Sunday, May 20, 2012

Getting Away - Vélez (Part 2)

Built in 1929, this church is embedded into
the Andes mountainside in Vélez.
Tucked up in the middle portion of the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes, Vélez sits at approximately 6725 feet. It was the second city in the "kingdom of Granada" and was discovered and founded by Captain Martin Galeano on September 14, 1539.  (As an aside, I wonder how accurate these dates are because back then the Captain did not have an iPod or other technical device to record things, and fighting off the indigenous tribes as well as the locals had to make getting pen to paper a little bit tough.)

The places we did not see in this charming city were: 1) the caves where the aboriginal folks hid out from the Spanish, reputed to have underground waterfalls, stalactites and stalagmites as well as fossilized remains of a chief; and 2) the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Snow, unique because it has an entrance on the side and it was the first church built here in 1560. Obviously this means another trip to try and see these antiquities.

Interior view of the church in Vélez.
Outside entrance view of College - photo by Isabel
But we did get a rather extensive tour of the National University College which was originally a Franciscan convent, established in 1549 and quite obviously of Spanish architecture. It was the idea and inspiration of General Francisco dePaula Santander to turn it into an educationally purposed place in 1824 and was fully approved as such by the Ministry of National Education in 1937. It was declared a national monument in 1973 under the government of Misael Pastrana Borrero. Although a huge building, covering more than two city blocks in both directions, the upkeep is lacking and I advised our guide that in one classroom the ceiling was showing evidence of black mold, "Muy peligroso!" I said. Not exactly helpful in a learning place.
My shot of interior courtyard of National College - immense!
I found some historical information about Vélez that indicated there was a road from here to the Rio Magdalena which served as a way to transfer goods between the city and onto ships headed downriver and off to Spain. According to this report, Vélez was suffering during the first 30 years from attrition as neither troops nor commoners were particularly delighted with the surroundings. But the discovery of gold in Pamplona circa 1560 created a new interest in living near a city and also closer to the river.

The statue of a huge guitar arm representing the influence of Tiple here and the guabina music have led to festivals that offer more of the same throughout the year. Since the 16th Century, Veleñas goods have been finding favor in and out of the city... here you can find both agricultural and crafts products in abundance. The fine art of turning sugar cane into sugar was mastered here enough so that Velenas preserves were, and still are, among some of the best. Baked goods, candy,  cheese, hams, canvas and sandals, along with leather goods including saddles are still sold extensively. Horse and mule breeding are among the top economic agricultural products.But the pressure for agricultural lands grew through the 17th century and so, like much of Colombia, it was learned too late that old growth trees are a greater function than just wood to burn or build with - the relatively new awareness of trees serving to anchor the steep hillsides is coming to Vélez as well.
Privately owned former home of First Colombian Pres. Parra
We visited the house of the First President of Colombia, Aquileo Parra, now owned by someone else. There is a house here in Barichara where it is claimed he was born but the provenance of that tale is uncertain; although he was born here, it's just not certain it was that particular house. At any rate, he was only President for two years (1876-78), but he was the first - Colombia's George Washington - and the first and only one from Santander. I could not say that the Vélez homestead reminded me of Mount Vernon, except that it has a magnificent view of much of the state of Santander.

The view from Parra's house today may be similar to 1876.
Our group in front of Parra's casa- Photo by Ana Elisa G.
We also visited the building that was once the business operations for the bocadillo and hat sales that Don Parra was famous for manufacturing. It was only five or six city blocks from his home on the hill, but what a climb after work!

Another short stop was to see an orchid farm. It is right across the street from the National University College tucked inside an old house, not dissimilar from Parra's workplace above. Everywhere you looked there were orchids of all shapes, sizes and colors. Many of which will only survive in the Vélez climate.

I really wanted this one but it is a local one.
Perhaps a familiar orchid to many... the one I chose.

Isabel's photo of this one was better than mine.
The fellow who was growing them said, "They need love and water, treat it like one of your children". Some of the group said they were a lot of work, but I was willing to try and gave myself a gift of one. As I am writing this, I can see it blooming with four (!!!) new flowers, so at the moment I am being a good Orchid mom.

COMING UP NEXT: Getting Away to Chiquinquirá - Please come back and enjoy more travels through Colombia!

1 comment:

  1. Nice commentary for your trip. Photos of the in side of the church were nice, also.