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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Public Health and Hygiene

Latin American Studies Bogotá
David Sowell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0172


Bogotá is the capital of the Republic of Colombia, Latin America’s fourth most populous nation. The 2010 census enumerated 7.3 million residents, but estimates place the metropolitan population at well over 8 million. The sprawling city includes twenty districts and 2,344 neighborhoods (as of 2005) that encompass some 1,600 square kilometers (617 square miles) along the slopes of the Cordillera Oriental mountain range, dominated by the peaks of Guadalupe and Monserrate. It is located at just over 2,600 meters (8,500 feet) above sea level and dominates the 25,000-square-kilometer (15,500 square miles) “Sabana de Bogotá,” a well-watered, highly fertile agricultural plain. The sabana and mountains dictated Bogotá’s growth along a north-south axis; not until the mid-20th century did the city experience significant expansion toward the west. Spanish conquistadores established Santa Fé de Bogotá in August 1538. As Santa Fé, the community served as the capital of the Kingdom of New Granada and the Vice-Royalty of New Granada; independence brought the shortened name of Bogotá, save for a short period in the 1990s when the city again became Santa Fé de Bogotá. Throughout, the city’s administrative function served as a foundation of its importance. The highly centralized constitution of 1886 amplified Bogotá’s importance; not until after World War II did the city become Colombia’s leading industrial, commercial, and service center. Bogotá earned the nickname the “Athens of South America” in the late 19th century. Today, Bogotá is home to over one hundred institutions of higher education (including the National University, Universidad Javeriana, and the Universidad de los Andes); the nation’s leading newspapers; cultural centers such as the National Museum (1823), Cristobal Colón Theater (1892), the National School of Beaux Arts (1886), the Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango (1958), and other centers of fine and performing arts. The 20th century saw exponential growth, leading to the status of global city by the second millennium. The pace of population growth mirrors that of other developing world cities, with 120,000 persons in 1912, 235,000 in 1928, 715,000 in 1951, 2.8 million in 1973, 5.4 million in 1999, and 7.5 million in 2012. This phenomenal increase is linked to improvements in public health, flight from extraordinary violence in the countryside, and the attractiveness of economic opportunities. Historical scholarship follows a periodization corresponding to the colonial era, the 19th century, and the modern city that emerged in the 20th century. Subdivisions in each period reflect distinct categories of analysis. The author gratefully acknowledges the research assistance of Ms. Mackenzie D. Coulter-Kern.

General Overviews

The 450th anniversary of the establishment of Santa Fé de Bogotá spawned a series of valuable but often eclectic overviews of the city’s history, notably Iriarte 1988. Carlos Martínez, an architect with strong skills as a historian, dominates the field with his two-volume overview, Martínez 1976–1978. The historical atlas Escovar, et al. 2004 is one of the most mature scholarly works on the city. Bohórquez de Briceño and Angel Giraldo 1988 is a useful bibliography aimed at the Colombian audience, while Greenfield 1994 is readily accessible to English readers.

  • Amaya Arias, Bernardo. Historias de Santafé y Bogotá. Bogotá: Educultural La Rueca, 2011.

    NNNAn eclectic series of snapshots of the social and cultural history of the city. The rise and fall of the corn beer (chichi) culture offers fascinating insights into colonial popular culture, and the manner by which control of the drink represented the conquest of the 19th century “café culture.” Includes a detailed account of the urban tram system. A final essay focuses upon “la loca Margarita.”

  • Bohórquez de Briceño, Fabioloa, and Rubby Angel Giraldo. Bibliografía sobre historia de Bogotá. Bogotá: Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá, 1988.

    NNNA survey of 251 accounts of the history of Bogotá, with a strong focus on historic almanacs, traveler’s accounts, and memoirs. The April 9, 1948, riot following the assassination of Jorge Eliécer Gaítan receives special attention. Each citation is briefly annotated with call numbers for the Biblioteca Luís Angel Arango in Bogotá. Includes a thematic index.

  • Escovar, Alberto, Margarita Mariño, and César Peña. Atlas histórico de Bogotá, 1535–1910. Bogotá: Editorial Planeta, 2004.

    NNNThis finely presented atlas documents eleven themes (government, health, industry, public works, etc.) of the city. Each theme is introduced by a ten-to-fifteen page essay, and includes maps of the city in 1600 and 1910 that illustrate the theme, such as the location of roads, bridges, tramways, or carriage paths. Profusely illustrated and carefully documented, this is an essential source of information on the city.

  • Gouëset, Vincent. Bogotá, nacimiento de una metrópoli: La originalidad del proceso de concentración urbana en Colombia en el siglo XX. Bogotá: Tercer Mundo Editores, 1998.

    NNNOutstanding analysis of Colombia’s urban cuadricefalia of Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, and Bogotá. Though urbanization and economic opportunity spurred the growth of each city, Bogotá’s growth was accelerated more by the increase of public and private service industries. Public management of communication and transportation networks added impetus to the capital’s expansion. Contains numerous graphs, maps, and tables, all based upon extensive primary and secondary research.

  • Greenfield, Gerald Michael. “Colombia.” In Latin American Urbanization: Historical Profiles of Major Cities. Edited by Gerald Michael Greenfield, 134–158. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994.

    NNNUseful but brief survey of Colombian patterns of urbanization, which depart from the primary city characteristics of many other Latin American countries in favor of regional centers. Bogotá grew as an administrative center in the colonial era, a situation that persists into the national period. Focuses upon the era of rapid growth in the 20th century.

  • Iriarte, Alfredo. Breve historia de Bogotá. Bogotá: Fundación Misión Colombia, 1988.

    NNNAn indispensable overview of the history of Bogotá from the era of the Muiscas through the establishment of the National Front in 1958. The work lacks citations, but it is based upon extensive secondary research and the collaboration of leading scholars. Iriarte tends toward a top-down, institutional, and political account of the city, though social and quotidian lives of residents are woven into the well-written narrative.

  • Martínez, Carlos. Bogotá: Sinopsis sobre su evolución urbana. 2 vols. Bogotá: Escala Fondo Editorial, 1976–1978.

    NNNVolume 1, 1536–1900, offers an invaluable introduction to the physical development of Bogotá by the leading historian of the city. Generously illustrated with maps, drawings of historical buildings, and images of the city and region, Martínez offers a balanced textual history of the city through the 19th century. Volume 2, Bogotá reseñada por cronistas y viajeros ilustres, 1572–1948, offers brief observations of the city by forty-three travelers, making it a singular collection. Most of the travel accounts date from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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