By: Néstor Meléndez

Long ago, before the Spanish conquistadores came to the new world, this was the land of the Muiscas. They lived in this area and practiced salt mining, agriculture, hunting and fishing. This is the place that Gonzalo Jiménez de Quezada, chose to found Santafe de Bogotá in 1538. It had plenty of water and vegetation and was an extended plain guarded by the mountains. For Spanish standards it was a perfect location to found a settlement.

The Cathedral of Bogotá, La Catedral Primada was designed by Domingo de Petrés and built between 1807 and 1823. It was built on the grounds of 3 other churches that also served as cathedrals. The last one was brought down by an earthquake that shook the city on 1785. The actual construction has a neoclassical style. This is the most important church of Colombia and is where the most significant Catholic celebrations of the country are held.There were massive riots, known as el Bogotazo that took place in 1948 after the assassination of the popular leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitán. The Cathedral was taken by snipers opposed to the establishment On April 9 1948. You still can look up at the bell tower and you will see holes from bullets that were fired at these sharp shooters, so that law and order could be restored by authorities. The cathedral is open to the public for masses everyday at 12 noon.

Casa del Florero:

The white and green colonial house is built in the mudéjar andaluz style and is where the independence of Colombia from the Spanish crown began to take place. The house was built at the end of the 16th century, and it belonged to one of the families of the founders of the city. It was also owned by the royal audience attorney general. At times, the house balcony was rented by the owners, to people that wanted to see the important events that took place at the Plaza Mayor. On 1810, this house became part of the history of Colombia, because of the events that happened on July 20th. In those days, the first floor, was rented to a Spaniard named  José González Llorente, who had a very well known general store. It was a market day, so the plaza was crowded with many people that were buying groceries and general merchandise. The criollos, as the Colombian born were named, engaged in a plotted fight against the Spaniards known as the chapetones. As a result, a general revolt produced the signing of the independence act that was finally made possible on August 7th 1819. This was when the troops led by Simón Bolívar, won the final battle at the Puente de Boyacá against Spanish troops. The house is now a museum and is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday.

Palacio de Justicia:

This is the newest building in the plaza. It was rebuilt, due to a fire that resulted from the battle that occurred in November of 1985, when M-19 leftist guerrillas invaded the justice palace and kidnapped the supreme court judges and many civilians. The armed forces and police regained control of the palace after 3 days of fighting and many dead. It's a very sad moment in the recent history of Colombia. There are ongoing investigations about where are many disappeared people  that were at the palace that day. People who the military mistook for guerrilla members. The new building was inaugurated in 2004 and seats the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, The State Council and the superior justice council. On the upper center of the building is the phrase “Colombians, the guns gave you independence, laws will give you liberty” from one of the fathers of the republic, Francisco de Paula Santander. It gives the intention of the Colombian justice from the days of the independence.

Palacio Lievano:

The palacio lievano is where the Bogota's mayors office is located. It was built in the early years of the 20th century, on the grounds of the Galerias Arrubla, the first mall that existed in the city. In 1900, a huge fire destroyed the buildings completely. The  French architect Gaston Lelarge designed the new building and it was finished in 1904. This magnificent building is of a French renaissance style and covers the whole west block of the plaza de Bolívar. It has a beautiful style with big windows and the roofs that take you to the times of the French republic.

Simón Bolívar statue and Capitolio Nacional:

The statue of the Libertador, Simón Bolívar is the most important monument in the plaza. It was installed in 1847 and made by Italian sculptor, Pietro Tenerani. Since then, the name of the square was changed to the current name, Plaza de Bolívar. Its said to be the most vivid and faithful sculpture of Bolívar.
The Capitolio Nacional It's the home of the congress of the Republic of Colombia. It was designed in 1848 and finished in 1926. The original design was made by the Danish architect, Thomas Reed, and is in a neoclassical style. It was the first official building to change from the Spanish-influenced architecture into the more French-oriented republican type.
Construction was interrupted in 1851, due to the civil war. It started again in 1870, and opened partially in 1874. In 1881 the construction went on until 1885 when another war blew out the resources to continue. Then between 1911 and 1919, the French architect Gastón Lelarge retook it and redesigned the front and interior. The final touches lasted till 1926 when it was finally and officially inaugurated by the president Pedronel Ospina. It's made totally in carved stone and you can appreciate the fine details of the construction, as well as the sculptures that guard the roof.
So when you come to Bogotá, make sure you go to the Plaza de Bolívar and have a look at Colombian history.

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