South America's Top Colonial Cities...
Spanish and Portuguese Architectural Heritage
Through South America's top colonial cities we aim at introducing you to some of the best and well preserved examples of colonial architecture left by the Spaniards and Portuguese after several centuries of colonialism, so if you love architecture and cultural tourism in general, the following list will be valuable when ready for a South America vacation.
From centuries-old churches, convents, monasteries and cathedrals, to enchanted villages with cobblestone streets dating back to XVII century, to entire colonial quarters and historic centres in major cities and capitals, the continent's architectural legacy is a delight to explore.
In some cases, the knowledge and expertise brought by the Europeans was further enriched with native aboriginal art and vision, creating a unique fusion or blend of architectural styles not seen anywhere else. This is the case of the Jesuit missions for instance. Before being expelled by a Royal Edict in 1767, the Jesuits left a number of missions scattered around South America, specifically in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.
It shouldn't come as a surprise then, that many - if not all of the sights we'll review - are part of the World's Cultural Heritage List by UNESCO. Jesuit missions will be treated separately, as they essentially are remnants instead of well preserved living quarters and monuments of all sorts. For the time being, let's concentrate on South America's top colonial cities...
Cartagena de Indias:
Born as Cartagena del Poniente in 1533, it boasts beautiful colonial architecture within the inner city walls as well as outstanding military architecture that began construction in 1639 with San Felipe de Barajas castle - later remodeled, in 1762. This and other fortifications were built between XVI and XVIII centuries, conforming what is considered to be one of the best in Latin America and the world.
Ouro Preto: Ouro Preto is much more than an absolute beauty of a colonial town. The Imperial Cidade of Ouro Preto - as it was named in 1823 - was the capital of the State of Minas Gerais until 1897, when it was transferred to the current capital of Belo Horizonte. It is the place where a group of intellectuals and professionals - called Inconfidencia Mineira - planned the first conspiracy to break away from Portuguese rule in 1790.
Beautiful Olinda has all the charm of the Brazilian northeast: lovely weather, outstanding colonial architecture and home to one of the most seeked carnivals in Brazil, together with nearby Recife. Its history goes back to XVI century (1535), when it was founded by the Portuguese Duarte Coelho Pereira. It is one of the best-preserved and prettiest colonial towns in the country
Villa de Leyva:
Located 150 km north of Bogota, Villa de Leyva is one of the few towns in Colombia that has managed to preserve all of its colonial architecture. Loaded with historic sites, its impressive Plaza Mayor (Main Square) is the largest in Latin America and expands to a total area of 14,000m².
Colonia del Sacramento:
Born as Nova Colonia do Sacramento in 1680, it is the oldest town in Uruguay. Colonia suffered the extended custody battle between Spanish and Portuguese conquerors, including sieges, assaults, change of dominion and the likes. Today it's a lovely week-end retreat located just a stone's trow from Buenos Aires, across the Rio de la Plata. See some images of the place.
The Historic Centre of Paraty is simply marvelous. During the days of the Brazilian gold rush (late 1600s) in the mountains of Minas Gerais, it used to be an important port of embarkment to the Portuguese Crown in Lisbon, via Rio de Janeiro. Most of the buildings have remained unchanged for the last two and a half centuries or so. Check some Paraty postcards to get a visual perspective of the place.
One of the oldest and most important centres in the New World, Colombia has an extraordinarily rich architectural heritage. Talking about Bogota's architecture, don't even consider to leave out La Candelaria district in your visit. Officially the first neighborhood when founded at El Chorro de Quevedo in 1538 by Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada y Rivera, it conforms the historic centre of Bogotá and the city's principal destination for cultural tourism lovers. Visit Colombia Photo Gallery to get a visual approach.
São Luís de Maranhão: Capital of the State of Maranhão (Northeastern Brazil), São Luís's historic centre is - of no surpirse - a UNESCO's World Heritage Site. It is the only Brazilian state capital founded by the French, who named it after French King Louis XIII in 1612. Its architectural heritage has little evidence of the French - and Dutch occupation that followed - it is more related to the Portuguese that finally took over until Brazil's independence time.
Third largest city in Ecuador, Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca was founded in 1557. With cobblestone streets, El Centro (Historic Centre) is loaded with architecture dating back to XVIII century, when many colonial buildings were converted and updated. The result is a unique architecture with both local and European influences.
Sucre: Sucre - also known historically as Charcas, La Plata and Chuquisaca - is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, and capital of the department of Chuquisaca. It was born in 1538 as Ciudad de la Plata de la Nueva Toledo founded by Pedro Anzures, Marqués de Campo Redondo. "La Ciudad Blanca" is a nickname that was bestowed upon the city because many of the colonial style houses and historic buildings are painted white.
Diamantina: Arraial do Tijuco - Diamantina's original name - was built during the colonial era in the early XVIII century. As its name suggests, Diamantina was a center of diamond mining in the XVIII and XIX centuries. It is located in the State of Minas Gerais, known for its heritage of architecture and colonial art in this and other historical cities such as São João del Rei, Congonhas, Ouro Preto, Tiradentes and Mariana.
It was born as a mining town in 1546, after the discovery of rich silver deposits in the Cerro Rico - Cerro de Potosí - the mountain south of the city overlooking it. The Imperial City of Potosi - as it became known after Francisco de Toledo's visit in 1572 - excerted great influence in the central part of the Andes, contributing to a very unique architectural style where the Baroque blended with Indian influence.
Santa Cruz de Mompox:
On the shores of Magdalena river in northern Colombia, Santa Cruz de Mompox provides an excellent example of a Spanish colonial city. Founded in 1537 by Don Alonso de Heredia, most of the colonial buildings are still used today for their original purposes. Its historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are no words to describe Salvador - and the State of Bahia in general - Brazilian writer Jorge Amado painted it so well through his literature that they became unnecessary afterwards. Don't miss out Pelourinho. Salvador was the first capital of Brazil - from 1549 to 1763 - and, unfortunately, became the first slave market in the New World. Salvador has an outstanding Portuguese colonial architectural heritage.