Bogotá, the Gate and Hall of South America

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During the most part of the 19th Century and the first part of the 20th Century, it was called by many “The South American Athenes” to underline its importance for culture, education and intelectual movements. Maybe that name still working since it was elected by UNESCO as the World Capital of the Book in 2007. Nowadays it can be called also the “Gate and the Hall” of the big Continent of South America: A city 2640 meters up more near to the stars.

By Al Rodas | Bogotá downtown by Wikipedia.

There are many cases of foreigners traveling first time to Bogotá. As they saw the latitud position of the capital in the Tropic, they dressed as they were in a safari to the Sahara Desert. Those first-time-visitors are welcome by a cold whiff of a frozen and surprising Andean wind. Other surprise to many who use to think Colombia as a forest, is to discover a real metropoli, not less than Bangkok or Buenos Aires, on 2640 meters up the sea level. The expected cowboys and gunsters going around, Wild West bars, cows on the streets, chickens in the parks and rude guys with a suspect looking, dissapeared in front to a huge urban center with a busy modern life. You are in Bogotá, the second capital of South America.

Some facts about Bogotá

A view of the Cathedral of Bogotá by one.mandarino.

The total area of the city is 1.732 kms. sq. with a population of 6.840.116 in mere Bogotá and 7.945.263 in all its Metropolitan Area and a density of 22.553 persons per km.sq. It places Bogotá as the second capital city of South America by population after Buenos Aires and the third biggest city after Buenos Aires and Sao Pablo:

1. Buenos Aires: 12.046.799 2. Sao Pablo: 10.927.985
3. Bogotá: 7.945.263
4. Lima: 7.584.000 5. Santiago: 6.269.629 6. Rio de Janeiro: 6.094.183
7. Caracas: 3.066.233 8. Brazilia: 2.363.108
9. La Paz: 1.399.378 10. Quito: 1.399.378 11. Montevideo: 1.325.968
12. Asunción: 515.662

Bogotá is located in a plateau of the Easter Range of the Colombian Andes called in Spanish the “Altiplano Cundiboyacense” that extends from the State of Cundinamarca to the State of Boyacá toward the north-east with an altitude of most the 2.600 meters up the sea level. The Plateau has almost the same dimension of Switzerland that is 41.285 km.sq and it was the natural space of the Muisca Confederation, the biggest join of tribes in South America before the coming of the Spaniards at the beggining of the 16th Century. On that Plateau, at its south, it is located the Capital of Colombia in what is called the “Sabana de Bogotá”. The city is also the direct descendant of the main urban center of the Muisca people, Bacatá.

Bogotá Eje Ambiental, by Darina.

The Spaniards that defeated the Muisca leaders, renamed Bacatá as “Santa Fe de Bogotá”. That name lasted even until the first Republics, but after it was shorted to “Bogotá”. For a short time it was restablished as “Santa Fe de Bogotá”, but modern considerations re-cut the name again and now it is just “Bogotá”. If you notice carefully, the word has an accent in its A (á) and that means that the accent is strong there: BogotÁ.

The Capital of Colombia has an own administrative consideration different to the Departments of the rest of the territory. That is logic in a city that has a population bigger than the population of the Republic of El Salvador that is 6.875.000, so then, almost like a country itself. The administrative form of the city is “Capital District” and for this reason you will find the name “Bogotá DC” (Bogotá Distrito Capital). The District is divided in 20 localities, everyone with its “Minor Major”.

23% of the GDP, 11% of unemployment

Chorro de Quevedo by Frank Ballesteros. A view of the old Bogotá.

Industry, commerce, services and public administration are the main economic activities of the city with a contribution to the GDP of 23% according with statistics of 2003. The location of the city is a good factor for its development either in the national or international context. Inside Colombia, Bogotá is almost at the center of the territory with easy access to all the Colombian regions. Only Villavicencio, the door of the Llanos Orientales, is at two hours far to the south. The roads to the main Colombian cities are in fair conditions: to Medellín and Bucaramanga a bus takes 8 hours; to Cali 10 hours, to Barranquilla, 12 hours. The Colombian roads keep their enchanting as they crossed amazing Andean views through rivers, mountains and valleys to the Caribbean plains.

The sun of Bogotá… Picture by Hector Mesa.

As it is true in many other world capitals, foreigners can be found easily in Bogotá thanks to the presence of the seats of multinationals, international organizations, students and foreign institutions. The industrial revolution of Bogotá is concentrated in Puente Aranda, Fontibón, Bosa, Funza and Soacha.

In the city you can find banking services, hotels, malls and most of the things you would aspect of a Western modern urban center. Although this, Bogotá is considered the most expensive city of Colombia, but it is not so expensive as any city in USA or Europe. Cultural life is also a strong aspect of the capital, being the seat of famous stages like Teatro Colón, the Gold Museum, the National Museum and many other institutions and spaces for the dynamic cultural scenary.

Jimenez Avenue by Andreuchis.

But it is also the city of the unemployment with about 11%, while 31% of the population is dedicated to what is called “under-employment”. This is a big problem in a country where there is not insurence for unemployment. According with studies of about quality of life in Bogotá, as the other Latin American cities, there are many difficulties to provide best opportunities of employment and development and, even if the numbers of the economic are growing, the problem of unemployment keeps the city far of reaching the ideal standard of life for all its inhabitants. Bogotá has the highest number of persons able to work in Colombia, however by 2000 unemployment reached 0.6% above the numbers of the other main Colombian Metropolitan Areas like Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga.

Following the research of, the localities of Kennedy, Engativá, Suba, Ciudad Bolívar, Usaquén, Fontibón and Usme make the 60% of the total city population. 77.3% of the Bogotanean population is able to work. As in Usme and Ciudad Bolívar, the poorest localities of the city, the percent of persons able to work is lower, it means that those localities have a high number of children living under poverty. 37.7% of the Bogotaneans are students, housewives, pensioners and others.

This building would be very famous in Italy. Here even we do not know the name. It is located on the Jimenez Av. with 11th St. Picture by Hector Mesa.

This situation conducts also to other aspect: the informal sector or informal economics to survive. That sector is one of the most popular in developing countries and it can be seen in Bogotá and other Colombian capitals as a good example of what it is. According with DANE and following, the persons included in informal economics are those who work with their families with no salaries, domestic employes, workers and employes of small companies with less than 10 workers.

In Bogotá, the main economic actitivies are centralized in servicies like the market of capitals, social services, official services, telecommunication infraestructures, commercial services and tourism. According with DANE, by 1999 the sectors in the city were shared like follow: Finance services 29%, social services 24%, industry 21%, commerce 11%, transport, storing and communications 10%, construction and public works 4%, electricity, water and gas 1%. About the informal economic sector, 50.1% of the total employed population were dedicated to that sector by 1994 while it was 48% by 1990.

This grafic is property of the National University of Colombia, Observatory on Economics, CID. It shows the percent of informal economic sector.

Displaced people to the Capital!

For many decades the national administration settled in Bogotá was acussed of a little concern about what happened in Colombia outside Bogotá. Now that discussion is almost over, since it seems that all Colombians are going to Bogotá. It stills the first national receptor of population of Colombia. The magnitude of migrants to Bogotá has grown even more with the problem of displaced by the violence. According with Luís Eduardo Garzón, major of Bogotá in his report “The Displacement in Bogotá“, of the nation displaced population, 23% take refuge in the capital.

In the Monserrate Hill, by hirooduber.

In the political conflict of Colombia, Bogotá has been out as a space of violent confrontation. This fact has made that in many oportunities intelectuals accused the city to be far from the drammas of other Colombian regions under the fire of the internal war. But the problem of displaced families fleeing from confrontations in their own territories, has been the most important factor that involved Bogotá in the conflict. In the 80s, following Garzón’s report, the displaced people came from Llanos Orientales (Meta, Guaviare and Caquetá). In the 90s people from Antioquia, Córdoba and Chocó came to the city and in the last years people from Tolima, Cundinamarca and Huila.

A city for Investment

Hailstorm in Bogotá by ju985.

Even that, a growing population means oportunities for a possible best future, as it is said by the United Nations’s report – State of World Population 2007 – about cities to the next decades. It need a political will to convert the problem in opportunity rising the standard of life of the Bogotaneans, the ones who are and the ones to come. Proexpo Colombia said that in the last three years, Bogotá did investments for US$ 1.2 billion in promotion of economic activities. The view of Bogotá today is far from that chaotic urban center of few decades ago where it was a national joke the holes of the streets and the eternal trips by bus crossing a huge city of thousand of cars on the roads.

Barrio La Candelaria by Penquistano.

This is a city for investment, of course and reasons are plenty, even that of unemployment and displacement, because investment means oportunitiy for those persons. They are the firs resource of the city, the human resource made specially by young people. The position of Bogotá in the Continent as the biggest capital of the north of South America and at the shore of the Caribbean region. A plane from Bogotá to Miami takes just four hours, about six to Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo, less than two hours to Caracas, one hour to Quito and Panama City and ten hours to Madrid. This situation is making to considere the improvement of ElDorado International Airport, expected to be one of the biggest airport of South America after it would be relocated.

Picture by David Martínez “The Colpatria Tower”.


Cite this article

RODAS TORRES, Reinaldo Albeiro. Bogotá, the Gate and Hall of South America. Colombia Passport: Economics, Society and Culture in Colombia. Sihanoukville, Cambodia, July 27, 2007. It can be republished citing the source.


Comments RSS
  1. Hector Mesa

    Grandiosos articulo, muestra nuestro pais como realmente es. y no lo que Holliwood se le antoja (ranchos de paja). te felicito.


    Buena reseña de nuestra ciudad.

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