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32 Places to Discover Colombian Colonial Architecture

Heritage Towns Colombia Guide

Updated on 05/02/2024

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Colombia’s colonial architecture is a reflection of the country’s rich history, fusing indigenous, Arab, Spanish and African influences. During the colonial era, churches, houses, squares and fortifications were built that still stand out for their beauty. We invite you to get to know some of the most important buildings around the country through this blog.

What is Colonial Architecture in Colombia?

Colonial architecture in Colombia flourished between 1538 and 1819, during Spanish rule. This architecture transformed the way of life of the indigenous community, which before the arrival of the Spaniards, used stone, mud, and guadua (a type of bamboo) to construct structures with palm or straw roofs.

The Spaniards introduced construction methods from Spain and Africa into all kinds of buildings, from houses to churches, and also designed cities following a grid pattern. Thus, the constructions reflected the orders of the Spanish crown and blended with local cultures. Urban centers with chapels, churches, squares, and colonial houses emerged in departments such as Antioquia, Cundinamarca, Magdalena, and Santander.

These constructions are not only visually appealing but also have significant historical importance during the colonization period and today, offering a unique opportunity to learn about history and appreciate the rich architectural heritage of this country.

Below are some of the sites with colonial architecture that you must visit, not only for their attractiveness but also for their historical value.

Landscape of candelaria architecture

Prominent Places to Observe Colonial Architecture in Colombia

Bogotá, Cundinamarca

Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, was founded by the Spanish Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada on August 6, 1538. During the colonial era, Bogotá was an important administrative and religious center. Therefore, this city has multiple colonial structures and places that represent the culture and history of those years. Some of them are:

Colombia’s Primatial Cathedral

The Metropolitan Basilica Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and St. Peter in Bogotá is a neoclassical church situated in the historic center of Bogotá. It stands as the largest cathedral in Colombia and one of the largest in Latin America. Designed by Fray Domingo de Petrés, construction began in 1807 and was completed in 1823. The cathedral is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and St. Peter.

Catedral Primada de Colombia

The Mint House

Once a bustling mint where coins were crafted, nestled in the heart of the city. Constructed in 1621 under the direction of Spanish military engineer Alonso Turrillo de Yebra, it now serves as a museum housing the esteemed collection of coins, banknotes, and art curated by the Bank of the Republic.

San Agustin Church

A Catholic temple devoted to Saint Augustine of Hippo. Situated in the heart of Bogotá within the historic district. In the past, the temple was part of the ancient convent of the Order of Saint Augustine, constructed between 1642 and 1688. The church houses religious artworks of colonial origin, adding to its historical significance.

Santa Clara Church Museum

This structure stands as Colombia’s sole church museum, making it one of the country’s most emblematic museums. Built between 1619 and 1647, it belonged to the Franciscan Order of the Poor Clares, founded in 1619. Within its walls reside numerous paintings and religious artifacts spanning the 17th to 20th centuries.

The Flower Vase House

This is a historic building situated facing Bolívar Square in the heart of Bogotá. Today, it serves as the Independence Museum, dedicated to Colombia’s struggle for independence. Originally constructed in the late 16th century for the eldest son of the conquistador and mayor of Bogotá, Hernán Venegas Carrillo, it gained fame as the site of the independence proclamation during the events surrounding the Flower Vase incident involving José González Llorente.

Simón Bolívar Square

Once a bustling marketplace, now a plaza paying homage to Bolívar, the renowned liberator. This iconic location sits at the heart of Bogotá and stands as one of the city’s most emblematic spots. Established in 1539, this site hosts well-known religious and governmental buildings such as the Primatial Cathedral of Colombia, the Congress, the Palace of Justice, the Flower Vase House, and other architectural wonders.

La Candelaria

Renowned as Bogotá’s oldest neighborhood, La Candelaria exudes historic charm and cultural richness, boasting captivating colonial architecture and a diverse array of entertainment options. From charming restaurants and theaters to bustling bars, churches, and inviting squares, the neighborhood pulsates with life, creating a vibrant atmosphere. It’s no wonder that La Candelaria ranks among the top destinations in Bogotá, cherished by both locals and international visitors alike.

Indeed, one of the most frequented spots in La Candelaria is the Chorro de Quevedo. Legend has it that this was a spring or well where Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada founded Bogotá in 1538. Today, it’s a gathering place where people come together to chat with friends and enjoy typical drinks like beer or chicha (a fermented corn beverage).

Just like these colonial remnants, Bogotá boasts numerous other culturally significant constructions scattered throughout the city, each with captivating tales of the capital’s development.

Exploring Bogotá’s most iconic architectural landmarks makes for an incredible tourist experience.

Villa de Leyva, Boyacá

This municipality, founded in 1572 by Hernán Suárez de Villalobos and Andrés Díaz de Leyva, is located in the department of Boyacá and is also known for its colonial architecture. Its central square is one of the largest in Latin America and is surrounded by cobbled streets and well-preserved houses.

Among its most notable buildings that you must visit are:

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church

This is a Catholic temple built in 1850, featuring two chapels—one belonging to the monastery in honor of the Virgin of Mount Carmel, and the main chapel called “Renewed Beautiful Mama.” Designated a national monument, this temple is dedicated to the worship of the Virgin Mary under the invocation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

San Agustin Cloister

Construction on this site began in 1586 and concluded in 1659, with renovations taking place in 1992. Today, it serves as the headquarters for the Alexander Von Humboldt Institute of Biological Resources Research, a non-profit organization dedicated to biodiversity and ecosystem services research.

Main Square of Villa de Leyva

The Main Square of Villa de Leyva, renovated in 1960, is an expansive open space spanning 14,000 square meters, celebrated for its colonial architectural design and the array of similarly styled buildings surrounding it. For instance, there’s the Our Lady of the Rosary parish, restaurants like the Chocolate Museum, bars, shops, hotels, among others. Cultural events are often held in this square, such as the Kite Festival, the Astronomical Festival, and the Flavor and Knowledge Encounter, which you’re welcome to attend as well.

Villa de Leyva panoramic view

Tunja, Boyacá

Tunja, nestled on Colombia’s Andean plateau, traces its roots back to 1539 when Captain Gonzalo Suárez Rendón founded it. What’s fascinating is that Tunja ranks among the oldest cities in the country and held a pivotal role during the Spanish conquest era. Its colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and historic landmarks continue to imbue this city with architectural and cultural richness to this day.

Santo Domingo Church

This church is located in the historic center of Tunja. It was built in the year 1560. Besides being a colonial structure, this construction blends other styles such as Elizabethan Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Inside the church, the decoration depicts the life of Saint Dominic.

San Laureano Church

The Hermitage of San Laureano is one of the 14 Hispanic churches in the city, situated in the San Laureano square. It was constructed in 1566.

Nieves Church

This temple, too, can be found in the historic center of the city; it was built in 1572. Founded in honor of Saint Peter the Apostle, under the command of Mayor Miguel de Holguín, it later adopted the invocation of Our Lady of the Snows.

Santa Clara La Real Convent

The Santa Clara La Real Convent is both a church and a convent, established in 1571. It stands as the country’s first female convent and features a Sevillian-style cloister. The church is adorned with paintings depicting churches from other countries and a coffered ceiling showcasing the Eucharist, symbolizing the daughters of Saint Clare of Assisi.

Cartagena, Bolívar

Cartagena, founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, is regarded as the most beautiful colonial city in Latin America. It was one of the cities most heavily influenced by Spain, as it served as a key and vital port for Spanish colonization, bridging Spain with the New World. Its historic center is renowned for its ornate and colorful houses adorned with wooden balconies. Additionally, its walls are a popular spot frequented by locals and foreigners alike.

Some famous colonial sites around Cartagena include:

Walled City

The walled city is part of Cartagena’s historic center, renowned for its cobblestone streets, colonial buildings and houses, and historic walls that encircle the city. Within it, you’ll find other colonial structures like the Palace of the Inquisition.

Clock Tower

It serves as the main entrance to the historic center of Cartagena, located between Independence Square and Carriages Square. Built between 1704 and 1738 by military engineer Juan de Herrera y Sotomayor, it is also known as the “Clock Gate” due to the clock installed at its top in the early 18th century.

Clock tower Monument in historical center of Cartagena Colombia

San Ignacio Bastion

This bastion, formerly known as the “Bastion of the Moors,” is part of the extensive fortifications erected by the Spanish to defend the city of Cartagena. Completed in 1630 by Cristóbal de Roda, it was constructed to safeguard Bocagrande, another entrance to the bay of Cartagena.

San Felipe de Barajas Castle

This fortress, built in 1657, sits atop a hill called San Lázaro. It was erected to safeguard the city from pirate attacks and is named after King Felipe IV of Spain. Today, it stands as one of Cartagena’s iconic structures and main tourist attractions.

Santo Domingo Square

This beautiful square is the heart of the historic center. It gets its name from the Santo Domingo Church, situated on one side of the square. At its center stands the statue of the poet Luis Carlos López, surrounded by restaurants, cafes, and shops. The Santo Domingo Church, with its characteristic leaning bell tower, overlooks the square.

Santa Marta, Magdalena

Founded in 1525 by Rodrigo de Bastidas, Santa Marta stands as one of the oldest cities in South America, situated on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. This destination boasts a rich history and offers a blend of cultural, historical, and natural attractions. From captivating beaches to majestic mountains, Santa Marta is a place that seamlessly combines natural beauty with colonial remnants in its historic buildings.

Customs House

This building is located in Bolivar Square in Santa Marta. It was constructed in 1730 and served as the customs office in the port of Santa Marta during the colonial era. Today, it operates as the Tairona Gold Museum, showcasing the culture and goldwork of the ancient inhabitants of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

Basilica Cathedral of Santa Marta

The Basilica Cathedral of the Shrine and Saint Michael of Santa Marta is a Renaissance-style Catholic temple. It was built in 1760 by order of Bishop Nicolás Gil Martínez Malo and Governor Andrés Pérez. Its structure is supported by thick columns, and its dome is designed in a Byzantine style.

Cathedral Basilica in Santa Marta

San Juan Nepomuceno Cloister

This is a cultural center located in the historic center of Santa Marta. Initially built for the Royal Seminary, which aimed to educate future priests of the church. Today, it serves as a cultural center for locals and foreigners to explore the richness and culture of the region.

Popayán, Cauca

The city of Popayán, founded in 1537 by Sebastián Belalcázar, also known as the “White City,” is renowned for its well-preserved colonial structures. Its historic center covers an area of approximately 236 blocks, making it one of the largest in the country and in Latin America.

Clock Tower

It’s a bell tower located in Caldas Park, in the historic center of Popayán. It was built between 1673 and 1682. It’s also known as the “Nose of Popayán” and is part of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption or of the Transit. Over time, it has become one of the most symbolic emblems of the White City, serving as a landmark for locals and tourists alike.

San Francisco Church

This is one of Colombia’s most important Catholic temples due to its late Neogranadine Baroque style. It was constructed in the 16th century and reconstructed between 1765 and 1788. The church features ten altars adorned with images of saints such as Saint Peter Alcántara, the Lord of the Coronation, the Christ of Veracruz, and Saint Francis of Assisi.

Saint Francisco Church in Popayan

Monastery of the Franciscan Order

This building is a hostel that previously functioned as a monastery. Founded by Fray Jodoco Ricke in 1570, it’s one of the most extensive convent complexes in the entire region. While it suffered earthquake damage in the 16th century, it was renovated in the 1960s and transformed into a hotel. It’s one of the most exclusive hotels in the Cauca region.

Royal Seminary of San Francisco de Asís

Today, this building houses the Popayán University Foundation. However, it was formerly a prestigious seminary college, established in 1642 by the Society of Jesus.

Hermitage of Jesus of Nazareth

This Catholic church is situated in the historic center of Popayán. It’s the city’s oldest Catholic temple and was initially built in 1612 to impart doctrine to indigenous peoples. The hermitage pays homage to Saint Barbara and Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

Other important towns with colonial architecture

Barichara, Santander

Barichara is a municipality located in Santander, known for its entirely sustainable colonial architecture. Its streets are cobbled, and its urban layout is a blend of natural and artisanal craftsmanship.

This town has maintained its architecture intact since 1705 and is considered one of the most beautiful in Colombia. Some tourist attractions within Barichara include the Suárez viewpoint and the colonial royal road that connects with the municipality of Guane.

Among its constructions, you can also find the Temple of the Immaculate Conception and San Lorenzo Mártir, built in the 18th century, which is the largest church in the town. The main square is also noteworthy, and in general, the entire municipality exudes this colonial-era architecture.

In essence, Barichara is a magical place. In addition to its incredible aesthetics, it’s a perfect spot to indulge in delicious Colombian dishes and engage in outdoor sports.

Barichara's main square

Mompox, Bolívar

The municipality of Mompox in the department of Bolívar has a very large cultural and architectural value, due to its colonial atmosphere that gives the sensation of having traveled back in time.

Among its houses and its colonial streets, some of its most outstanding buildings are:

San Carlos Municipal Palace

The San Carlos Municipal Palace is a historic building located on Municipal Palace Street. It was constructed in the late 17th century and served as the region’s first secondary education institution. Today, it serves as the seat of the municipal government.

Mompox Cemetery

Known for its colonial architecture, mausoleums, and monuments, Mompox Cemetery is hailed as one of Colombia’s most beautiful cemeteries due to its cultural heritage. It also offers a tour that delves into local mysteries and legends.

Santa Barbara Church

The Santa Barbara Church is an architectural gem built in the 17th century. This Catholic church stands as a prominent example of religious architecture from that era. Its facade boasts ornamental Baroque elements, with intricately carved details that captivate visitors.

Guatavita, Cundinamarca

This municipality located in the department of Cundinamarca boasts a much older history predating the arrival of the Spanish. It is renowned for being the setting of the popular legend of El Dorado. It is also ancient Chibcha territory, where traditions and religious customs are still upheld.

However, it also has colonial structures, among which stands out:

Our Lady of Sorrows Church

Built in the 16th century, Our Lady of Sorrows Church is a grand edifice adorned with monumental lamps and a neogranadino-style shrine featuring mirrors and gilded accents. The church belongs to the Diocese of Zipaquirá.

Characteristics of Colombian Colonial Architecture

Colombian colonial architecture reflects the Spanish colonization of the country during that era. These constructions or cities, as mentioned earlier, have a series of distinctive characteristics that have been maintained and preserved in historic buildings throughout the country.

Here are some of the general elements you will observe in houses or churches:


During the colonial era, houses were characterized by their spacious interiors, quaintness, and simplicity. They were mainly built for wealthy families who had the resources to own a cutting-edge home, which in fact, conferred status upon them.

These houses were also used as vacation homes, particularly the mansions, which were larger houses representing not only the residences of colonial elites but also symbols of status, power, and prosperity. These imposing structures were architectural reflections of the social and economic hierarchy that existed in colonial society.

Mansions, also known as estates or manor houses, were built by landowners, aristocrats, and colonial officials seeking to establish their presence in the Spanish colonies.

These buildings not only served as luxurious residences but also fulfilled administrative, commercial, and social functions. The architecture of these mansions reflected the influence of European styles of the time, especially the baroque and neoclassical.

In addition to their residential function, mansions were centers of power from which properties were managed, economic decisions were made, and important social events were held.

  • The facade is usually white, and the doors, including the frames, are made of wood painted in green or dark black colors. Facades also feature numerous stones at the lower ends.
  • Due to the heritage of Spanish regions such as Andalusia and Extremadura, buildings, like houses, typically have an inner and central courtyard.
  • Roofs are made of clay tiles.
  • Constructions generally have balconies.
  • Among the construction materials, clay was still used, as in the pre-Columbian era, but others were also included, such as plaster, stones, bricks, and wood.
  • Among its most distinctive features were:
    • Thick walls
    • Separate rooms
    • Religious decoration and ornamentation (Catholic)
    • Spaces for employees
Heritage Towns Colombia Guide


Churches and chapels were important structures during the colonial era, as Spanish culture was highly religious and aimed to instill and enforce its doctrines in its colonies.

These churches were designed with a striking aesthetic to praise and honor God and other Catholic saints in the best possible way. This is reflected in elaborate statues, expensive paintings, and high-quality ornamentation surrounding them. Moreover, in these elements, one can see the influence of the Renaissance and Baroque movements, which were popular in Europe during that time.

Many of these churches are still preserved and function as places of worship for many Colombians, in addition to being a heritage for the country. The most striking aspects of the churches are:

  • Latin cross plan: many colonial churches in Colombia followed a Latin cross-shaped plan, with a central nave and two arms forming a cross. This allowed for an efficient distribution and arrangement of the faithful.
  • Main altar: the main altar was a central feature of the church and was often located at the intersection point of the cross. It was decorated with baroque and renaissance elements, with carved and gilded altarpieces.
  • Archways and columns: The facades of colonial churches were often adorned with semicircular arches and carved columns. These elements were characteristic of Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
  • Domes and bell towers: many colonial churches had domes or bell towers, which were often decorated with glazed ceramic tiles. These structures were visible on the horizon of colonial cities.
  • High windows and balconies: to allow light and air to enter, colonial churches had high and narrow windows. Wooden balconies were often used for music and choir.
  • Paintings and frescoes: the interior of churches was decorated with religious paintings and frescoes. Many churches also had side chapels and altars dedicated to specific saints.
  • Courtyards and cloisters: some churches had interior courtyards and cloisters that were used for religious and educational activities.
  • Their durability over time: it is worth noting that these churches were built with stone, brick, adobe, wood, sugarcane, and in some cases, coral stone. This is why churches tend to be very resilient and long-lasting.
San Pedro in Cartagena

Who Preserves Colombian Colonial Architecture?

In Colombia, the majority of colonial buildings are national monuments that constitute a cultural heritage and shape local identity. Specifically, they are referred to as movable cultural heritage.

In fact, Colombia’s Political Constitution in Article 8 states succinctly that it is the duty of the state and individuals to protect the cultural and natural riches of the nation.

As a result, colonial buildings represent an invaluable cultural heritage (article 72), protected by constitutional provisions. And, beyond their historical significance, these structures are fundamental to national identity. However, they face constant threats such as natural disasters, vandalism, and citizen disinterest.

Therefore, it is important to remember that the preservation of this heritage not only involves preserving history but also maintaining a living connection with the cultural roots of our ancestors.

Caring for these buildings and learning more about them is essential for transmitting the richness of Colombian heritage to future generations and fostering a sense of belonging and national pride.

In summary, colonial architecture was designed to incorporate public life, religion, and private life, fostering better relationships among inhabitants through carefully designed city spaces. Hence, squares, parks, and temples were the core of such societies.

And to this day, this is evident; the beauty of these constructions blends with the vibrancy of modernity and entertainment offerings. So keep discovering more about the history of Colombia with us.

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About Author



Hello! I'm Frank Spitzer, the founder and the heart behind Pelecanus, a specialized tour operator for Colombia travel. My journey in travel is vast and rich – I've explored over 60 countries, absorbing cultures, experiences, and stories along the way. Since 2017, I've been channeling this wealth of global experience into creating unforgettable travel experiences in Colombia. I'm recognized as a leading authority in Colombian tourism, with a deep-seated passion for sharing this beautiful country with the world. You can catch glimpses of my travel adventures and insights around Colombia on my YouTube channel. I'm also active on social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, where I share the vibrant culture and stunning landscapes of Colombia. For professional networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Join me on this incredible journey, and let's explore the wonders of Colombia together!

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