Colombia is a country full of history. Everywhere you go in Colombia, you will come across statues of famous figures and streets named after important people, and every time you pay for something there are high chances that you will use a bill or coin with some important historical Colombian on it. So, today, in the first of a new series of posts, I want to take the chance to introduce you to two important historical Colombians: Simón Bolívar and Policarpa Salavarrieta.
While Simón Bolívar is not actually Colombian, but Venezuelan by birth, he may be the most important historical figure for Colombia as he paved the way for Colombian independence in the early 1800s with his dreams of a united South America and his fights to liberate South America from the hands of the Spanish Crown. Born to a wealthy mining family in Caracas, Venezuela in 1783, Bolívar was privileged to have a European education and to bump shoulders with revolutionary leaders such as Napoleon2. After finishing his education, Bolívar returned to South America where he began his revolutionary fight against the Spanish with hopes of establishing a united South America with states structured similar to those of the United States of America. In the end, Bolívar successfully liberated and was the president of the territory of Gran Colombia, present-day Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador1. However, he was never able to truly see his historical impact as he died in 1830, in the Colombian city of Santa Marta. Since his death, Bolívar’s legacy and importance have only grown. In Colombia, I have yet to travel to a city lacking a statue of Bolívar or a street named in his honour. While he may have been technically Venezuelan, he will always be intrinsically connected to and celebrated in Colombia.
Policarpa Salavarrieta, like Simón Bolivar was passionate about Colombian liberation. While Bolívar fought more for South American independence, Policarpa, or “La Pola” as she is more commonly known, fought for Colombian independence. Born in the Colombian department of Cundinamarca, Policarpa had a difficult childhood—most of her family died during a smallpox epidemic in Bogotá, and even though an older sister took care of her, her life was never easy. Once Policarpa was older, she was pulled into the revolutionary movement during the Reconquista of Colombia when Spain attempted to save the area from being taken by the independent revolutionary forces springing up. With two brothers and her lover fighting against the Spanish, Policarpa too involved herself by spying for the revolutionary forces in Bogotá under the guise of a house servant and seamstress for important families where she could mingle with military troops and relay important information to the revolutionary forces3. After years of serving the revolutionary forces, Policarpa was captured, sentenced to death, and killed by a firing squad on November 14, 18173. The face of the 10.000 COP bill, Policarpa’s legacy lives on and is celebrated both through the presence of statues as well as through her famous last words, which are often repeated on Colombia’s Independence Day—July 20th.
So, now you know a little more about two important figures in Colombian history!
Until next time,
Paige M. Poole
About the author:
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com