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Bolívar and his quinta
This house belonged to El Libertador Simón Bolívar. Its history goes back to 1670, when Pedro Valenzuela donated the lands located in a place named the Well of the Customs to the hermitage of Monserrate. In 1800, the chaplain of Monserrate sold the property to the main accountant of the tobacco rent of Santafé, José Antonio Portocarrero.
The new owner built a country house that he arranged to honour the Viceroy Antonio Amar y Borbón on his wife’s birthday. The Portocarrero were the property owners up to June 16, 1820, when the government of the Nueva Granada granted it to El Libertador as a gesture of gratitude for his services to the independence cause.
Bolívar owned the quinta for ten years, but he did not live here for long. In 1821, he lived in it on two occasions that coincided with the peak of his glory: during January, before departing for the final campaign of Venezuela’s independence that ended with the Carabobo battle, and in October 1821, after that triumph, before departing for the Liberty Campaign of the South, on the 13th of December.
Five years later, on November 1826, once the campaign was over, Bolívar returned to Santafé and reassumed the presidency of the Republic. Since then, until his final departure on 1830, he lived in this place irregularly, and it became the retreat from his constant trips and from the tense political environment.
In 1828, when Bolívar experienced critical moments, Manuelita arrived at the quinta. They had met years before in Quito, Ecuador, her motherland, and since then, a great love arose between them. Manuelita gave El Libertador and his friends an unconditional and passionate support and she became their political advisor. Her presence transformed the quinta into a place of parties and meetings.
The quinta witnessed the celebration of great events: the creation of La Gran Colombia and the end of the Campaign of the South. Also, difficult moments took place here, due to the serious incidents that disturbed the Republic and to the opposition of the enemies of bolivarian ideas, that ended with their political defeat at the Ocaña Convention. El Libertador took refuge here days after the attempt on his life, on September 25, 1828, and in the same place, he signed the order forgiving the death penalty imposed on the conspirators.
On January 28, 1830, a few days before leaving the capital, El Libertador transferred the property to his dear friend José Ignacio París. While the París family owned it, and later, when it passed to the hands of new owners, the quinta was modified to perform diverse functions. It served as the location for the School of Santa Ana, a mental health house, a pita factory - a drink similar to beer - , and a tannery. It suffered countless modifications that meant the partial destruction of its original architecture.
In 1918, the Academy of History and Embellishment Society of Bogotá proposed the State to purchase the property and devote it to a bolivarian museum. In 1922, the Nation became its owner, adapted it into a museum and entrusted its administration to the Embellishment Society of Bogotá. On 1968, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas assumed the management of the quinta. In 1975, the quinta was proclaimed a National Monument.
In 1991, the national government requested the Sociedad de Mejoras y Ornato de Bogotá to restore the quinta. Today, the quinta has recovered the character and appearance of a country house it had when El Libertador lived in it.
Architectural recovery and restoration of the quinta
From the moment Bolívar received the quinta as a gift, the house began to be arranged to serve as residence of the President of the Republic. Although El Libertador did not participate much in the furnishing and decoration, he asked Vice-president, Francisco de Paula Santander to fix it, got a chimney to be built, and, apparently, drew the plans of the “Viewing platform”. Santander made the house habitable and ordered the construction of the Comedor (dining room).
The elegance imposed on this place reflects the french-style architecture as well as the decorative elements recovered after the current restoration (they had been altered due to the diverse interventions the house had suffered). Traces of paintings were found: pistachio green decoration on the interior, and outside, plant-like figures. Representations allusive to plant motives were found in the Gran Salón (Great living room), while in Manuelita’s room, geometrical figures appeared in the shape of repeated patterns. The lost mural painting was partially reconstructed. Another meaningful discovery was the Cocina (kitchen) location. Vestiges of soot, oil, drainage pipe, furnaces and a window that served as a source of light and smoke evacuator, allowed the reconstruction of this place, one of the oldest of the quinta. Here, as well as in other places, the original floor was restored with brick beams places at 45 degrees.
Before the restoration, the external aspect of the manor was a product of late interventions made to “embellish” the quinta: the modest doorway was replaced by the republican-style one we see today; an access ridge-that ended in an inappropriate stone flight of steps was built, and the house was surrounded by a wooden veranda. With the restoration, the steps were reformed and, thanks to recent discoveries, a widely used element in country houses of the time, a parapet, was rebuilt at the rear of the house. For that reason, it may not be exactly like the one that existed almost 30 years ago, but it resembles more the place that sheltered the greatest man of America, Simón Bolívar.
Before beginning your journey, keep in mind that:
1. The Museum is a Historical Monument.
2. The different galleries of the Museum have been organized in a way that they resemble – as much as possible, the time when El Libertador inhabited the quinta.
3. Complete access to the interior spaces of the house is forbidden, only a view behind the protection rails is allowed.
4. Few of the exhibited furniture and objects originally belonged to Bolívar and Manuelita. The remaining pieces have been acquired to reproduce the original aspect of the house.
5. The tour should follow the numbers marked on the protection rails. The sequence is the same that appears in the plan of this printed guide. To begin your tour, locate yourself in the garden, in front of the house.
I like this “quinta” a lot, perhaps because of its
isolation and its rustic aspect, and because it has the elements
to become almost a mansion […] A place for retirement and rest from the business
of governing should be solitary, calm.
Simón Bolívar quoted by José Caicedo Rojas, his scribe at the quinta, in Memories of an old Colombian, 1877.
Bolívar’s quinta was one of his favourite places for shelter and reflection because it linked his natural simplicity with the comfort he had known as a child.
2. Stove room
Give us a government in which law is obeyed,
magistrates respected and people free!
Message sent by Bolívar to the Convention of Ocaña, 1828.
In this place, Bolívar spent endless working days. Together with his friends and advisors, he wrote his message to the convention that would meet during March 1828 in Ocaña, to which he proposed the Bolivarian Constitution as the legal framework of the Republic. During this period, El Libertador oscillated between illusion and despair: sometimes he sensed the victory of his followers and other times he thought his project of the State was impossible. His enemies accused him as being a dictator and tyrant.
3. Manuelita’s room
Your kindness and grace melt my frozen heart. Your love awakes
a fainting life. I cannot voluntarily
deprive myself of Manuela.
I do not have your strength in not seeing you. Even
far from you, I see you. Come, come, come soon!
Letter from El Libertador to Manuelita Sáenz, September 11, 1827.
Manuela Sáenz arrived at the quinta in 1828, in the days prior to the Convention of Ocaña. She had met Bolívar in Quito, at the peak of his glory, and between them, a deep love arose. She became part of his Chiefs of Staff in Peru. Cheerful, sensitive, brave, impulsive, she was El Libertador’s “crazy kind one”. Her character provoked many political difficulties, but her sagacity allowed her to identify friends and enemies of the bolivarian cause and to discover the intrigues of his opponents. Manuelita conspired against them, guided by her deep admiration for El Libertador, whose life she saved on September 25, 1828. For that reason, Bolívar called her “the liberator of El Libertador”.
4. Living room
Colombian citizens: the twilights of peace already shine over Colombia.
I contemplate with indescribable joy the glorious times in which
the shades of the oppression will vanish to brighten up the splendours of liberty!
Bolívar proclaiming the union of Venezuela and Cundinamarca,
creating the Republic of Colombia. March 8, 1820.
In 1819, after Nueva Granada was liberated, the path for the creation of the Republic of Colombia was completed; Bolívar was elected president and received the title of El Libertador. In 1820, the government gave him the quinta as a gesture of acknowledgment and gratitude for his services to the independence cause.
This big living room was the scenario where parties, dances and meetings took place to celebrate military victories and to attract the foreign support needed to consolidate the rising nation.
5. Dining room
The dining room, placed between two gardens, with large windows, was
elegant and had the shape of a hidden ellipse. It had frescoes of the four
seasons and other allegorical figures, and above of the head of the table,
there was a portrait of Bolívar crowned by two geniuses, and around it
the inscription: “Bolívar is the God of Colombia”.
José Caicedo Rojas, Memories of an old Colombian, 1877.
By the end of 1826, after five years of absence leading a process of continental independence, Bolívar returned to Bogotá and took up again the presidency of the Republic. His multinational army (in which Scottish, Irish and French soldiers fought side by side with Latin Americans) had triumphed in the battles of Pichincha, Junín and Ayacucho, which led to the liberation of Ecuador, Peru and the present Bolivia. Bolívar was called “the God of Colombia”.
Surrounded by his friends, admired and acclaimed, he spent here euphoric moments during the receptions and banquets offered to his honour, where people toasted to the health of the nation’s liberator.
6. Gaming room
Look what gaming is: I have lost battles, I have lost a great
deal of money, I have been betrayed, I have been tricked, my faith has been breached,
and none of that has touched me as much as a table of “ropilla” has;
it is a unique thing that such an insignificant fact as a game, for which
I have no vocation, annoys me and makes me indiscrete and disorderly,
when luck is against me.
Simón Bolívar quoted by Louis Perú Delacroix, May 16, 1828.
El Libertador enjoyed music; several popular pieces were composed to honour him. He was an excellent dancer, particularly of waltzes. He played cards quite often, especially tresillo and ropilla, and he was skilful at billiards. From 1827, when his political and personal life became troubled, his easy and joyful moments were scarce.
7. El Libertador’s bedroom
I am convinced that the forecoming events are covered by an
impenetrable veil […] Amongst millions of premonitions and dreams,
chance has only caused some, a few, to happen, and these are quoted,
not the first. Such is the human spirit: lover of the supernatural, friend
of lies, indifferent to nature and truth.
Simón Bolívar, June 9, 1828.
In January 15, 1830, Bolívar, physically and morally defeated, took refuge at the quinta. The crises produced by tuberculosis appeared more frequently: fever and disillusion began to weaken his resistance. The moment was critical: Colombia La Grande was disintegrating and his opponents planned to exclude him from the new government and send him to exile, everyone considered his presence a threat to Colombian public stability. The time arrived to say goodbye forever to his ideals, his friends, to Manuelita and to his quinta. On April 27, he abandoned this place and spent the night at Pedro Alcántara Herrán’s residence, known as Quinta de Fucha, which he left for good on May 8. Soon, on December 17, his life would end at Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino in Santa Marta, on the Caribbean coast.
8. José Palacios’ bedroom
It is my will that my belongings shall be given
to my loyal butler José Palacios, in the amount
of eight thousand pesos, as a reward for his constant services.
Simón Bolívar will, dictated in Santa Marta on December 10, 1830.
José Palacios Antúnez was born in Maracaibo in 1790, and died in Caracas in 1868. He was Simón Bolívar’s chamber assistant and his most loyal servant from the very moment he promised the Libertador’s mother never to leave him alone. He got to know him as a cheerful and talkative man, easy to fall in love, so active and unflagging that neither clerks nor aide-de-camps could follow him.
When situations were adverse, he felt Bolívar’s sadness confronting the loneliness of power. He assisted his bodily aches and his soul’s pains, either with healing herbs or with understanding attention, although without mayor effect on his anger, his cough attacks or his delirious fevers. Before leaving for exile, he heard him curse his enemies as he expressed his despair over our nation’s future. In Santa Marta, he saw him face death and heard his farewell proclamation to Colombians. José was his companion from Bolívar’s tender childhood until that 17th of December 1830, when El Libertador expired at the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino.
“El Libertador” prefers corn “arepas” rather
than bread; eats more vegetables than meat,
tries sweets seldom, but he likes fruit.
He prepares salads himself and says nobody
makes it better than he does, an ability he owes
to French ladies, as he states.
Louis Perú Delacroix, May 29, 1828.
Bolívar’s eating habits were similar to those of most of the people of the time, but he had modified them due to digestive problems and frequent trips. He ate more vegetables than meat and preferred fruit rather than tempting sweets. He liked to have his meals along with Madeira or Bordeaux wines and enjoyed champagne when celebrating. American food like arepas and chili were his favourites rather than European bread and black pepper.
Several meals are prepared during the day. At seven a.m. you drink chocolate,
soup at ten, lunch is served at two o’clock, at five, you take a snack with hot chocolate
and dinner takes place at ten.
Remarks of a French traveller, 1823.
The kitchen work must have been huge when El Libertador, assisted by his officials, aide-de-camps, clerks, staff and personal servants, inhabited the house. Moreover, the place never lacked a good number of guests and visitors. María Luisa, the Indian cook, shared the responsibility of attending El Libertador together with Petronila, the one in charge of the cleaning, José María Álvarez, the Spanish gardener, and the slaves Natán and Jonatás, property of Manuelita.
11. Barns and stables
Arriving in Bogotá in 1801, the Baron Alexander von Humboldt wrote to his brother William that few countries in America, "excepting perhaps Chile, produce as much and as excellent cereal as the New Granada. Even in the plain of Bogotá (...) there are between 10 and 12 grains".
The place for those crops was the farming land that surrounded the town and then, the respective harvest should be taken to the mills that necessarily stood beside the rivers streams coming down from the eastern hills that watered the savannah. The Quinta de Bolívar had several of them in its neighbourhood.
In the barns, the wheat and flour were stored in bags that decomposed when not being dried well. Wooden barrels replaced the bags by the end of the eighteenth century. There were also sieves - used to pass the wheat through and detach it from impurities such as stones, sand, straw and other debris before being milled -, roman weights and other farming tools.
It is unthinkable to evoke the figure of Simon Bolívar without the company of one or two horses. The best known was Palomo, a white horse that was given to El Libertador by the Congress of La Gran Colombia, of great stature, with a tail that fell almost to the ground and which may have grazed in adjacent pastures during one of Bolívar’s stays in his quinta in Bogotá. It is said that the horse is buried in the town of Mulaló in Valle del Cauca.
Juan Pablo Carrasquilla, a contemporary of Bolívar and a young man from Antioquia that was in Santafé for business, witnessed Bolívar’s arrival to the capital city on August 10, 1819, and recorded the following anecdote. One of Bolívar’s aides – de camp came to him during the celebration of the victory at the Bridge of Boyacá and told him that as it was late and he was tired from his trip, he should leave to rest.
- No, I do not feel tired at all.
- But Your Excellency have travelled far by horse today.
- Riding horse does not tire me.
- Your Excellency likes to travel by horse?
- Quite a lot, but it is not so much that I like to ride horse as that it annoys me to walk.
Noguera, Aníbal - De Castro, Flavio. Approaches to El Libertador. Testimonies of his time. Colombian Academy of History. Bogotá, 1983. Pg. 95.
12. The vegetable garden
Bolívar requested a gardener to cultivate the vegetable garden and the gardens of the quinta. The name of José María Álvarez was suggested, one of the few Spaniards who had not escaped after independence. When Bolívar required his presence,
...he made the sign of the cross three times and a contrition act, believing his last hour
had arrived, because he was certain that Bolívar didn’t forgive any Spaniard’s life,
even less that one of a soldier of Sámano.
When standing in front of him, he shook as a leaf, from head to toe,
and could not speak a word, awaiting his death sentence.
Bolívar looked at him with benevolence and, perhaps as a pastime, he started
the following dialogue:
- What is your name?
- José María Álvarez.
- Where are you from?
- From Cartagena.
- However, you do not look like someone from the Caribbean Coast.
- Well, what I mean is, I grew up in Cartagena on the Mediterranean Coast.
- That means, you are Spaniard and a Royalist?
- By no means your excellence, I am a republican.
- Spaniard and republican?
- Yes, Your Excellence, I was born in the Valley of Andorra, which is a republic in my country. My mother was Catalan and brought me…
- Enough! Are you married?
- Not exactly married, Your Excellence, but… the same as being married.
- What is your occupation?
- I was a farmer in my homeland; here I am a gardener, for whatever Your Excellence demands.
- Well, you will be in charge of cultivating the vegetable garden and gardens of this quinta, if you
know the occupation well.
- Sir - said the Spaniard as a ray of happiness brightened his small eyes -,
as long as the soil is good and there’s enough manure, I will make it grow some endives,
cabbages and carrots as Your Excellence has not eaten in his whole life, and
you will lick your lips. It is up to me! I will make it produce biscuits and sausages,
José Caicedo Rojas, Memories of an old Colombian, 1877.
13. Sitting bathtub and Viewing platform
Unlike most of the people of his time, Bolívar took a bath frequently. “A lot”, in the opinion of Colonel Delacroix. He preferred “cold waters like large rivers or the sea”, while others used to heat their bath under the sun or on top of the stove.
Drinking a glass of liquor called mistela afterwards, was a common tradition.
It is possible that his “cold and comfortable” sitting bathtub, built in the lower part of the viewing platform, had been originally conceived on plans drawn by El Libertador himself.
14. The water well
Bogotá natives used to take a bath every fifteen or twenty days, for which they programmed trips to the countryside in search of rivers or watercourses.
Hikes to the quinta were frequent and this pool, located at the outdoors easternmost side of the city, supplied by the river of San Francisco and surrounded by tile-thatched walls, allowed numerous visitors to enjoy a good bath in the XIX century.
Casa Museo Quinta de Bolívar
Director: Daniel Castro Benítez
Calle 21 nº 4A-30 este
Bogotá, D.C., Colombia
Telephone: (57-1) 336 6419
Fax: (57-1) 336 6410
Tuesday to Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Saturday to Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Ticket sales end 30 minutes before the Museum closes