geographic problem which hampered the city’s growth, in contrast to the explosive earlier growth of other cities such as New York or Buenos Aires, became the miraculous Bogota singularity.
The Bogota singularity created a slowly growing city at first, which ironically locked the city into strong European values and customs, whereby the dress code was surprisingly conservative, all in addition to the obligatory layering due to the city’s cold climate. In this somewhat austere setting of high academia, the city’s embrace of literature, art and theatre was firmly sealed. Moreover, the city’s isolation protected the Colombian capital, as well as the integrity of Colombia from the excessive foreign influences that sometimes weakened the natural development of other nations in Latin America.
With the advent of modern highways and aviation, Bogota quickly blossomed as the rest of Colombia and the world became so much closer.
Today, Bogota is booming and it is positioning itself as the international business center of South America, and among the many mega-construction projects underway, even the largest airport in Latin America is now being built.
But let us not forget about Bogota’s other magnificent gems; its great and thriving culture, and its warm, and hospitable people.
A final NOTE about Bogota:
While the capital cities of Quito, Ecuador, and La Paz, Bolivia, are located at higher altitudes than Bogota, it is important to note that Bogota lies at 8,661 ft (2,640 m) above Sea Level, which is higher than Aspen, Colorado, or base locations of any Swiss Ski Resorts (in fact the entire city of Bogota is nearly at the altitude of Gstaad’s highest peak). In other words, there is no other megalopolis in the world located at such a high altitude. But given the near equatorial latitude, the city has inherited an ideal, cool-daytime temperature of about 64? Fahrenheit, all year-long!
Therefore, please be aware that when visiting Bogota, it is recommend that you pack autumnal-like attire, including sweaters, scarves and jackets, or coats (especially for evening wear) –and don’t forget the umbrella. Hail storms are not uncommon, and even though the effects of global warming have on occasion altered daytime temperatures which can now reach unprecedented temperatures of nearly 70 degrees (F), the temperature can also plummet into the 50’s during the course of a few hours, and drop even further during the evening. Traditionally, it has never been considered appropriate to wear shorts or flip-flops in Bogota, especially during the business day; Monday through Friday. Bogotanos will seldom be caught wearing flip-flops, but may wear shorts on the obligatory occasions, such as on their way to the gym, bicycling or on Sundays in the Park. Please remember, Bogota is not a tropical town, it is a stylish, sophisticated metropolis, where appearance still counts.