Colombia History and Politics Part I

Indigenous Peoples – Early History of Colombia

As early as 10,000 BC The area of ​​today’s Colombia was populated. The first hunters and gatherers came here via Central America. From 5000 BC BC the people settled down. It formed indigenous ethnic groups. Among them were the Tairona in the north, the Zenú on the western Caribbean coast, the Muisca in the central highlands of the eastern Cordillera and the Quimbaya in the western Cordillera. The Quimbaya made outstanding objects out of gold.

Large stone sculptures were made in the culture of San Agustín. Little is known about the culture of Tierradentro. Its inhabitants created burial chambers carved into the rock, which were painted with geometric patterns. You can see where which peoples lived on the map.

First Europeans (from 1499)

The first European to come to what is now Colombia was Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. He was accompanied by Amerigo Vespucci, after whose first name the whole continent was named, and Juan de la Cosa. They landed on the Guajira Peninsula while sailing along the Caribbean coast. They plundered the coastal land and stole gold, pearls and locals. On another sea voyage in 1500, Juan de la Cosa joined his compatriot Rodrigo de Bastidas.

Was Columbus in Colombia?

Columbus was never in Colombia! Although the country was named Colombia in his honor, Christopher Columbus never set foot in the country.


The Spanish conquerors were particularly interested in Colombia, because this is where the legendary gold country Eldorado was supposed to be. It was later suspected in other places as well. The legend comes from the Muisca Indians. In a mountain lake near Bogotá, every new ruler is said to have been sacrificed a raft full of gold. Some gold was actually found in it, but much less than hoped.

Santa Marta became the first bases of the Spanish on the Caribbean coast in 1525 and Cartagena in 1533. Gold and emeralds attracted other conquistadors, for example Sebastián de Belalcázar. He advanced from today’s Ecuador, i.e. from the south, to Colombia, and founded the city of Popayán in 1537. Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada defeated the Chibcha people in 1538 and founded Bogotá.

Spanish colony (1542-1810)

Soon after, in 1542, the Spaniards founded their colony, the Viceroyalty of Peru, which encompassed almost all of South America. In 1717 it was divided. The northern area became the viceroyalty of New Granada (1717-1810). It comprised the present-day states of Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador. The capital of the colony was initially Cartagena de Indias, and later Bogotá. The Spaniards let the Indians toil in their gold mines, where many died of exhaustion. Many others died from the diseases that Europeans brought in.

First Republic of Colombia (1810-1819)

One country after another in South America, led by Simón Bolívar, declared itself independent. In 1810 Colombia also declared itself independent. Today’s Panama was still part of it. However, Spain did not want to recognize independence and fighting broke out for several years. But in the end you were victorious.

Greater Colombia (1819-1830)

After defeating Spain, Simón Bolívar united the territory that today includes Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador (as well as parts of Peru and Guyana). It was called the Republic of Colombia, but is called Greater Colombia to distinguish it from the present-day state. Bolívar became president of the republic in 1821, but hardly stayed there because he was fighting for independence in Peru.

In 1830, shortly after Bolívar’s death, Greater Colombia fell apart. Venezuela and Ecuador split off. Colombia and Panama now formed the Republic of New Granada. Panama was independent for a year in 1830, but then rejoined New Granada.

New Granada (1831-1858) and Granada Confederation (1858-1863)

In the new republic, supporters of the Conservatives and the Liberals were at odds. Some wanted a strong central state, others a federal state. The Liberals prevailed and in 1858 founded the Granada Confederation. In 1863 there was a new constitution and the country became the United States of Colombia.

From the United States of Colombia (1863-1886) to the Republic of Colombia (from 1886)

The state lasted until 1886. Then the Conservatives prevailed under President Rafael Núñez, who was elected in 1884. There was a new constitution again. Colombia was now again centrally governed.

History of Colombia in the 20th Century to 1964

The way into the 20th century

But the liberals did not give up their demands. In 1899 a civil war broke out, the “War of the Thousand Days”, which killed 100,000 people. A peace treaty was signed in 1902. In 1903 Panama declared its independence from Colombia with the help of the USA.

In the 1920s, Colombia experienced an economic boom. This was mainly due to the coffee growing. However, this also meant that the rich families (oligarchies) became richer and the rural population became increasingly impoverished. After the stock market crash in 1929, Colombia also fell into a crisis and there was a change of government. After the Conservatives had ruled since 1886, the Liberals now took power. A land reform was carried out and industrialization began.

Colombia History