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Population, Culture

Cauca river, bambuco, Athens of America, Native American designs, Popayan

Colombia’s Native American cultural tradition, although less spectacular than that of Mexico and Peru, was rich and varied prior to the arrival of Spanish settlers in the 16th century. Several groups developed agriculture and crafts, producing fine works in stone and precious metals such as gold. Their temples, statues, and pottery attest to the richness of their cultures, and Native American designs continue to influence folk arts such as sculpture, textiles, music, and dance. During the colonial period, Native American civilization was rapidly assimilated into that of the Spanish settlers.

The Spanish colonial government devoted less energy to developing New Granada, as Colombia was called, than it did to other parts of Latin America. Noble families generally did not settle in the area, so great palaces were not built. Since the Roman Catholic Church was the main source of wealth, churches, cathedrals, and religious paintings and statuary make up most of the colonial artistic legacy.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries romanticism took root in Latin America and became linked to the struggle for independence. Romanticism is characterized by a highly imaginative and subjective approach, emotional intensity, and a dreamlike or visionary quality. As the 19th century progressed, a national style of art began to flourish. Colombian literature flowered, and Bogota became known as the Athens of America.

Although the majority of Colombians have neither the means nor the time to cultivate the fine arts, there is a great deal of national pride in the country’s artistic and literary achievements. Distinguished Colombian writers include 19th-century novelist Jorge Isaacs and 20th-century poet German Pardo Garcia. Also writing in the 20th century was novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.

Colombia has a rich tradition of folk music and dance, most of which reveals African or Native American influences. The bambuco is the national dance. In the area around Popayan, a city in southwestern Colombia along the Cauca river, a type of music called the murga is played by groups of wandering street musicians using stringed instruments. The word chirimia refers both to a kind of flute and to musical groups that use this instrument to perform pieces with a strong Native American influence. Colombia has a National Symphony Orchestra and a National Conservatory in Bogota.

The National Library in Bogota (1777) contains about 800,000 volumes; it also administers town and village libraries throughout the country. The leading museums are located in Bogota. The National Museum contains collections relating to the Spanish conquest and the colonial period. The National Archaeological Museum exhibits utensils, stone carvings, textiles, gold works, and other materials found at sites throughout the country. The famous Gold Museum features a noted collection of pre-Columbian gold objects.

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