A Journey Through El Dorado

March 1-May 15, 2000
Philip S. MacLeod, Curator

Representative Images from the Exhibit

The Kelemen Photographic Collection is a recent acquisition of the Latin American Library. Pál Kelemen was a noted Latin American Art Historian. Pál and his wife Elisabeth traveled extensively throughout Latin America. The couple made the trip to Colombia featured in this exhibit in 1945. Some of the images were purchased or given to the couple during their visit. A number of the photos displayed were taken by Elisabeth Kelemen, who used a standard camera for that time period. (See below for links to scanned photographs from the exhibit.)

Cartagena is located on Colombia's northern Caribbean Coast. The city was founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia. Cartagena was a storage point for merchandise sent from Spain and silver collected from the Americas, which was to be sent back to Spain. A series of forts was erected to protect the sea approaches to the city. Walls were built around the city to protect it. Despite its formidable defenses, the city was sacked on several occasions.

1) The Castillo San Felipe de Baraja is said to be the largest Spanish fort built in the Americas. The edifice is built on San Lázaro Hill, to the east of the city. Construction started in 1639 and was finished by 1657.

2) Colonial Buildings --Note the similarity of the architecture to New Orleans's Vieux Carré. In the background is the dome of the Cathedral. The Cathedral was started in 1575 and partially destroyed by Francis Drake in 1586. Reconstruction was finished by 1612. Severe alterations were made to the Cathedral between 1912 and 1923.

3) Mule-drawn carts in the Plaza de la Aduana (also called the Plaza de Colón) and domes of San Pedro Claver. The Church was built by the Jesuits in 1603 and later renamed for a canonized Spanish monk, who had served in the monastery connected to the church. Known as the Apostle of the Slaves, San Pedro Claver fed and ministered to the newly arrived slaves in Cartagena for 44 years. St. Peter Claver baptized and taught more than 300,000 African slaves during his life.

4) Magdalena Department is located to the east of Cartagena. The province is home to the Chimila Indians. The 1993 Colombian census estimated a population of 900 Chimila based around the village of San Angel in the center of the province. The photo, taken in 1944, by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, in the Pericú region of the Ariguaní River shows a young Chimila man playing a flute.

5) Bucaramanga, known as the City of Parks, is the capital of Santander Department. The city was founded in 1622 and was described as little more than a village until the 19th century. It is now Colombia's 6th largest city. The photo shows the colonial style architecture along the cobblestoned Calle Aratica circa 1945.

6) Piedecuesta is located 18 kilometers south of Bucaramanga. The town is a craft center known for its hand-rolled cigar. Pie de la Cuesta was founded as a separate parish in 1774. The photo shows the twin-towered parish church located on the main plaza.

Tunja, the capital of Boyacá Department, was an Indian city, the seat of Zipa, one of two Chibcha Kings who ruled Colombia when the conquistadors arrived. Tunja was founded as a Spanish city in 1539 and has many fine buildings that date to the colonial period.

7) Santo Domingo is called a masterpiece of the colonial period in Colombia. Work on the church started in 1572. The photo shows an altar with a Chibcha sun motif located in the right nave of the church.

8) Santo Domingo is most famous for its Chapel of the Rosary (Capilla del Rosario). Provisions for construction of the chapel were left in the will of Captain García Arias Maldonado, a close associate of the Spanish founder of Tunja. Construction of the chapel began at the end of the 16th century. The Capilla del Rosario is elaborately decorated with intricately carved wood and gold leaf on a vermillion background, which is described as a combination of Mudejar and Baroque styles. The retablos, which represent the 15 mysteries of the rosary, were done by the sculptor Lorenzo de Lugo. The chapel has a number of Solomonic columns decorated with flora and fauna.

9) Santa Clara el Real -- Construction on the church of Santa Clara started in 1580. The photo shows the carved and painted ceiling located over the apse where it forms a trough. The ceiling has a number of wood carvings and gold leaf done over a base of vermillion. Octagons and rhombuses frame a background of crosses, plantain leaves, corncobs, pineapples and carobs.

10) Villa de Leiva is located 40 kilometers west of Tunja. The town was founded in 1572. Villa de Leiva was declared a national monument, so the city would retain its colonial appearance. The photo shows Villa de Leiva's parish church, its surrounding buildings and the market being held on the village's large public square in 1945.

11) BOGOTÁ is Colombia's capital and largest city. Always an important business and commercial center, this photo shows one of Bogotá's office buildings, the Edificio Clavijo, in 1945.

12) The Plaza Bolívar (originally known as the Plaza Mayor) is at the center of the old city of Bogotá. The city was founded here on August 6, 1538. In 1821 the Plaza took the name La Constitución. In 1846, it became known as the Plaza Bolívar, upon the erection of the first statue dedicated to "The Liberator" in the Americas.

The Cathedral was founded in 1538. It was rebuilt in 1553 and again in 1572. At the start of the 19th century, the church suffered earthquake damage. It was reconstructed between 1810 and 1823, in the classical style, with plans by Friar Domingo de Petres. Later, without following the original plans, the towers and a central gable were added, as seen in this photo. These towers and gable were torn down and rebuilt with plans by Spanish Architect Alfredo Rodriguez Orgaz.

El Sagrario Chapel was built between 1659 and 1700 by Gabriel Gómez de Sandoval. Its frontispiece is done in the plateresque. The chapel's cupola fell in during an 1827 earthquake and was rebuilt around 1840. The cupola was rebuilt in the 1930's.

13) Santa Clara boasts forbidding masonry walls and narrow windows under the eave. The church is said to be designed as if it were one of Cartagena's forts. Santa Clara was started in 1619 by Bogotá Archbishop Hernando Arias de Ugare. María Damiana de San Francisco, the archbishop's sister, and first abbess, began the new church in 1629. It is a good example of the Moorish (mudejar) style. There are many sculptured panels on the inside walls. The church is home to a number of valuable colonial paintings. The photo shows the nave to the left of the main altar.

14) San Ignacio was built between 1604 and 1625, with plans brought from Rome by the Jesuit architect Juan Bautista Colluchini, who named it "de la Compañía." The church's name was changed to San Carlos, after the expulsion of the Jesuits in the 18th century. The church has been known as San Ignacio since the late 19th century. The photo shows the church's cupola located over the apse and a portion of the "patio."

San Francisco, from the viewpoint of colonial art, is the most important of Bogotá's churches. Built in 1550, San Francisco is noted for its statues, wood carvings, altar and retablos.

15) The retablo of the main altar, was done in 1622 by Ignacio García de Ascucha from Asturia,s Spain. Also visible is the wooden ceiling.

16) The Apocalypse of Saint John is one of the great wooden relief panels done by the sculptor, Friar Gregorio Guiral y Miranda,that is to be found in the church.

17) The beautiful Retablo of El Nazareno is located in San Francisco's sacristy.

18) The photo of The Altar of San José is a close up of the detailed gild work and religious statuary found throughout the church.

19) San Agustín was first built around 1575. This church was ruined around 1637 and replaced by the present temple. The choir seats are located in the loft at the back of the church, above the principal entrance. San Agustín has one of finest choir stalls in Bogotá. There is detailed inlay work on back of the chairs in the first row. Beautiful stylized paintings of saints are located above the chairs in the back row, which are crowned with carved entablatures.

20) Covento del Carmen was a convent for nuns founded in 1606. The only surviving part of the church is the presbytery with its camarín, a small "balcony" jutting over the street. The photo shows the interior of the church, which no longer exists.

21) The MAGDALENA RIVER flows to the west and north of Bogotá. The river rises in the Andes and flows northeast some 1538 kilometers (960 miles). The Magdalena is historically known as the lifeline of Colombia and is navigable for about 1300 km. The photo shows a market taking place along the river banks.

22) CALDAS DEPARTMENT, located northwest of Bogotá, was the home to the Pantagora people, who made the top of the funeral urn pictured. The urn was found in 1941, near the mouth of the Río de la Miel. At the time the photo was taken, this urn belonged to the collection of the Colombian anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff.

CALI is capital of Valle Department. The city was founded in 1538. It is Colombia's second largest city.

23) San Francisco's construction started in 1757 and work was finished in 1767. The church is most famous for its bell tower, la Torre Mudejar, built in the Moorish style. There is no direct evidence as to when the tower was built, but one tradition held that an architect named Pablo erected the structure in 1773. The more likely scenario is that the tower was built by a slave.

The Torre Mudejar is 23 meters (75 feet) high and divided into 4 sections. The tower is entirely built of bricks. The upper two stories are the most decorated. The 3rd section is decorated with 12 rows of small triangles which draw attention to a star with 15 points at the center. The top half of the belfry is decorated with triangles. The bottom is decorated with solid forms and 4 rows of diamonds. At the center is an arch similar to the portal that once existed on the church of Nuestra Señora de la Gracia. The roof is covered with blue and green tiles.

24) Nuestra Señora de la Gracia was also known as San Agustín. There is conflicting information about the church's date of construction. The structure dated from the early 18th century. The church was constructed of brick. The facade appears as if it had been covered with mud and then lines were carved into the adobe, possibly to give the church a rustic look. The friars plastered over and whitewashed the original facade. The artist Luis Alberto Acuña cleaned the walls and restored the facade to its original condition in 1940. The Church was sold on the order of the bishop of Cali to Droguerías Aliadas de Medellín, whose executives tore down the church on September 25, 1945.

25) The upper portion of the facade was decorated with three niches containing terra cotta figures of Nuestra Señora de la Gracia in the upper portion--St. Augustin at the left and St. Thomas de Villanova. These statues surrounded a window covered by a grill which depicted a human face.

POPAYAN The city was officially founded in 1537 and is the capital of the Department of Cauca. The city was home to no fewer than 11 presidents of Colombia.

26) La Hermita is the oldest of Popayán's existing churches. This hermitage underwent restorations between 1860 and 1870. Work in the early 20th century changed the roof and facade. The church suffered damage in a 1983 earthquake. The church, with its simple white-washed exterior is reached by ascending the incline of the street.

Belén, described as a fairy castle on the hill, was founded in 1679. It once belonged to the Carmelite Order. The original church was ruined by an earthquake in 1885. An earthquake in 1925 damaged one tower. During the restoration both towers were somewhat modified.

27) San Francisco's construction began in 1775 and the work was completed in 1795. The principal facade is divided into three sections. The main entry portal is flanked by two pairs of Corinthian columns, the images of St. Dominick & St. Francis and two smaller portals at the far right and left. The Corinthian columns continue onto the second section ending in pinnacle projections. An image of Immaculata and a window with a rounded top appear at the center of the second level. San Francisco's bell tower was dedicated to St. Anthony.

28) San Francisco's elaborately carved wooden pulpit shows the figures of several bishops of Popayán.

SILVIA is located in a high valley 34 miles N.E. of Popayán. Silvia is described as a typical Indian town or typical village of adobe houses. The area is inhabited by Guambiano (Moguex) Indians who wear their blue and fuchsia costumes. The local market is conducted on Tuesday. According to present-day sources, it is full of Otavalo Indians from Ecuador. The market is described as a very colorful event.

29) The photo shows the road leading into the village of Silvia.

30 & 31) These photos show Guambiano (Moguex) women, wearing their traditional costumes, spinning wool for weaving.

32) This photo shows Paéz Indians, a neighboring tribe of the Guambiano, at the Silvia market.

Representative Images from the Exhibit

Map of Colombia


Plaza de la Aduana and domes of San Pedro Claver.

Unattributed. Plaza de la Aduana and domes of San Pedro Claver.
Cartagena, Colombia. Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen Collection.


Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, photographer. Chimila Man Playing a Flute.

Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, photographer. Chimila Man Playing a Flute.
Magdalena Department, Colombia. Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen Collection.


Altar with a Chibcha Sun Motif. Santo Domingo Church.

Unattributed. Altar with a Chibcha Sun Motif. Santo Domingo Church.
Tunja, Boyacá Department, Colombia. Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen Collection.


Carved and Painted Ceiling over the Apse. Church of Santa Clara el Real.

Unattributed. Carved and Painted Ceiling over the Apse. Church of Santa Clara el Real.
Tunja, Boyacá Department, Colombia. Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen Collection.


Unattributed. Parish church, surrounding buildings and market.

Unattributed. Parish church, surrounding buildings and market.
Villa de Leiva, Colombia, 1945. Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen Collection.


G. Cuéllar, photographer. Plaza Bolívar

G. Cuéllar, photographer. Plaza Bolívar.
Bogotá, Colombia. Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen Collection.


G. Cuéllar, photographer. Market Along the River Banks.

G. Cuéllar, photographer. Market Along the River Banks.
Magdalena River, Colombia. Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen Collection.


Church of Nuestra Señora de la Gracia. [Demolished, September 25, 1945.]

Church of Nuestra Señora de la Gracia. [Demolished, September 25, 1945.]
Cali, Valle Department, Colombia. Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen Collection.


Church of La Hermita. Popayán, Cauca Department, Colombia

Church of La Hermita. Popayán, Cauca Department, Colombia.
Pál and Elisabeth Kelemen Collection.

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