THERE IS A HOUSE IN BOGOTÁ (CASA DE MONEDA)
There is a collection of museums in Bogotá, owned by the Banco de la República, which houses some of the nations most interesting treasures. They include the Casa de Moneda (House of Money), the Museo Botero, and the Museo de Arte del Banco de la República. All three of these museums are together in one building, the original mint of Bogotá, established in 1621 under order of the King of Spain, Fernando VI in the historical La Candelaria district of Bogotá. All of the precious works of art and incredible artifacts are free for the public’s viewing.
The first of the museums that we visited was the Casa de Moneda. The museum is dedicated to the history of monetary currency in pre-Columbian Colombia, the introduction of the minting process by the Spanish during their occupation of the territory of Nueva Granada, the subsequent standardization of the minting process, and the Colombians’ own movements towards creating an independent currency. For the Pre-Columbian people, money was a simple process of trading items with great value and were of a useful nature in their culture; such as, gold in many different forms, like earrings and ingots, or other items like ornaments, seashells, sugar, and blankets.
After the Spanish conquistadors populated the area and saw the abundance of gold and other precious metals, the ruling party of Spain (King Fernando VI) saw the opportunity to line his own coffers with the valuable resources Colombia provided. To cut on the costs, he created the first mint in Bogotá dedicated to the process of making doubloons. From a Western perspective, we often associate these coins with pirates, mostly due to the fact that the coins were created in Colombia and then transported to Spain. This was a ripe opportunity of those of a nefarious nature to plunder poorly guarded ships. Have you ever wondered why a doubloon is not perfectly round? We had always assumed that the shape was distorted with time or that during minting the process allowed for a misshapen coin but alas, we were wrong. After the minting, each coin was weighed to make sure it fit into the standards of the time. If the coin was too heavy for the tender it was created to be, the fabricators would cut small pieces off until it was within standards. Thus creating a coin with jagged edges.
As time went on and the technology allowed for more accuracy during the minting process, the coins became more circular and detailed in their visage. There were silver Reales and gold Escudos, each intricately detailed in their minting process, decorated on one side with the visage of the current king of Spain and on the other side, the location of the mint of origin, crosses, and the Spanish King’s Coat of Arms.
As the centuries went by and Colombia gained independence from Spain, the need for a new type of money arose, so the paper bill was introduced. Originally, the new money was so mistrusted that the Colombian people were known to hoard coins and refuse to take paper money in exchange for goods. And soon their mistrust proved to be in good reason. Money was very easy for the new, independent Colombian government to print. They would often print a plethora of paper bills without the gold or silver to back them. This would cause great inflation and generate turmoil among the people. Those who had hoarded the old coins, a practice that had been outlawed by the government, were able to purchase goods needed on a daily basis. Others suffered greatly during this time as the purchase of food, clothes, and other essentials became almost impossible.
Throughout Colombia’s modern history, they have struggled greatly with a solid currency but that did not stop them from having a detailed and intricate printing process. Their paper money was beautifully decorated with bright colors and ornate details. The processes they used were always the most modern and innovative, often using the examples, techniques, and tools from the mints in the United States and Great Britain.
ALL THAT GLITTERS IS MODERN ART (MUSEO DE ARTE DEL BANCO DE LA REPÚBLICA)
The second museum that the old Bogotá mint housed was a collection of amazing modern art pieces. The works ranged from early modern pieces, to the avant-garde movement, to pieces of experimental or radical art. A great majority of the artists were of Colombian origin and other South American countries, including several works by artists such as Juan Antonio Roda, Luis Caballero, Fernando Botero, Edgar Negret, Carlos Correa, Débora Arango Pérez, Josefina Albarracín, Álvaro Barrios, and many, many others. The collection was so vast that we were constantly surprised by each new visual delight. There were works that we had only seen in books or movies. Finally seeing them in person was a surreal and life-changing experience.
There were several works that dealt with the political and social turmoil that was a constant in the lives of the Colombian people. Tragic periods of Colombian history, such as “La Violencia” and the “Bogotazo”, are often reoccurring themes depicted by artists from this country. Many of these pieces were moving and enlightening. We had read and been taught much of the history of Colombia, but seeing the tragedies depicted so graphically had a moving and enlightening effect on us both.
DREAM BIG… PAINT EVEN BIGGER (MUSEO BOTERO)
The most famous of all Colombian artists is Fernando Botero. Born in 1932, he is by far the most recognizable Latin artist with a very distinct style aptly dubbed “Boterismo”, depicting people, horses, fruit and other objects in exaggerated and large form. He played with the use of bright colors such as pinks and yellows to create various emotions in the viewer of his works. Often he incorporated humor, invoking a giggle or two from the viewer. Other times, he would use his works as political commentary, hiding underlying themes within the beauty and humor of his paintings.
Many of the pieces found in the Museo Botero were donated by Botero himself and had originated from his own personal collection. Most were works of his creation but he included several from his favorite artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Max Ernst, Paul Delvaux, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet. The museum is the largest combined collection of Botero’s works in the entire world, which included both his paintings and several sculptures.
Overall, our experience at the three museums provided us with significant insight on the colorful history and culture of the Colombian people. The museums were beautiful, well maintained, and a spectacular way to spend a few days in Bogotá. Also, remember, they are free…