I’m always surprised and excited to hear Bogotá’s numerous stories and myths, as told by the people for the people. It’s one thing to learn about Bogotá history from a book, and it’s another to learn about it from the myths and stories passed down from generation to generation. Sit back and enjoy the stories and myths I’m about to tell!
For me, talking about Bogotá is like a never-ending conversation. Not just because I was born and raised here, but because it’s truly an amazing place. I always get excited talking about my city and I really mean it and feel it because the love I have for it is like no other! Bogotá’s history is a melting pot of numerous stories and myths that have overcome time and survived to explain certain things that nobody knows for sure if they are real or not. These myths and stories are woven into the collective imagination of the locals and help us to understand and know important information about Bogotá (also read our article about historic fun facts). Here are some of the most popular ones!
Many of the buildings in the historic center, like the museums, offices, restaurants, even university campuses, were used as prisons, cellars, and mental hospitals during the 1700s and 1800s. That’s why people consider them haunted. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the building where I studied architecture for five wonderful years was believed to be a hospital for women that wanted to terminate their pregnancy and ended up going crazy (I know, I know); and so many historic buildings have these types of stories and who knows how many more surrounding them.
One of my favorite museums in Bogotá, the Museo Nacional (National Museum), was a prison called the Panoptic during the late 1700s. Its architectural plan is a cross and guards were placed in the center so they could watch all the four corridors at the same time. Who knows what happened there, but I wouldn’t want to go at night, that’s for sure! Even the Palacio de Nariño (Nariño’s Palace), the president’s home and office, has numerous accounts of weird apparitions, ghosts, and inexplicable things that have happened. Many of the guards and the people that work there have been scared to death by who knows what.
El Bobo del Tranvía
One of the most popular myths, El Bobo del Tranvía (The Tram’s Fool), tells the story of a curious man named Antonin, who dressed like a policeman with a red cap, green shirt, black belt, yellow pants, blue boots, and a “stop” and “go” sign that he used to control traffic (he also had a very noisy whistle). At that time, around the 1930s, streetcars were popular public transportation in Bogotá. People considered Antonin to be a respectable, honorable man that performed the functions of a traffic policeman for free but did ask pedestrians and drivers for a small fee.
Antonin had a sister whom he loved to pieces and she was courted by a lot of men because of her beauty. One day, she escaped with a man and never came back. People say this caused Antonin great sadness, and that he became depressed and isolated, wandering the streets and lost with only his thoughts, until one day a streetcar ran him over. He died at the Sibaté Hospital, still waiting for his sister to return.
El Santuario de Monserrate
If you have been in Bogotá or you are eager to come soon, Monserrate has to be at the top of your list. In addition to being a touristic site, par excellence, its development and construction contain several myths that have been told for centuries. Monserrate is a hill that has a church (named El Santuario del Señor Caído de Monserrate and built in the late 1600s) at the top. You can hike, take the cableway, or the funicular to go all the way up and experience a spectacular view of Bogotá.
There’s a popular belief that the Eastern Hills of Bogotá host tons of mourning spirits, including the one Monserrate’s church was inspired by. Some people also claim that they have seen hair grow out of the statue inside the church and even climbed on their knees all the way to the sanctuary as a leap of faith for a miracle or to get healed by him.
People also believe that if you go to Monserrate with your partner, you’ll never get married because it’s bad luck. There’s also a point between Bogotá and the mountain where the sun rises and marks the path to reach the treasure of El Dorado (read our article about it to know more). On a darker note, there’s also the belief that the place where the church sits is an inactive volcano that one day will explode and cause great tragedy.
El Mono de la Pila
Around the end of the 1500s, people in Bogotá had to go to the San Francisco and San Agustín rivers to bathe and collect water for cooking, but this constituted a considerable effort because of the long walk. So, they passed a petition to the Spanish government asking for the urgent need and convenience of canalizing the water to the main square (Plaza de Bolívar) because it was closer and easier for everyone. And that’s how el El Mono de la Pila (The Fountain’s Kid) was born as the first public fountain in Bogotá. It was basically a small naked child carved in yellow stone, standing on a pedestal placed at the center with the water around it.
Mothers used to send their kids to bring the water from the fountain, but many of them didn’t fancy the idea because it was still an effort to carry the heavy buckets back home. So, they always arrived complaining and the mother said: “vaya y quéjese con el mono de la pila entonces”, or “go and complain to el Mono de la Pila then.” Nowadays, this phrase (read my article about traditional words and phrases in Bogotá) is still used whenever someone is complaining about something, but the fountain is now displayed at the National Museum as a witness of time, embodying a little bit of the history of Bogotá.
Bonus myth. Iggy Pop in La Candelaria: I like this myth because it’s anything but dramatic or sad. Many people still claim that the famous American punk rock singer had a Colombian girlfriend and for that reason, he lived a few months in La Candelaria (which is an amazing area you need to visit!). Others claim to have seen him in the Andino shopping center. But well, whether he was here or not, nobody will ever know.
If you want to know more myths and/or stories about Bogotá, my best recommendation is to talk to the locals; I assure you’ll get tons of amazing information and recommendations. You can also do tours around the city, especially the historic center that has dozens of really cool ones about diverse topics (graffiti, history, scary, etc.). You can get more information from our article about the most incredible free tours in Bogotá.
There are hundreds of stories and myths surrounding Bogotá that express our customs and traditions and culture. Nothing better than learning about our city in this way because sometimes, it just feels more fun and relatable than the official history we learn in books.
For other info about Bogotá’s history read our article about Simón Bolívar here.
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