It may surprise you to find out that Bogotá is a cultural hot-spot, but that’s only going to be a temporary problem. Perhaps it’s simplistic to say that climate has been an issue in fostering the growth of Bogota culture in so many fields, but living in a milder climate can’t hurt in the development of a broad range of indoor activities. As you would expect, the old part of town, La Candelaria, is the epicentre of museums, cultural centres, and libraries; try the Botero Museum, the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Centre, and the Luis Angel Arango Library as impressive, respective examples.While we’re on the subject, Bogotá is a city of books: apart from the many libraries, there are widespread bookstore chains and a huge book-vending district not far from La Candelaria. There are over 130 universities within the city’s boundaries, perhaps accounting for the fiercely intellectual tone of a good proportion of these tomes. Theatre also has a strong following in Colombia’s capital, which may well explain why it is the home to the biggest festival of this art form in the world.
Don’t worry, though: culture in Bogota isn’t exclusively high-brow, by any means. First and foremost, football is never far from the consciousness of the majority of Bogotá’s citizens. The three first-division teams based in Bogotá are fervently supported – head to a match to experience the passion. Food is another source of Bogotano cultural enthusiasm: just ask one of its residents their opinion of arepas. Those little circles of goodness, and other traditional delicacies, are everywhere: whether on the street or in charming little restaurants. International cuisine is also carefully and expertly catered for. Cafes and bars are frequented to indulge another of the capital’s passions: dancing – be it salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, or more European-style club dancing. There are also a number of massive musical events to help express this wide-spread love of hip-shaking. All in all, Bogotá will comfortably take care of all your cultural cravings, from the most purely intellectual, right down to the intensely physical. We hope you’re ready for it all!
There are two aspects of that most Colombian of artists, Fernando Botero, which we would like to highlight here. The first is that, once you’ve seen one of his artworks, you won’t forget his inimitable style. His oeuvre is quirky, important, unique, humorous, serious, satirical, and heart-felt – all at the same time. Once you’ve seen one of his chubby ladies, cats, or grandiloquent figures of authority, you’ll see art, life, and Colombia in a slightly different light – and proportion. The other aspect we’d like to touch on is that he is an extremely shrewd and statuesque collector of fine art.
Both of these aspects are amply on display in the grand old Candelaria mansion that was restored to show off all the artwork Botero donated to the city of Bogotá – over 200 pieces in total. The artist himself decided where and how the works were presented, and we’d say that this adds the string of accomplished curator to Botero’s already formidable bow. The rooms are laid out with paintings and sculptures in a roughly chronological fashion, allowing our Medellin native another opportunity to comment on the history and proportions of Western and Latin American art.
The museum represents, like all of Botero’s work, an intervention in the history of art from Renaissance times to the present. It’s an intervention, just like the Simpson’s Professor Frink, that makes you laugh and makes you think, mmmheeey. Botero’s inflated versions of the Mona Lisa, the Crucifixion, or other figures of authority, work to deflate the pompous rhetoric that the arty-farty can sometimes indulge in. However, if at times satire is present, there is never ridicule. The Colombian’s love of his subjects is always apparent in his own work, as well as the impressive collection of international art – a collection that includes that of Matisse, Dali, Picasso, and Lucian Freud. And it is this loving engagement with art that makes Botero’s welcoming mansion of art a space that repays multiple visits. It’s a good thing that it’s free.
Gabriel García Marquez Cultural Centre
It could be argued that the ground-breaking and accomplished author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is a bit of a cultural centre himself. However, it is a well-deserved mark of honour that the Colombian-born Mexican resident was asked to give his name to Bogota’s cultural hub in grand old Candelaria – as well as, possibly, a foregone conclusion. Even for the great novelist, it would be difficult to invent a character better suited to be the namesake of this structure; beautifully designed by Colombia’s own Rogelio Salmona, in what would turn out to be his swan song; and built thanks to a donation from the Mexican government.
Wide in scope, understated in design; with modern, sweeping curves that are respectful to the grand colonial buildings that surround it, the centre has a strong monthly program of all kinds of cultural events for young and old, a space for ever-changing exhibitions, and plenty of space to sit back and take it all in – something the local university students take full advantage of as they engage in their public displays of affection. An impressive bookshop, with a wide range of art and literature titles and its own pond in the middle, is well frequented by “cultural” types, and there’s also an El Corral with their ridiculously massive, delicious burgers, and a Juan Valdez, serving up its 100% Colombian coffee to an endless parade of local workers and grateful tourists. It’s a great spot to have a bit of a recuperative rest after getting your cultural fix from the exhibitions, as well as the museums just across the road.
(Photo courtesy of TEDxBogota)
If you stroll far enough down the Septima (Carrera 7) from Plaza Bolivar in the carnival atmosphere of a Sunday, you will find it hard to miss the National Museum’s imposing edifice on your right. Being the oldest and largest museum in Colombia, it’s well worth the stroll, and the free entry (it doesn’t cost that much more from Tuesday to Saturday, either). Before we get to what’s inside, we have to mention the very building itself, which is quite spectacular in its own right. Built in 1823 and dubbed El Panoptico, it functioned as a bleakly effective prison until it was deemed a better idea to house the treasures of the National Museum there instead. Although the inmates are long gone; the former exercise yard beautified with fountains, plants, and sculptures; and even a Juan Valdez coffee shop added, the building still somehow holds a slight air of foreboding. What’s more, one of the cells was left in its former state, and displays the implements of restraint used in less happy times.
Most of the other displays are significantly less grim, however. The present-day museum houses a broad range of artefacts and art; starting with ancient treasures from pre-Colomban times (including some well-preserved mummies), moves up into artwork depicting the Colonial and liberation periods, and ends with modern Colombian art from the likes of Fernando Botero, Alejandro Obregon, and Luis Alberto Acuña. There are also always temporary exhibits of Colombian or international artefacts. Representing, as it does, such divergent fields as ethnography, archaeology, history, and art; the exhibits do contain a real hodge-podge of items; but it is all kept in loose control within the rough chronological periods of each of the three floors. What this does mean, however, is that this massive former prison holds more than enough variety to fuel the interest and curiosity of any museum enthusiast. And, as it closes at 6 from Tuesday to Saturday, and 5 on Sunday, there’s little risk of being confined in one of the cells for the night.