History of Colombia: Timeline

Pre-Columbian Era

18,000 – 8000 BCE

The oldest archaeological finds in Colombia are from the Pubenza and El Totumo sites in the Magdalena Valley 62 miles (100 km ) southwest of Bogotá.

5000 – 1000 BCE

Hunter-gatherer tribes transitioned to agrarian societies; fixed settlements were established, and pottery appeared. The oldest pottery discovered in the Americas, was found at San Jacinto, dating from 5000–4000 BCE

1000BCE – 400 CE

The Muisca (also known as Chibchas) inhabited the Departments of Boyacá and Cundinamarca high plateau (Altiplano Cundiboyacense) where they formed the Muisca Confederation. They farmed maize, potato, quinoa, and cotton, and traded gold, emeralds, blankets, ceramic handicrafts, coca and especially rock salt with neighboring nations.

The Muisca established one of the four grand civilisations of the pre-Columbian Americas on the Altiplano Cundiboyacense in present-day central Colombia. Their various forms of art have been described in detail and include pottery, textiles, body art, hieroglyphs and rock art. While their architecture was modest compared to the Inca, Aztec and Maya civilisations, the Muisca are best known for their skilled goldworking.

Tunjos from the Muisca, MFA Collection. Photo by: Maria G. Acuña
Bird Pendant. 10th–16th century. Cr. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Tairona inhabited northern Colombia in the isolated mountain range of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Knowledge sources about the pre-Columbian Tairona civilization are limited to archaeological findings and a few written references from the Spanish colonial era. One of the first descriptions of the region was written by Pedro Martyr d’ Anghiera and was published in 1530. The area also was described by other explorers who visited the region between 1505 and 1524. Anghiera portrays the Tairona valleys as densely populated, with extensive fields irrigated in the same way as those in Tuscany. Many villages were dedicated to fishing and traded their marine goods for the rest of their needs with those living inland. Anghiera describes how they aggressively repelled the Spanish.

The Tairona civilization is most renowned for its distinctive gold work. Cast Tairona figure pendants (known as “caciques”) in particular stand out among the gold works of pre-Columbian America because of their richness in detail.

Cr. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. USA

The Quimbaya inhabited regions of the Cauca River Valley between the Western and Central Ranges of the Colombian Andes. Most of the Amerindians practiced agriculture and the social structure of each indigenous community was different.

Cr. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. USA

Colonial period

1499 – 1525

The Spanish were the first Europeans to set foot in South America. These are the names of the Spaniards who explored and conquered lands in Colombia for the crown of Spain:

Christopher Columbus explores the Caribbean in various trips starting 1492. Alonso de Ojeda (who had sailed with Columbus) reached the Guajira Peninsula in 1499. European exploration of the Colombian coastline was accomplished by Rodrigo de Bastidas, who in 1500–01 sailed the Caribbean coast from Cape of La Vela to Point Manzanilla in Panama, and by Francisco Pizarro, who sailed the Pacific coast in 1525. (1)

In 1508, Vasco Núñez de Balboa accompanied an expedition to the territory through the region of Gulf of Urabá and they founded the town of Santa María la Antigua del Darién in 1510, the first stable settlement on the continent.

Vasco Nuñez de Balboa (1475-1517) Painter unknown. Cr. Wikimedia Commons via cvc.cervantes. es

The actual conquest of Colombia began in 1525 when Rodrigo de Bastidas founded Santa Marta on the north coast.

Santa Marta today. Cr. hwww.musement. com

1533 – 1600

In 1533 Pedro de Heredía founded Cartagena de Indias or Cartagena, which became one of the major naval and merchant marine bases of the Spanish empire. 

Spanish explorer Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada led an expedition to the interior in April 1536, and Christened the districts through which he passed “New Kingdom of Granada.” In August 1538, he founded provisionally its capital near the and named it “Santa Fe”. The name soon acquired a suffix and was called Santa Fe de Bogotá.

Two other notable journeys by early conquistadors to the interior took place in the same period. Sebastián de Belalcázar, conqueror of Quito, traveled north and founded Cali, in 1536, and Popayán, in 1537.  From 1536 to 1539, German conquistador Nikolaus Federmann crossed the Llanos Orientales and went over the Cordillera Oriental in a search for El Dorado, the “city of gold.” The legend and the gold would play a pivotal role in luring the Spanish and other Europeans to New Granada during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish made frequent alliances with the enemies of different indigenous communities to conquest and to maintain their empire. 

These three conquerors submitted their claims to the court of Spain. Nikolaus Federmann received nothing. Sebastián de Belalcázar was named governor of Popayán, and Jiménez de Quesada was given the military title of marshal and was allowed to remain on the land he had won for Spain. (3)

Indigenous peoples in New Granada experienced a decline in population as they treated like slaves; from the early 16th century they were subject to the encomienda system (requiring tribute in the form of gold or labour). (2) Many of them died due to Eurasian diseases such as smallpox, to which they had no immunity. These diseases were brought by the wave of Spaniards looking to enrich themselves in the colonized territories, creating large farms and taking possession of mines.

In the 16th century, European slave traders had begun to bring enslaved Africans to the Americas. Spain was the only European power that did not establish factories in Africa to purchase slaves; the Spanish Empire instead relied on the “asiento” system, awarding merchants from other European nations the license to trade enslaved peoples to their overseas territories. This system brought Africans to Colombia, although many spoke out against the institution. (1)

1717 The Viceroyalty of New Granada

The Viceroyalty of New Granada was established in 1717, then temporarily removed, and then re-established in 1739. Its capital was Santa Fé de Bogotá. It administers Colombia, Panamá, Venezuela and Ecuador.

Map of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. Cr. Milenioscuro, Wikimedia Commons.
Flag of La Gran Colombia

Bogotá became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City, though it remained somewhat backward compared to those two cities in several economic and logistical ways. Cartagena developed as the major port through which all trade with South America was supposed to travel.

In the next decades the crown introduced political and economic measures to reorganize and strengthen the empire by greater centralization of authority, improved administration and communication, and freer development and movement of trade within the empire. Population grew, trade increased, and prosperity touched the colonial subjects. There was a spurt of intellectual activity and the formation of a corps of intellectuals and professional men among “Criollos” (whites born in Spanish America), many in government positions. (2)


The first rebellion, a tax rebellion becomes the first revolt against the Spanish power. Napoleon Bonaparte takes over the Spanish Crown and gives it to his brother Joseph. Many Spanish Colonies refuse Joseph as their ruler and this fueled the movement of independence.

Colombian Independence

1810 – 1819

Because Spain was still involved in its war against France it was not able to defend for its colonies creating a power vacuum. This discontent and uncertainty paved the way for many provinces in New Granada to declare their independence. Criollo leaders sought to centralize authority over the new governments. Cartagena declared its independence in May 1810. Bogotá followed suit on July 20, 1810.

A series of civil wars ensued, facilitating Spanish reconquest of the United Provinces of New Granada between 1814 and 1816. A remnant of republican forces fled to the llanos of Casanare, where they reorganized under Francisco de Paula Santander, a Colombian general who remained a prominent figure in Granadine politics.

General Francisco de Paula Santander painted by Ricardo Acevedo Bernal

The rebel forces in Casanare joined those of the Venezuelan general Simón Bolívar,  in the Orinoco basin. By 1819 arrangements for a regular government were completed, and a constitutional convention met at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar, Venezuela) with delegates from Casanare and some Venezuelan provinces.

In that same year Bolívar invaded Colombia and decisively defeated the Spanish forces on August 7 at Boyacá in 1819 giving Colombia its permanent independence. The decisive Battle of Carabobo followed soon after giving independence to Venezuela in 1821, then that of Pichincha, Ecuador, in 1822. Mopping-up operations were completed in 1823, and Bolívar led his forces onto Peru.

Simón Bolivar (center) in the battle of Boyacá.

The Congress of Angostura laid the foundation for the formation of the Republic of Colombia (La Gran Colombia) (1819–30), which was generally known as Gran Colombia because it included what are now the separate countries of Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, and Ecuador. However, Bolivar and the rest of the generals could not agree in the new form of government. Bolivar preferred a strong central government, while José Antonio Páez and Francisco de Paula Santander pushed for a federation of sovereign states. The Congress of Cúcuta in 1821 adopted a constitution for the new Republic. Simón Bolívar became the first President of Colombia, and Francisco de Paula Santander was made Vice President.

After some unrest while securing Ecuador’s and Perú’s independence, Bolivar returned and established a dictatorship with Santander as vice-president. After his death in 1830, Santander became president and instituted a democratic state. La Gran Colombia dissolves as Venezuela and Ecuador become independent. Colombia becomes the Republic of New Granada (again).

1949 – 1902

By 1949 two political parties were established… the conservatives who favored a centralized government tied with the Catholic Church and the Liberals, who wished for a federation of states and the separation of church and state. The economy experienced very little growth during this time. Armed civil conflict reached its peak in the War of a Thousand Days (1899–1903). The estimates of the number of deaths in that struggle range from 60,000 to 130,000. (2)


The devastating civil war was followed by the loss of Panamá. The Colombian Congress refused an offer from the United States to build a canal across the isthmus, and in 1903 the Panamanians revolted against the government in Bogotá. They negotiated a treaty with the United States that created a Canal Zone 10 miles (16 km) wide under U.S. sovereignty in exchange for an agreement by the United States to build the canal and to provide a regular annual payment to Panamá.



Colombia becomes more stable as it develops a strong foreign trade initially by exporting coffee. Multinational corporations invested in bananas and oil production. Colombia experienced an economic boom in the 1920’s but it was short lived as it led to inflation.


This was a period of great strive for Colombia as the World Wide Great Depression and World Wars worsened the livelihood of its people.

1948 – 1957

“La. violencia” (The violence) begins. This was a period of civil conflict in the countryside between the conservatives and the liberals. It is estimated that between 1946 and 1964 alone, 200,000 people lost their lives. (3) The most spectacular aspect of the violence, however, was the extreme cruelty perpetrated on the victims, which has been a topic of continuing study for Colombians. (4)


Women win the right to vote.

The liberal and conservative parties form the “National Front” a coalition that would jointly govern the country. Under the deal, the presidency would alternate between conservatives and liberals every 4 years for 16 years; the two parties would have parity in all other elective offices. The National Front ended “La Violencia.”

A mother cries to a picture of her missing son during a vigil in the Center of Medellin, Colombia, Feb. 2015. Every Friday, the association of mothers of the Candelaria organizes a vigil to remember and demand the return of their missing relatives. There are more than 96,000 people missing in Colombia.
Cr. Alvaro Ybarra Zavala

The exclusion of other parties leads to the outbreak of guerilla movements. The first was the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional; ELN), which was created by a group of Colombian students who had studied in Cuba. Founded in 1964, the ELN followed strategies espoused by Che Guevara. Another guerrilla group, which followed two years later, was the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia; FARC), which was more connected to Soviet-influenced communist movements. (2)

In the 1970 presidential election Misael Pastrana Borrero, the Conservative candidate backed by the National Front, nearly lost to former dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla as the urban vote went strongly against the Front. The lower middle and working classes felt unrepresented by the traditional parties.


Unhappiness with the 1970 election gave rise to another guerrilla group, the 19th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de Abril, or M-19), named for the date that the group asserted the election was “stolen” from Pinilla.


The National Front agreement is extended by 17 years.


The rise of drug lords begins. Two major Mafia-like organizations—dubbed drug cartels—evolved from this illicit, lucrative trade: the first in Medellín, led by Pablo Escobar, and the second in Cali.


Pablo Escobar is killed.

21st Century


The U.S. Congress approved a controversial 1.3 billion dollars aid program that supplied Colombia with military assistance to help control the cocaine trade. The FARC continued to expand coca production, however, and economic uncertainties and the spectre of political violence remained major issues at the end of Pastrana’s term. Álvaro Uribe Vélez, an independent, was elected president in 2002 on promises to end the long-standing and violent conflict with guerrilla groups and restore security to the country. (2)

Cr. alvarouribevelez. com


A peace agreement was negotiated between the government and the AUC, and by 2004 AUC members had disarmed. Some members of the FARC and the ELN gave up their weapons as well in exchange for a “lighter punishment.” Uribe was reelected in 2006 by amending the constitution.


Millions of Colombians demonstrated against FARC and other outlawed groups.


Juan Manuel Santos, a former minister of defense is elected president. After peace negotiations in Cuba, the Colombian government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the guerrillas of the FARC-EP announced a final agreement to end the conflict. However, a referendum to ratify the deal was unsuccessful. Afterward, the Colombian government and the FARC signed a revised peace deal in November 2016, which the Colombian congress approved. (1)

Venezuela cuts diplomatic ties with Colombia due to ideological differences between the two governments.


President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. A Special Jurisdiction of Peace was created to investigate, clarify, prosecute and punish serious human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law which occurred during the armed conflict and to satisfy victims’ right to justice.

Cr. BBC News


Ivan Duque, the candidate of the right-wing Democratic Center party, won the presidential election.


The COVID-19 pandemic strikes Colombia.


Gustavo Petro Urrego and ex-guerilla becomes the first leftist president of Colombia winning by a short margin. 50.47% of the vote went to Gustavo Petro Urrego compared to 47.27% for independent candidate Rodolfo Hernández.

Francia Elena Márquez Mina a Colombian human-rights and environmental activist and lawyer, who is the 13th and current Vice President of Colombia is the first  Afro-Colombian vice president in the country’s history.

Gustavo Petro Urrego y Francia Marquez. Cr. mesanacionaldevictimas. org


(1) Wikipedia

(2) Encyclopedia Britannica

(3) Book: Cultures of the world, Colombia. ©2023 Cavendish Square Publishing, LLC.

1 Comment

  1. Muy bien resumidos los más de 500 años de historia de la República de Colombia. Que abarca su período Prehispánico, Descubrimiento, Colonial, Independencia y Contemporáneo.
    Destacando sus aspectos culturales y económicos.


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