Today Bogotá is the political, social, and financial center of the republic, although Medellín and Barranquilla enjoy economic supremacy. It is the marketing and processing center for a region of coffee, cacao, tobacco, and cut flowers. Chemicals, tires, and pharmaceuticals are manufactured in Bogotá. The city is rich in splendid colonial architecture, notably the cathedral and the churches of San Ignacio and San Francisco. It has several universities and a museum with an internationally famous collection of pre-Columbian gold art. A short distance from the city is the Salto de Tequendama waterfall and the underground cathedral at the salt mines of Zipaquirá.
The region was a Chibcha center before the city was founded in 1538 by Jiménez de Quesada and named Santa Fé de Bogotá (in memory of the Chibcha chief Bacatá). As capital and archiepiscopal see of the colonial viceroyalty of New Granada , the city became an early religious and intellectual center. Alexander von Humboldt called it (c.1800) the Athens of America in honor of its cultural and scientific institutions. Among them were the first astronomical observatory in South America, founded by José Celestino Mutis.
The intellectual impact of the French Revolution inspired Antonio Nariño and others to agitate against Spanish rule. José Acevedo y Gómez led the first successful revolt in the city against Spain in 1810. Later Santander and Bolívar were prominent in Bogotá. After Bolívar's decisive victory at Boyacá (1819), Bogotá became the capital of Greater Colombia when the country was divided in 1830, Bogotá became the capital of what was later called Colombia. Much of the city was damaged during rioting in 1948 following the assassination of the radical leader, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. In 1955, Bogotá and the surrounding area were organized as a Special District of 613 sq mi (1,588 sq km).
See more Encyclopedia articles on: South American Political Geography
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