Located in the north-west of South America, Colombia is the only country on the continent with both Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. Its shares borders with Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador, and maritime boundaries with Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
With close to 50 million citizens, the country houses South America’s second largest population. Seven of its main cities exceed one million inhabitants. It also has Latin America’s fourth largest economy, after Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.
Named for Christopher Columbus, the 15th century voyager never actually saw Colombia. Instead, Alonso de Ojeda, a companion of the Italian explorer on his second voyage to the Americas, was the first European to set foot in the country in 1499.
But the territory had been inhabited for thousands of years before then, and boasted a rich history. As the only overland gateway to South America, it stood on the route traveled by the continent’s first human inhabitants, as they migrated from North and Central America. Certain well-known tribes, such as the Inca, headed further south and built major civilizations, while a number of independent tribes took over smaller areas throughout the Andean region and along the Pacific and Atlantic (or Caribbean) coasts.
The first European explorers were amazed by the wealth of the local Indians, and thus was born the legend of El Dorado, a mysterious kingdom abundant in gold and emeralds. Indeed, it was the belief that this newly discovered region contained the motherlode of precious metals and gemstones that led to the Spanish conquest of much of the continent.
In 1564, Spain established the Presidencia del Nuevo Reino de Granada, with authority in the hands of the governor, appointed by the king. At that time, it comprised of what today is Panama, as well as all of Colombia. Its population consisted of indigenous communities and the Spanish invaders, as well as slaves brought from Africa.
With the Spanish empire in Central and South America growing, in 1717 Bogotá became the capital of a new viceroyalty of Virreinato de la Nueva Granada, covering the territories of what are today Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela.
But as was the case in other colonies in the Americas, European domination of the continent became increasingly unpopular amongst its inhabitants, with slavery, taxes and duties giving rise to protests and eventually rebellion.
In 1812, the hero of the independence struggle, Simón Bolívar, burst onto the scene. After some initial success, and then a devastating setback, during which time he sought shelter in Jamaica, he returned by way of Venezuela, marching with his troops over the Andes into Colombia. The decisive battle took place at Boyacá on August 7, 1819, after which he made a triumphant entrance into Bogotá, and Colombia’s independence was declared.
Located high in the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 2,640 metres (8,660 feet) above sea level, Bogotá is one of the highest capital cities in the world. It was originally called Bacatá by the Muiscas, who occupied the area in the northern Andean Mountains before the Spanish conquest. A European settlement was established in August 1538 by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada and was named “Santa Fé de Bacatá,” which by the time of the viceroyalty in the 1700s came to be called “Santa Fé de Bogotá.”
In August 2000 the city’s name was officially changed to Bogotá D.C. , with D.C. standing for “Distrito Capital”, which means the capital of Colombia.
With more than 7 million residents, it is today the largest and most populous city in the country, and the fourth largest city in South America.
Lying at the base of two mountains in the Andes range, Guadalupe and Montserrat, its urban area covers 384 square kilometres and the more mountainous outlying regions extend its metropolitan area to 1,223 square kilometres.
Most companies in Colombia have their headquarters in Bogotá, as does the country’s main stock market. The city is also home to an emerald sorting, cutting and trade centre, as well as a growing jewellery industry and trade.
Colombia’s unusually rich degree of mineral wealth comes courtesy of geological serendipity, which is a result of its north-western region being located at the intersection of three major tectonic domains. These include the South American plate in the east and south, the Caribbean plate in the north, and the Cocos and Nazca oceanic plates in the west. Where they meet is what today is known the Colombian Andes, and they are overwhelmingly abundant in in a variety of minerals, some of them precious.
While Colombia currently is Latin America’s largest producer of coal, it is its sixth largest producer of gold. But in the jewellery industry it primarily is known as the world’s second largest producer of emeralds, and almost certainly the largest producer of high-quality emeralds. Colombia is also a producer of silver and platinum.
All Colombian emerald deposits are located in the Eastern Cordillera, which is the widest of the three branches of the Colombian Andes. There are two belts of deposits along the opposite boundaries of Eastern Cordillera, with the western belt including deposits such as La Glorieta–Yacopi, Muzo, Coscuez, La Pita and Peñas Blancas, and the eastern belt including Gachalá, Chivor and Macanal. The western belt is the more prominent of the two.
The performance of the Colombian mining centre has been erratic, in part because of a half-century-long civil conflict, which was fueled by the drug trade.
The 52-year long civil war with FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, ended more than two years ago, and for his part in resolving the five-decade civil war, Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.
In the more stable political and economic environment that has resulted, it is believed that the country’s under-exploited mining sector is set to undergo massive growth. In May 2017, the head of the Colombian Mining Association, Santiago Angel, declared that under the proper investment conditions, the country could attract foreign investment between $1.5 and $1.7 billion a year, with investment over five years amounting to as much as $7.5 billion. Gold, silver, platinum and certainly emeralds will be beneficiaries of this trend.