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THE COLOMBIAN CAPITAL
F we could go to sleep in Washington and wake up next morning in Santa Fé de Bogotá, our first im
pressions of the quaint old city would hardly be favorable; and, as first impressions are generally lasting, the probabilities are that we should never learn to like the place. But after a month's journey, such as I have attempted to describe, one is generally in a frame of mind to appreciate almost any change, particularly if, as in the present case, it be for the better.
Our first impressions of Bogotá are those of surprise and admiration, surprise at finding so large a city perched up in the heart of the Andes fully “six hundred miles from anywhere," and admiration of the surpassing natural beauty of the locality. Our next impressions are that it is one of the most quiet, conservative, slothful, and restful places on the face of the earth, conditions which one appreciates all the more after the hard experiences of the long journey from the coast. After a day or two we discover that the climate is simply perfect, and that the matchless scenery never palls upon us. In the course of a few days more, we discover that many highly educated and accomplished people live here; that there is an inner circle of society equal to the best in Washington; and that the inhabi
1 As the present capital of the Colombian Republic was called prior to the independence of the country. It is now known simply as Bogotá
tants are generally kind, considerate, and hospitable. And so it is that strangers generally like the place, leave it with more or less reluctance, and rarely fail to cherish the most pleasant memories of it.
The city is beautifully situated on the extreme eastern limit of the great savannah, at the base of two high peaks of the central cordillera which reaches up to just below the perpetual snow limit. From these peaks - known as Guadeloupe and Moncerrate — we get a very fair view of the interior of the Republic. The snow-capped mountains of Tolima and San Ruiz lie some ninety miles to the westward, their great frozen sides glistening under the rays of a tropical sun. Far northward are the fertile valleys and tablelands of Santander and Boyacá. To the eastward are the rich mining districts of Antioquia, and southward the high ridges which limit the great llanos of San Martin in the valley of the Meta, one of the principal affluents of the great Orinoco.
The streets of the city run eastward up the acclivity to a wide avenue cut in the side of the mountain, and are crossed at right angles by those running north and south. The blocks or squares thus formed rise one above another like the benches of a great amphitheatre; the terraced sierra above, and the overshadowing peaks of Guadeloupe and Moncerrate corresponding to the lobbies and balconies. In the middle of each street, extending up the acclivity, is a rapidly running stream of water, supplied from sources far up in the crevices and coves of the mountain, and which, after passing through and washing out the city, disembogue into the little river San Francisco, one of the main affluents of the Funza.
On the crests of the peaks of Guadeloupe and Moncerrate are two massive cathedrals, visible from nearly all points on the opposite side of the plain. They are quite inaccessible except to pedestrians, and to pedestrians only after some three hours of very hard climbing. We naturally wonder why these great temples were built there. Nobody ever lived near them, and the bleak and icy paramo beyond is uninhabitable. There is really no necessity for them; for there are some thirty odd other cathedrals and chapels in and about the city, and if these were not enough, there is ample room for more in localities that would be accessible.
Some of the geographies and encyclopædias tell us that the streets of Bogotá are "wide and well paved," and that the city contains “ many elegant and costly public buildings,” among which is "a well appointed theatre and an astronomical observatory.” As to the streets, they are indeed a trifle wider than those usually found in Spanish-American cities; and they are generally well paved after the manner of those of the sixteenth century, - that is to say, with cobble-stone over which it is next to impossible to drive a vehicle, or even to walk with comfort. The sidewalks are of smooth stone or brick, but generally so narrow that when two pedestrians meet, one of them is obliged to take the gutter.
There are many spacious public buildings; but with the exception of the new capitol and executive mansion, they are generally old convents and monasteries adapted to official uses. There is a large theatre building also, but it is generally shut up except once or twice a year, and even then it is so dirty and full of feas that few people care to enter it. And there is the national observatory, that is to say, the old building was there at the time of which I am now speaking, some twenty-five years ago. Since then it has been repaired, and the old broken instruments have been brushed up and mended, or else replaced by new ones. It was founded nearly a century ago by Don José Celestino Mútes, a native scientist who espoused the patriot cause in the contest for independence, and perished in that memorable struggle.
Bogotá was founded by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, the conqueror of New Granada, in 1538. It was constituted a city” by royal decree of the emperor Charles V., in the early part of his eventful reign, and has long been an archiepiscopal See of the Roman Church. It now contains some thirty-three church edifices besides the metropolitan cathedral. It has also one Protestant church (Presbyterian), which was completed and opened to public service in 1876. There is a mint, a public market, a national library of some 75,000 volumes, and a museum of antiquities and natural curiosities; a national university with faculties of law, medicine, engineering, philosophy, and natural sciences; an ecclesiastical seminary; an institute of fine arts, and many public and private schools for the education of the youth of both sexes. There are three large and beautiful parks, in which are costly bronze statues of the early heroes and statesmen of the Republic; an abundant supply of clear and pure mountain water, and a system of tramways connecting the city with suburban villages. The city is now well lighted by gas and electricity. The present population is something over 100,000, generally white or a mixture of white and Indian races. There are almost no negroes or mulattoes, very few quadroons and octoroons, and perhaps less than a dozen English or American residents.
The city is very compactly built. There are no intermediate vacant lots, no side or back alleys, no front yards and lawns; you see only streets and houses and little plazas and parks. Each of the four sides of the