Yesterday marked the anniversary of the death of Simon Bolivar on December 17th, 1830. Although the man commonly known as ‘The Liberator’ was born in Venezuela (Caracas in 1783), many of Bolivar’s greatest triumphs and disasters took place in what is now Colombia, during and after the Wars of Independence which have made him famous throughout the world. With 2 countries named after him, countless towns, and virtually every square and plaza in the Latin America, his is a legacy which has stretched well beyond his death, and will seemingly continue to do so. So here is how you can follow in the footsteps of the great man during your time in Colombia…
Tunja & Puente de Boyaca
In was in Tunja, the capital of Boyaca department, that Bolivar first received a military command in 1813, and it was at the nearby Puente de Boyaca where he fought the battle that has made him a military icon for many; marching his men over the Andes from Venezuela, in echoes of Hannibal, to strike a devastating blow for Spanish forces on August 7th, 1819. Tunja is a pretty, colonial town with plenty of history, and is the perfect base to visit the commemorative site of the battle at the nearby Puente.
Bolivar arrived in the Magdalena River port of Mompos in 1812, when it remained a thriving, important Colombian town. During his time there Bolivar recruited virtually every able-bodied man (nearly 400 in number) for his wars of independence, and these men formed the base of his army which would win such decisive victories in Caracas. His famous quote: “If to Caracas I owe my life, then to Mompox I owe my glory”; adorns many statues of the Liberator in Mompos today, and the town itself is a paean to a lost period, with crumbling colonial buildings sitting along the stiflingly hot banks of the Magdalena.
Following liberation Bolivar ruled the then-named Gran Colombia from the current Colombian capital. As with most Latin American cities, the Plaza Bolivar takes his name from him, however, the truly interesting slice of Bolivar history is the Quinta de Bolivar. This is a beautiful colonial house, which served as the Liberator’s residence in Bogota during his rule, and is now a dedicated museum to the life of it’s former resident. It even houses Bolivar’s sword, famously stolen by former guerrilla group M-19 in 1974.
Santa Marta is where, having made plans to leave the rapidly disintegrating Gran Colombia behind, Simon Bolivar died of tuberculosis in 1830 in the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino; a magnificent estate on the outskirts of the city. Today the Quinta is an excellent museum, dedicated to the final days of a man who shaped a continent. The bed he died in, the bathtub where he washed, and the stopped-clock, marking the hour of his death, are all preserved in the original house where Bolivar drew his last breath. It is a sombering, but vital piece of history.
These are the major locations to have played vital parts in Bolivar’s life in Colombia, however, he spent time in many towns and cities, and these locations are normally marked with plaques or the name’Bolivar.’ Hiking enthusiasts can also follow the Liberators footsteps on many sections of the old Camino Real where he marched his men during the Wars of Independence.