SITES: Paseo Bolívar

Paseo Bolivar. Photo by: Robert Narvaez

Until well into the 19th century, Barranquilla focused its population adjacent to its main square, the square of Iglesia de San Nicolás de Tolentino (St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church). As a result, the church emerged as a center of religious power. In this sense, Paseo de Bolívar became the main artery of the city and a hub of commercial and administrative activity, playing a key role in Barranquilla across the last 100 years.

With the celebrations of the first centenary of independence, parks and other public spaces were added, road improvements were made, and street lighting was introduced.  Each of these actions considerably improved the environment of the area. During the celebrations, members of the Italian population donated a statue of Christopher Columbus that was placed on the north side of the ridge, more precisely in front of the headquarters building. After that, the area was called Paseo Colón (Spanish for Colombus Square). The same was done with other areas such as the placement of the Estatua de la Libertad (donated by the members of the Syrian community), at Parque del Centenario. Also, the church square was remodeled, adding the statue of the Liberator, Simón Bolívar.

1928 marked the completion of one of these famous monuments, El Edificio Palma (the Palma Building) owned by the Palma Molinares family. A few years later the City Council authorized the demolition of their headquarters building with the intent of further expanding the artery and placed the statue of Simón Bolívar instead. At that time, the appearance of Paseo de Bolívar was astonishing.

In 1955, the Palma building was demolished to even further expand Paseo Bolívar. However, instead of the expansion, the Caja Agraria building, which had won the National Prize of Architecture, was erected in 1962. In 1970, it was remodeled again and placed next to the statue of the Liberator. The beautiful fountains of water got a new look at the Paseo. This most recent renovation has given a new face to Paseo Bolivar; trees, plants, pavers, and a central reserve take us back to time immemorial, with cannons placed to defend the city, representing the multiple civil wars of time past, mixing republicanism with the boiling waters of the present.

During the last century, Paseo Bolívar witnessed lofty political speeches with great, fancy crowds, saw military and political parades and experienced marvelous festivities. It saw patrons and employees of banks and offices come and go in a hurry. It has felt the heated steam, the arteries of rain and the quick visits of its citizens. It has donned a gown with flowers and neon signs. It has been bought and sold, and it has hosted many events and festivals, drawing its borders in the unmistakable lines of art deco. There are many ways to make us feel at home but none like this Paseo of many names, faces, colors, flavors, sounds and especially, the joys of Barranquilla.


Caja Agraria. Photo by: Robert Narvaez
Caja Agraria. Photo by: Robert Narvaez