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Colombia: Popayán

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Popayán > Colombia > Americas

[Visited: January 2009]

When I finally arrived in Popayán after an accident on the road from Cali had delayed my bus ride, the sky was a heavy dark, and sunlight was already disappearing. I quickly set myself up in one of the very attractive colonial mansions turned into a hotel, and rushed out again. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I only saw pedestrians on the streets. I immediately developed a liking for this colonial town. The white of the houses - all houses in the city centre are obliged to be white, and the city is also known as the White City - contrasted beautifully against the black sky and I thoroughly enjoyed walking the streets of Popayán until darkness fell.

Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Dark sky over the white city of Popayán

The next day, I was out early. Unfortunately, there was a thick layer of grey clouds over the city, which did not make the white of the houses stand out as much as the day before. I discovered that most churches in Popayán only open certain hours of the day, so it is not easy to just visit them whenever you pass by. Some churches, like the San Francisco and the Cathedral, seem to be open all day. Even from the outside, I liked the La Ermita church on top of the Calle 5, which also passes the Cathedral. Unfortunately, the Parque Caldas right in front of the Cathedral was under heavy construction and I could only vaguely imagine what it would look like. I also walked up a path turned into a Via Crucis by the religious stations depicting the last days of Jesus to the Capilla de Belén on top of a hill overlooking the town. From here, it was not far to reach the Morro del Tulcán. This is a pre-Colombian pyramid, where the indigenous people were buried. Right on top, there is a statue of Sebastián de Belalcázar, the founder of the city that lies charmingly at your feet. As the sun was going down behind the clouds, we saw spectacular lightning at a distance.

Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Main street leading up to La Ermita church

The name Popayán comes from an Indian dialect and means Two villages with straw roofs, even though none of the houses have straw roofs anymore. After its foundation, it developed as an important stopover for traffic between Quito and Cartagena, and managed to retain its colonial character. It is the capital of the department of Cauca. It suffered major destruction by earthquakes, the last one in 1983 - you can still see the damage in some parts of the city. Some of the churches had to be rebuilt. The city is also known for its university, and it has contributed disproportionally to Colombian culture, art and politics through famous poets, painters, and politicians. There even is a special building in the city centre, unfortunately not open for visitors, where the famous sons and daughters of the city are buried. Walking the city continued to be a pleasure during my stay, even though the best day to visit definitely is Sunday because there are so few cars on the streets. When I finally had to leave Popayán, I felt sad at having to leave the charming town behind.

Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Iglesia de San Francisco and square
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Cathedral of Popayán seen from below
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Puente de la Custodia has already served Popayán for centuries
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Dark sky over the Iglesia de San José
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Capilla de Belén and a grey cloudy sky
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Church of La Ermita under a cloudy sky
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Inner courtyard of a mansion in Popayán
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Street in Popayán with the Morro del Tulcán on the left
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Statue of Sebastian de Belalcázar, founder of Popayán, on top of the Morro del Tulcán
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Theatre of Popayán
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Night time view of the Cathedral of Popayán
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): View towards the Cathedral along Calle 5
Picture of Popayán (Colombia): Evening atmosphere in a street

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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