In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cali

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources
  • Regional History of the Gran Cauca
  • The Colonial City (1536–1810)
  • The City and the Independence of Colombia (1810–1821)
  • Early Republic and Abolition (1821–1851)
  • Social Transformations from the End of Slavery to 1948

Latin American Studies Cali
Edgardo Pérez Morales
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0123


The city of Santiago de Cali is Colombia’s third largest city. Spanish conquistadors founded this town in 1536. Cali became the provincial capital of a larger Spanish territory known as the province of Popayán. The city of Popayán, to the south of Cali, became the capital of the province in 1540. Surrounded by fertile lands and located near gold mines, Cali continued to be an important city throughout the colonial period. During the 1700s, the elites of both Cali and Popayán grew in riches and influence as they gained control of the gold mining regions of Chocó and the Pacific coast. Slaves were imported from Africa and agricultural estates were created to supply the mining enclaves with produce. As the largest province of the New Kingdom of Granada, Popayán became a populous, rich, and interconnected region, later referred to as the Gran Cauca, or the Greater Cauca region. During the Wars of Independence, much of this colonial economic organization was destroyed. After 1851, slavery disappeared from the social landscape. For the rest of the 19th century, a free peasantry occupied the Cauca Valley and Cali remained of little economic importance. The city and its surrounding region, finally, were altered again at the turn of the 20th century with the emergence of extensive sugar planting, industrial sugar refining, and reliable connections with the Pacific Ocean and other parts of the country. These new circumstances transformed the social and geographical landscapes. Cali again became an independent capital city, gaining political importance as the center of the new department of Valle del Cauca. As peasants became salaried workers, and as the elites gained access to the international markets, Cali grew in economic power and demographic importance. Cali and the Gran Cauca are among the most closely studied regions of Colombia. The most relevant literature has been produced in Spanish and published in Colombia. The literature surveyed in this article will guide the reader to the most important findings in the history of this part of Colombia. But it will also shed light on the transformation of social research in the country, as regional studies of Cali and its surrounding areas have often influenced regional history elsewhere in Colombia. In the early 20th century, a generation of erudite scholars began to uncover the complexities of the history of this region. Beginning in the 1970s, professional, university-based scholars continued these efforts, laying the foundations of our contemporary conception of Cali and the Gran Cauca. The literature reviewed in this article shows contributions from both moments and is strictly historically oriented.

General Overviews

Very few works of general synthesis exist on the history and culture of the Gran Cauca and Cali. Works concentrating specifically on Cali are scarce. Many historians have chosen to write on the Cauca Valley as a whole, the Province of Popayán, and the Pacific mining districts. Valencia Llano 1996 provides a general overview of those trends and is a useful guide to start reading and researching on Cali and southwestern Colombia. As the civil wars of the 1800s deeply impacted this region, Museo Nacional de Colombia 1998 is a great guide to start the study of these conflicts. Almario 2005 offers a superlative introduction to 20th-century historiography of the Gran Cauca region, situating historiographical developments within larger social and political shifts in Colombian history. Arboleda 1926 continues to be a very useful guide to families and individuals and is an important example of the work by erudite researchers of the early 20th century.

  • Almario García, Oscar. La invención del suroccidente colombiano. 2 vols. Colección pensamiento político contemporáneo 12–13. Medellín, Colombia: Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, 2005.

    This book in two volumes is a comprehensive introduction to 20th-century historiography of the Gran Cauca. This work situates historiographical developments within larger social and political trends in Colombian history and shows the shifting paradigms that have guided the study of southwestern Colombia. This book is arguably the best guide to situate Cali within a larger bibliographical context. Volume 1: Historiografía de la Gobernación de Popayán y el Gran Cauca, siglos XVIII y XIX; Volume 2: Independencia, Etnicidad y Estado Nacional entre 1780 y 1930.

  • Arboleda, Gustavo. Diccionario biográfico y genealógico del antiguo Departamento del Cauca. Cali, Colombia: Arboleda Imprenta, 1926.

    This dictionary is an exceptional source on social and familial information of the main protagonists of the colonial and national history of the Gran Cauca. It often supplies information on lesser-known individuals, and is thus a good guide for social historians.

  • Museo Nacional de Colombia. Memorias de la II Cátedra Anual de Historia “Ernesto Restrepo Tirado”: Las guerras civiles desde 1830 y su proyección en el siglo XX. Bogotá, Colombia: Ministerio de Cultura, 1998.

    The essays in this book are useful guides to the history of the Colombian civil wars of the 1800s. Cities such as Pasto, Popayán, and Cali were often at the epicenter of those confrontations. These contributions offer synthetic information on the 19th-century wars, highlighting the importance of the Gran Cauca region in those conflicts.

  • Valencia Llano, Alonso, ed. Historia del Gran Cauca: Historia regional del suroccidente colombiano. Cali, Colombia: Instituto de Estudios del Pacífico, Área de desarrollo histórico-cultural, Universidad del Valle, 1996.

    This collective work illuminates the most relevant approaches and topics of historical research of the period from around 1970 to the mid-1990s. It offers information on the geography, society, and economy of the region.

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