Candelaria – Where Bogotá Preserves the Past to Benefit the Future

Magnificent architecture, cute cafes, Bohemian ambiance, artisan shops and cultural significance is part of what defines Bogotá’s historical area.


Center courtyard of the Botero Museum. Many of the old homes had courtyards like this originally.

Center courtyard of the Botero Museum. Many of the old homes had courtyards like this originally.

Originally published in the Clawson Patch newspaper May 2013.

Michael: Historical enchantment describes the Candelaria district of Bogotá. In the 1600’s and 1700’s the wealthy built large homes in the Spanish style of the time. Many have second story balconies that jut out into the narrow streets.

Graciela: When I was young some of my relatives lived in one of the huge homes there. It had a beautiful central courtyard. From the 1600’s to the 1930’s the area housed many of the wealthy inhabitants of the city.

The neighborhood became more dangerous and began an era of decline. The children of the older residents wanted to move to newer areas of Bogotá. The huge homes were sold and often divided. Commercial business crept into Candelaria. Next change came as foreigners fell in love with the charm and began a time of remodeling these charming haciendas. The government helped out opening libraries and museums in the neighborhood to rescue and preserve the architecture

Michael: Today’s Candelaria remains a work in progress. Foreigners continue with their interest in restoring the old homes. The government keeps a close eye on things. A definitive preservation attitude persists.

For the visitor there is much to see, taste and do. It has a Bohemian feel to it. Nothing like the architecture exists in such a large quantity in the USA. Restaurants, artisan shops, pigeon-hole tiendas (small stores) and small coffee shops abound. Of course the cultural places are amazing. And because of its age there are many ghost stories.

Graciela: In the food area most unique are the many places serving Chocolate Santafereño. It is such an important part of Colombia’s history that in school I wrote an entire thesis about it. The drink dates back to the early times of Bogotá and is unique to the city. Antonio Nariño is the man who brought about the beverage’s beginning. Born to a Spanish aristocratic family, he idolized Benjamin Franklin. Nariño wanted independence from Spain for the new colonies in South America. His verbalized thoughts caused authorities to sentence him to jail, from which he escaped. He ended up in Bogotá in 1811. History has that he influenced the young people. Nariño became a general in the Republican army, eventually captured by the Spanish forces and sent to jail again. Before leaving for his campaign in the South of Colombia in 1813 a feast was prepared for him by some of the city’s elite at House of the Marquis of San Jorge. Tadea Lozano, the hostess, wanted to serve something special and made Chocolate Santafereño.

Michael: Too often gringo travel writers miss the true concept of the drink calling it just a type of hot chocolate. Chocolate Santafereño is a process and appreciated by the elite class of the time. I would say it is something similar to how Japanese view the Tea Ceremony compared to just a cup of tea.

Graciela: Yes, the preparation of the chocolate is unique. One starts with milk in a pot on the stove with a low heat. To that is added a block of chocolate which also has cloves and cinnamon in it. Some connoisseurs insist that the cinnamon must have been soaked in wine. A wood device called a molinillo is used to stir the drink by rubbing he shaft between hands. Before the chocolate mixture is poured cubes of queso doble crema (cheese) ¼ to ½ inch in size are placed in the bottom of the cup. The true Chocolate Santafereño also consists of food accompanying the drink. Pan de yuca and pan de bono are served with it. Later in the century the tamal made its appearance with the drink.

Michael: Candelaria is located basically downtown and not too far from the Museo del Oro which we wrote about earlier. It covers an area from Calle 8 to Calle 11 and Carrera 1 to Carrera 5 . Calles are streets that run North/South and Carreras run East/West. One of the best ways to get there is to take any of Bogota’s Transmilenio J buses to the Museo del Oro station and walk a few blocks to begin your visit to the area.

Graciela: Colombia’s most well known international artist, Botero, has his museum in the district. Not only does the two story building with a central courtyard house the most expansive collection of his paintings and statues, but also paintings he has collected from other famous artists. If you are trying to recall his style, some like to say that he makes everything look fat.

Michael: My favorite place in Candeleria is the Teatro de Cristóbal Colón which is referred to by Bogotanos as just Teatro Colón. My first visit left me in awe and with a déjà vu feeling. Later I figured out why the horseshoe-shaped place seemed familiar. The Italian architect, Pietro Cantini modeled it after the Palais Garnier in Paris. Here is a short Youtube video of the theater’s restoration.

Graciela: As you watch the video notice the interior lights, especially the large dome ceiling light. Their 2010 restoration and updating was the contribution of my son and his company to the project. The theater had previously been updated in the 1980’s.

There are many churches in Candelaria and all are exceptional. Their architectures and alters take one back to that period when Spanish design was at its best. I recommend that you especially take in Iglesia de la Candelaria. This amazing church, that gives the area its name, was built between 1686 and 1703. Inside are paintings by Gregorio Vásquez (1638-1711).

Michael: But do not think there are just a few things to view. The home where Santafereño began, house of Marquis de San Jorge, is now the Archeological Museum and open to the public. You can also visit the Luis Angel Arango library, Hispanic Cultural Center, Military Museum Colonial Art Museum and the Palacio de San Carlos. Started in the 16th century, the large palace use to be the home of the presidents of Colombia.

Porcelain tile sign of the square where some believe Bogota was founded

Porcelain tile sign of the square where some believe Bogota was founded

A visit to Candelaria is not complete without going to Chorro de Quevedo Square. Some historians believe that is the place where father Quevedostarted Bogota.

Graciela: To visit Candelaria is to come back to our roots. The area presents the beginning of our story with its narrow streets, colorful large homes and porcelain street names on the corners of buildings.

Michael: Sí mi amor. To know the history and feel the beginning of life for Bogotá one must include in their visit a stroll around the Candelaria area.