Colombia lies at the crossroads of Latin America and the wider Americas, and as such has been affected by a wide range of cultural influences. Amerindian, Spanish and European, African, American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American cultural influences are all present in modern Colombian culture. Urban migration, industrialisation, globalisation and other political, social and economic changes have also left their mark.
Many national symbols, whether objects or themes, are derived from Colombia’s diverse cultural traditions and are intended to represent what Colombia and the Colombian people have in common. Cultural expressions in Colombia are promoted by the government through the Ministry of Culture.
Colombian art has a history of over 3,000 years. Colombian artists have reflected the country’s changing political and cultural context through a range of styles and media. Archaeological evidence shows that ceramics were made in Colombia earlier than anywhere else in the Americas, as early as 3000 BC.
The earliest examples of goldsmithing are attributed to the Tumaco people of the Pacific coast and date from around 325 BC. Between 200 BC and 800 AD, the San Agustin culture, masters of stone carving, entered its “classical period”. They built elevated ceremonial centres, sarcophagi and large stone monoliths representing anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms in stone.
Colombian art followed the trends of the time. For example, from the 16th to the 18th century, Spanish Catholicism had a major influence on Colombian art, and the popular Baroque style was replaced by Rococo when the Bourbons took over the Spanish crown. More recently, Colombian artists Pedro Nel Gómez and Santiago Martínez Delgado founded the Colombian Murial movement in the 1940s, which has the neoclassical characteristics of Art Deco.
Since the 1950s, Colombian art has begun to have its own vision and has reinvented the traditional elements among the concepts of the 20th century. Twentieth century art has been reinvented. The Greiff portraits by Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo are an example of this. They show what Colombian art was able to achieve with new techniques applied to typically Colombian subjects. Carlos Correa’s paradigmatic “Naturaleza muerta en silencio” (still life) combines geometric abstraction and cubism. Alejandro Obregón is often considered the father of modern Colombian painting and is one of the most influential artists of this period, due to his originality, painting Colombian landscapes with a symbolic and expressionist use of animals, (especially the Andean condor). Fernando Botero, Omar Rayo and Oscar Murillo are some of the Colombian artists represented internationally.
Colombian sculpture from the 16th to the 18th century was mainly devoted to religious representations of ecclesiastical art, strongly influenced by the Spanish schools of sacred sculpture. At the beginning of the Colombian Republic, national artists concentrated on the production of sculpted portraits of politicians and public figures, in a purely neoclassical trend. During the 20th century, Colombian sculpture began to develop bold and innovative work, with the aim of better capturing the national sensitivity.
Photography in Colombia began with the arrival of the daguerreotype, brought to the country by Baron Gros in 1841. The Piloto Public Library has the largest negative archive in Latin America, containing 1.7 million old photographs covering Colombia from 1848 to 2005.
The Colombian press has promoted the work of cartoonists. In recent decades, fanzines, the Internet and independent publishers have played a fundamental role in the growth of the comic strip in Colombia.
Over time, there has been a variety of architectural styles, from those of the indigenous peoples, through colonial (military and religious), republican, transitional and modern to contemporary styles.
Ancient dwellings, longhouses, cultivation terraces, paths, cemeteries, hypogeums and necropolises are part of the architectural heritage of the indigenous peoples. Among the most important indigenous structures are the pre-ceramic and ceramic site of Tequendama, Tierradentro (a park containing the largest concentration of pre-Columbian monumental tombs with shafts and side chambers), the largest collection of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America, located in San Agustín, Huila. The Lost City (an archaeological site with a series of terraces carved into the mountainside, a network of cobbled streets and several circular plazas) and the large villages built mainly of stone, wood, reeds and clay are notable.
The architecture of the period of conquest and colonisation is mainly the result of the adaptation of European styles to local conditions, where the Spanish influence, especially from Andalusia and Extremadura, is easily recognisable. When Europeans founded cities, two things were done simultaneously: to size the geometric space (town square, street) and to establish a tangible landmark. The construction of forts was common in the Caribbean and in some inland cities because of the dangers posed by hostile indigenous groups and pirates roaming the seas. Churches, chapels, schools and hospitals belonging to religious orders exert a great urban influence. Baroque architecture is used in military buildings and public spaces. Marcelino Arroyo, Francisco José de Caldas and Domingo de Petrés are great representatives of neoclassical architecture.
The National Capitol is a great representative of romanticism. During the colonisation of Antioquia, wood was widely used for doors, windows, balustrades and ceilings. Caribbean architecture is marked by a strong Arab influence. The Teatro Colón in Bogotá is an elaborate example of 19th century architecture. The Quintas houses, with their innovations in volumetric design, are among the best examples of Republican architecture. Republican action in the city focused on the design of three types of spaces: parks with forests, small urban parks and avenues. The Gothic style was most often used in the design of the churches.
The Deco style, modern neoclassicism, folk eclecticism and the fundamental resources of Art Deco have considerably influenced the architecture of Colombia, especially during the transition period. Modernism brought new building technologies and materials (steel, reinforced concrete, glass and synthetic materials) and the topological architecture and the system of facilitated panels also have a great influence. The most influential architects of the modern movement are Rogelio Salmona and Fernando Martínez Sanabria.
The contemporary architecture of Colombia focuses on the importance of materials. This architecture takes into account specific natural and man-made geographies and is also an architecture that appeals to the senses. The preservation of Colombia’s architectural and urban heritage has been promoted in recent years.
Colombian music mixes European-influenced guitar and song structures with large gaita flutes and indigenous percussion instruments, while the percussion structure and dance forms come from Africa. Colombia has a diverse and dynamic musical environment. Many Colombian musicians, composers, music producers and singers are internationally renowned, such as Shakira, Juanes or Carlos Vives.
Caribbean music has many lively rhythms, such as Cumbia (played by maracas, drums, gaitas and guacharaca), Porro (a monotonous but joyful rhythm), Mapalé (with its fast rhythm and constant hand clapping) and the “Vallenato”, originating from the northern part of the Caribbean coast (the rhythm is mainly played by the caja, guacharaca and accordion)
Pacific Coast music, such as currulao, is characterised by the extensive use of drums (instruments such as the indigenous marimba, conunos, bass drum, side drum and cuatro guasas or tubular rattle). An important rhythm of the South Pacific Coast region is the contradanza (used in dance performances, due to the striking colours of the costumes). The traditional marimba music, songs and dances of the South Pacific region of Colombia are included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The important musical rhythms of the Andean region are the Danza (Andean folk dance, born from the transformation of the European continent), the Bambuco (it is played with a guitar, a tiple and a mandolin, the rhythm is danced by couples), the Pasillo (a rhythm, (a rhythm inspired by the Austrian waltz and the Colombian “danza”, the lyrics were written by famous poets), the Rajaleña (it is played by people playing the Queco flute, the tiple, the carangano and the drum), the Sanjuanero (it comes from the departments of Tolima and Huila, the rhythm is cheerful and fast). In addition to these traditional rhythms, salsa music has spread throughout the country, and the city of Cali is called “the new salsa capital of the world” by many salsa singers.
The instruments that characterise the music of the Eastern Plains are the harp, the cuatro (a kind of four-string guitar) and the maracas. Important rhythms in this region are the joropo (a fast rhythm and it is also tapped, which is due to its flamenco ancestry) and the galeron (you can often hear it when cowboys are working).
The music of the Amazon is strongly influenced by indigenous religious practices. Among the musical instruments used are the manguaré (a ceremonial musical instrument consisting of a pair of large cylindrical drums), the quena (a melodic instrument), the rondador, congas, bells and various types of flutes.
The music of the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina is usually accompanied by mandolin, bass tuba, jawbone, guitar and maracas. Some popular rhythms of the archipelago are the schottische, calypso, polka and mento.
Theatre was introduced to Colombia during the Spanish colonisation in 1550 by the zarzuela societies. Colombian theatre is supported by the Ministry of Culture and a number of private and governmental organisations. The Ibero-American Theatre Festival in Bogotá is the most important cultural event in Colombia and one of the largest theatre festivals in the world. Other important theatrical events include: The Puppet Theatre Festival “Fanfare” (Medellín), the Theatre Festival of Manizales, the Caribbean Theatre Festival (Santa Marta) and the Popular Culture Arts Festival “Cultural Invasion” (Bogotá).
Although Colombian cinema is a young sector, the film industry has developed recently with the support of the film law passed in 2003. Many film festivals are organised in Colombia, but the two most important are the Cartagena Film Festival, which is the oldest film festival in Latin America, and the Bogotá Film Festival.
Some important newspapers with national circulation are El Tiempo and El Espectador. Television in Colombia has two private and three state television stations with national broadcasting, as well as six regional television stations and dozens of local television stations. The private stations RCN and Caracol are the stations with the highest ratings. Regional stations and regional newspapers cover one or more departments and their content is produced in those particular areas.
Colombia has three major national radio stations: Radiodifusora Nacional de Colombia, a state-owned national radio station, Caracol Radio and RCN Radio, private networks with hundreds of affiliates. Other national stations include Cadena Super, Todelar and Colmundo. Several hundred radio stations are registered with the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications.
Colombia’s varied cuisine is influenced by the diversity of its flora and fauna as well as the cultural traditions of its ethnic groups. Colombian dishes and ingredients vary greatly from region to region. Some of the most common ingredients are: Cereals such as rice and corn, tubers such as potatoes and cassava, various legumes, meats including beef, chicken, pork and goat, fish and seafood. Colombian cuisine also offers a variety of tropical fruits such as cape gooseberry, feijoa, arazá, dragon fruit, mangostino, granadilla, papaya, guava, mora, lulo, soursop and passion fruit.
The most representative starters and soups are patacones (fried green bananas), sancocho de gallina (chicken soup with root vegetables) and ajiaco (potato and corn soup). Representative snacks and breads are pandebono, arepas (corn cakes), aborrajados (sweet plantains fried with cheese), torta de choclo, empanadas and almojábanas. Representative main dishes are bandeja paisa, lechona tolimense, mamona, tamales and fish dishes (such as arroz de lisa), especially in the coastal regions, where kibbeh, suero, costeño and carimañolas are also eaten. Representative side dishes are papas criollas al horno (roasted Andean potatoes), papas chorreadas (potatoes with cheese) and arroz con coco (rice with coconut). Organic food is a current trend in the big cities, although in general, throughout the country, fruit and vegetables are very natural and fresh.
Representative desserts are buñuelos, natillas, Maria Luisa cake, bocadillo de guayaba (guava jelly), cocadas (coconut balls), casquitos de guayaba (candied guava peel), Torta de Natas, Obleas, Flan de Arequipe, Roscón, Milhoja and the Tres Lech cake (a sponge cake soaked in milk, filled with whipped cream and then served with condensed milk). Typical sauces (salsas) are hogao (tomato and onion sauce) and ají Colombian style.
Representative drinks are coffee (tinto), champús, cholado, lulada, avena colombiana, sugar cane juice, aguapanela, aguardiente, hot chocolate and fresh fruit juice (often with sugar and water or milk).
Tejo is the national sport of Colombia. It is a team sport where you shoot projectiles to hit a target. But of all the sports played in Colombia, football is the most popular. Colombia won the 2001 Copa America, in which they set a new record: they went undefeated, did not concede a goal and won every game. It is interesting to note that Colombia was twice voted “young hopeful of the year”.
Colombia is the Mecca of roller skaters. The national team is always a force at the world roller skating championships. Colombia is traditionally very good at cycling and many Colombian cyclists have triumphed in major cycling competitions.
In baseball, another sport with roots on the Caribbean coast, Colombia was world amateur champion in 1947 and 1965. Baseball is popular in the Caribbean, especially in the cities of Cartagena, Barranquilla and Santa Marta. From these cities come good players such as: Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Rentería, who was World Series champion in 1997 and 2010, and others who have played in Major League Baseball.
Boxing is one of the sports that has produced the most world champions for Colombia. Motor sports also feature prominently in the sporting preferences of Colombians; Juan Pablo Montoya is a racing driver known for winning 7 Formula 1 races. Colombia has also excelled in sports such as BMX, judo, shooting sports, taekwondo, wrestling, high diving and track and field, and also has a long tradition in weightlifting and bowling.