The 3 Cordilleras
In Colombia lies the start of the Andes, which are formed within Colombia by three mountain ranges or cordilleras (pictured below), as they are called in Colombia (after the word for ‘rope’ in Spanish). Going from left to right on a map, one will find the Western Cordillera followed by the Central Cordillera, both of which border each other, and ending with the Eastern Cordillera (in the middle of the picture below). Straight-forward, right? Well, they currently play and have historically played an important role in the country and I’ll tell you a few reasons why in a minute.
The Cordillera Occidental runs adjacent to the Pacific coast and includes the city of Cali; the Cordillera Central, runs between the Cauca and Magdalena river valleys (to the west and east respectively) and includes the cities of Medellín, Manizales and Pereira; and the Cordillera Oriental, extending north east to the Guajira Peninsula, it includes Bogotá, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta. Peaks in the Cordillera Occidental exceed 13,000 ft, and in the Cordillera Central and Cordillera Oriental they reach 18,000 ft. At 8,500 ft, Bogotá is the highest city of its size in the world.
The mountainous relief of Colombia’s topography has made each region have its own identity with each their own customs, speech patterns, musical styles and even differing temperments and interests. While some say this stunted the growth of a country and created an abnormal notion of nationality, others look at the present and even towards the future in believing such differences have created a much richer culture.
Advantage-wise, Colombia in general doesn’t have seasons and without the cordilleras, the intertropical zone the country lies within, would create a very hot and humid place. The diversity of each mountain range and the valleys that exist between them also create varying foods and fauna, as well as the previously mentioned climate differences. There is also a reason Colombia finds itself number one in the exportation of precious stones and that is thanks to the richness of the minerals found within the cordilleras, especially the Eastern range.
In terms of trade, such an exchange of goods and traditions was made much more difficult a task due to the unique geography of the country. In reading the history of conquest made by the Spaniards, one finds that disease was only part of the reason for their initial failure in subduing the native population and settling the land. The “too many hands in the cookie jar” metaphor works to best describe the countless attempts made by different men, all who held the same dream, which lead to further failures to successfully colonize Nueva Grenada, as Colombia was once called. Furthermore, in addition to disease, both biological and the kind born of greed, the conquerers had to contend with finding themselves being conquered at times by Colombia’s unforgiving physical features.