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A November Day in Bogota

COLOMBIA | Wednesday, 1 December 2021 | Views [210]

typical street art, Candelaria, Bogota

typical street art, Candelaria, Bogota

November Day in Bogota

Arrived late at night, so I didn’t see much when I got in other than the lights on the top of the surrounding mountains.  The cab driver was kind enough to explain that they were the lights from the Virgin of Guadalupe Church and Monserrat. These are ancient sacred sites that have been co-opted by the Catholic Church and are now major pilgrimage and tourist destinations. When we entered the center of the city, I was struck by the fabulous street art that covered much of the exteriors of the interlaced buildings.  There was certainly a fair amount of regular graffiti, but the colorful and well done street art murals covered large sections creating a vibrancy to the surrounding areas.

Today, I spent the day going to museums, walking around Centro Historico, and going up to Monserrat. The weather cooperated and the rain, for which Bogota is infamous, held off. The first stop of the day was supposed to be the Cathedral, and on the way there the Botero Museum. Both were closed. The museum because it is Tuesday, and the Cathedral because I was too early. I was there a little after 9 and they didn’t open until 11. Had I looked on the web, I would have known, but I just assumed that churches would be open.  Wrong assumption. The smaller Sagrada Chapel next door was open, however, and it had a large hand-carved creche in front of the altar area for the beginning of Advent. The large central Plaza de Bolivar in front of the Cathedral was covered with birds, people feeding the birds - mostly pigeons and black birds - and handlers with small donkeys and llamas hoping that the tourists would pay for photos. I didn’t stay too long and headed over to the Museo del Oro. 

This museum is simply fabulous.  Not only does it house the largest collection of gold artifacts in the world, it is also an archeological museum.  The gold items are laid out by cultural group as well as chronologically, starting mostly from around 1,000 BCE, although there are also a few older items on display. There is a section on metal mining near the entrance which gives a good description of the importance of metals to the development of civilizations and societies. Upstairs there are two rooms dedicated to pre-Colonial cosmologies and to sacred offerings.  Both include descriptions in Spanish and English introducing the visitor to shamanic worldviews. From the Museo del Oro I walked through a pedestrian zone lined with street vendors displaying their wares on the ground as well as on carts, and shops offering just about everything one could possibly want.  There were more jewelry and semi-precious stone stores than I had seen in a long time, and each seemed to be doing a decent amount of business. The streets were filled with people and even though there were a few boarded up storefronts, most were open, and people were clearly engaged in commercial activities. A little after the end of the pedestrian zone is the National Museum which is housed in the former Panoptikon Prison. The building has an ominous feeling to it, but the museum has a number of interesting collections. I was surprised that it is not organized chronologically, but rather thematically. There are rooms dealing with national identity, with social mores, with photography etc., most of which have ancient artifacts mixed in with 20th and 21st C items.  The curators wanted to show how the past influences contemporary belief and life, and the galleries are laid out to stress this trend.

After visiting both museums, I was struck by how full they were.  There were lots of young people in them.  After being the only person in many of the Balkan museums recently, I was very pleased to see that there is so much interest in the national heritage among the youth of the country. There were young parents stooping down to their child’s level to explain some of the exhibits and to share their understanding, and there were young teenaged couples holding hands while discussing what they saw. Their actions gave me hope for the future.

Blue sky was attempting to make its way through the cloud cover, so I went over to the cable car to go up to Monserrat. The funicular was closed, but the cable car was running non-stop to accommodate all the people who wanted to visit the site.  The ride up goes over a very steep mountain face to the church. The top of Monserrat is at 3,170m and offers a spectacular view of the city and surrounding mountains, including that on which the Virgin of Guadalupe stands. The Church itself is fairly plain, but there is a side chapel with an imitation of the Spanish Monserrat Black Virgin that my daughter and I saw a number of years ago. The panel behind her was fairly recently restored and during that process some previously hidden features became once again visible, such as the vegetation behind the Madonna and Child. The primary reason to go up is supposed to be the pilgrimage church, but the real reason for most, I’m guessing, are the fabulous views. In front the city sprawls throughout a vast valley surrounded by mountains, in the back, lush green mountains that seem close enough to easily hike to. It is a stunning location.

It was getting late, and I was warned to be back at the hotel by six as wandering around town at night as a single person is not a smart idea, so I headed back into the center of town for a final walk through the street vendors before making my way to the hotel to write this blog.  On first impression, Bogota is a vibrant cultural city with lots of young, creative, inquisitive, and helpful people. The government is also taking COVID precautions very seriously.  Most people wear masks outside as well as inside, and the museums asked for ID and vaccination certificate; the Museo del Ora also required a temperature check. Disinfectant dispensers are readily available in public buildings and there are signs encouraging their use.

Tomorrow I head to the Salt Cathedral and a few Colonial towns northeast of the capital city. 

Tags: cities, history, museums, towns


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