"Everything I loved about my Paris is dying. Paris isn't growing [culturally], that is why I moved to Bogota."
Julien - Paris, France
Move over New York, Paris, London and all other great international centers of culture, Bogota has arrived as the…
CULTURE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
FOR THE NEW MILLENIUM
Fortunately, some rudimentary information has already been disseminated around the globe about Bogota’s thriving cultural scene and bohemian districts –but sadly, they are often prefaced by back-handed compliments. We are happy to note that in recent years The New York Times has at last reported on the cultural vitality of Bogota, but as usual, without fact-checking the city’s population figures, and more astonishing still, without ever reporting on the world’s largest international theatre festival which is held biannually, the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogota.
Consequently, the time has come to more accurately qualify and quantify exactly what has been occurring in this surprising city. Despite its incomprehensible obscurity, Bogota has already garnished much international cultural recognition such as being named “World Capital of the Book” by UNESCO in 2007. Similarly, a study conducted by Britain’s World Cities Study Group and Network (GaWC) in which Bogota was named a world-class destination for travel and culture. But until now, there has never been a more substantive description of the city’s cultural dynamism for the international community to grasp.
When you consider that the entire nation of Colombia is a bastion of culture, it should come as no surprise that Bogota is something very special.
Much of the cultural reportage which has been written by foreign journalists and travel writers, who often-time just briefly pass through the city (or combine their studies with other economic comparative components), is influenced by preconceived ideas gleaned from other cursory descriptions they may have read, never expecting to find a city more culturally dynamic than New York, Paris or London. No less culpable are Colombians themselves, as it appears that national and local media have made little effort to promote the city’s cultural standing on the world scene –despite the fact the most Bogotanos already know that their city is a cultural Mecca. Collectively, the lack of sufficient global media coverage has tragically resulted in an unfair, sometimes biased, incomplete or poorly calibrated analysis of the cultural reality to be found in Bogota.
It is more accurate to perceive Bogota as a distinctively European-style city, both in appearance, social aesthete and heritage. Bogota, one of the oldest cities in the New World, is perpetually locked within a cool, autumnal, café-evoking weather, continuously inducing its intellectual salons to advance cultural dynamism.
Dating back to the 1500s, Bogota’s intellectual institutions were founded by the learned elite from Europe, such as the Jesuits. During this period known as the Renaissance and also called the Golden Age of Spain, when the Jesuits were the gatekeepers of much of the world’s knowledge, libraries and progressive thinking, for better or worse. In sharp contrast to the history of sanguine conquistadors that colonized most other urban centers at that time in the Americas, Bogota more often received some of the brightest European minds, including Jews fleeing the Inquisition, who came to study the flora and fauna to be found in the New World. In this burgeoning hub of science, art and culture, even the first astronomical observatory in Latin America came to be erected in Bogota, where it still stands.
Bogota’s intellectual elite founded some of the most important learning institutions of the New World, such as the Universidad de Santo Tomas, founded by the Dominican Order in 1580. This university along with many others that shortly followed would eventually give rise to a city distinctly focused on the Enlightenment movement and the principles of democracy. This little-known singularity about Bogota is one of the reasons that Bogota would come to be called: the Athens of the Americas.
These are just some of the many reasons as to how Bogota became such an erudite city. Today, Bogota boasts over 137 universities, perhaps more institutions of higher learning per capita than any other large city in the world.
It should therefore come as no surprise to learn how the Colombian capital became the vortex of democracy in Latin America, safeguarding Colombia from the history of the enumerable dictatorships that besieged all other nations in South America, and more distinctively, attempting to ensure the protection of free thought and creativity through its democratic institutions, where to this day you will find a piquant, diverse and pluralistic society –the cornerstone for a progressive culture. In fact, this democratic identity helped to create such important institutions as the Organization of American States (OAS) which was inaugurated in Bogota in 1948. Additionally, the Academia Nacional de la Lengua (National Academy of Language), the oldest Academia in the New World, was founded in 1872. This venerable institution is the Colombian equivalent to France’s Académie Française.
For this reason we will point-out just two of the fundamental factors that paved the way for Bogota to become such a formidable city of culture, before introducing the many other factors which are further elaborated on in this section.
The Spanish Language
It is now a well-recognized fact that Bogotanos speak the most pleasant, neutral-sounding Spanish in the world. This is one of the reasons why so much film-dubbing has been transferred from nations such as Mexico to Bogota, along with call-center service centers –making Bogota the new Mecca of international call-center servicing. This fact, in addition to the great talent pool found here, has also helped the Colombian TV and film industry’s explosive growth in recent years. But more importantly, and as controversial as it may sound, Bogotanos’ penchant for protecting the caliber of their Castilian Spanish has made many international linguists and philologists assert that, generally speaking, the best Spanish in the world is spoken in Bogota.
Supporting such assertions, one must acknowledge the remarkable linguistic work by other Bogota institutions such as the Instituto Caro y Cuervo which created the most complete dictionary –over many tomes, of the Spanish language. King Juan Carlos of Spain flew to Bogota for its inauguration.
But no less important, is the unrivaled and historic work that the Instituto Caro y Cuervo has performed in cataloguing and preserving the regional indigenous dialects and languages, a patrimony of humanity.
Colombia, through its capital Bogota, has become the most important book publishing nation in South America. Not only is one of the most important Book Festivals in the world held in Bogota every year, but this city, dubbed World Capital of the Book, retains an incomparable love for books, bookstores and authors. In fact, Bogota’s traditional bookselling district located downtown, just north of the Avenida Jimenez (around Cra. 12) is breathtaking to book-lovers, with its book-malls and perhaps hundreds of bookstores selling both old and new editions. It is doubtful that even book-loving Paris, or any other city in the world has more bookstores per capita than Bogota.
Add to all of this the many literary events and Bogota’s unrivaled mega-library system, and many large bookstores such as the one such as the one located in the Gabriel García Márquez Cultural Center, La Librería del Fondo Cultural Económico with over 90,000 books, the formidable book chains such as Librería Nacional and Panamericana, and the countless other bookstores and vendors spread throughout this city (See: Literary Arts section).
While you will discover through this website other reasons why Bogota has become the World Cultural Capital for the New Millennium, we conclude this introduction about culture in the city by pointing-out some of the principal reasons for this pronouncement:
See our Literature section for a more in-depth discussion.
- Very few large cities have such a bold commitment to the arts at the Mayoral level, or hold elections for Counselors for the Arts, Culture and Patrimony. These officials are responsible for raising arts awareness and improving existing programs for their community. This is an exciting and interactive approach that effectively engages people of any economic class with the arts. Social concerns such as those impacting the GLBT, indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations are consistently addressed.
- There exists a unique awareness of cultural responsibility on the part of the business sector which generates a cultural symbiosis with the public, as evidenced by the extensive work of institutions such as Banco de la Republica, Compensar, Colsubsidio and even the city’s shopping centers.
- Bogota is host to the world’s largest and finest international theatre festival, the Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogota.
- The great number of cultural events, festivals, venues, galleries, performances, bookstores, libraries, concerts and their accessibility.
- Quality of all of the above.
- Colombians –This is a nation with a singular passion for culture, where poetry runs through their blood. Just visit other cities such as Medellin, Cali (not just world Salsa capital), Barranquilla or Cartagena (to name a few), where you will also find a surprising number of cultural events and venues. You will soon discover why Colombia was once dubbed –The Land of Poets.
- Bogotanos –This is the capital of a nation with a historic passion for culture, emerging as the new vanguard of artistic modality and expression.
- Size –Bogota is the only major city in the world, with a tradition of high-culture life, still experiencing explosive growth and artistic dynamism. Whereas Beijing, Sao Paolo, Mexico City and Singapore continue to grow and embrace much culture, there is no comparison per capita to Bogota’s cultural ontology. Similarly, neither New York, Paris nor London, with their marginal population growth can now challenge the cultural destiny of Bogota –it is a fait accompli.
If we take into account that Bogota’s cultural identity has been mostly created by Colombians, for Colombians to enjoy, it would be amazing to witness what could happen to Bogota if comparable tourism revenue as that which is received by cities such as Paris and New York, instead came to this city –undeniable food for thought.
While cities such as London, Salzburg, and Paris may have more classical music events for now, and the Metropolitan Opera in New York has a much greater audience through its distinguished history and marketing success, the fact remains that the amalgamation of Bogota’s extensive daily cultural agenda is a wonder to be experienced, and the time has come for the world to discover it.