Many aspects of Colombian culture can be traced back to the early culture of Spain of the 16th century and its collision with Colombia's native civilizations (see: Muisca, Tayrona). The Spanish brought Catholicism, Africans, the feudal encomienda system, and a caste system that favored European-born whites. After independence from Spain, the criollos struggled to establish a pluralistic political system, between conservative and liberal ideals. The conservatives supported the involvement of the Catholic Church in the state, while liberals favored the separation of these. The conservatives managed to outsource public education to the Catholic Church, and for many years, the church controlled the country's education system. Both parties engaged in multiple civil wars resulting in a slow development of the country and the isolation of regions until the end of the 19th century. Ethno-racial groups maintained their ancestral heritage culture: whites tried to keep themselves, despite the growing number of illegitimate children of mixed African or indigenous ancestry. These people were labeled with any number of descriptive names, derived from the casta system, such as mestizo, mulatto and moreno. Blacks and indigenous people of Colombia also mixed to form zambos, creating a new ethno-racial group in society. This mix also created a fusion of cultures. Carnivals for example became an opportunity for all classes and colors to congregate without prejudice. The introduction of the bill of rights of men and the abolishment of slavery (1851) eased the segregationist tensions between the races, but the dominance of the whites prevailed and prevails to some extent to this day.
The various cultures of the indigenous inhabitants of Colombia were decimated by the Spanish. Today, only around 3.4 percent of Colombians live and consider themselves as indigenous. Nonetheless, many elements of indigenous culture live on in Colombia's cuisine, music, folklore, and language.
The essence of Colombian culture lies in the mixing of Cumbia is said to be derivative of the cumbe dance of Equatorial Guinea. Small numbers of Roma or more commonly known by their racial slur "gypsies" are scattered throughout the country. Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazi Jews exist in several of the larger cities; Bogotá has five synagogues. Germans settled in parts of Santander, including Bucaramanga. They also brought the accordion to Valledupar, which would become a key instrument in the very popular vallenato music genre.
The hydrography of Colombia is one of the richest in the world. Its main rivers are Magdalena, Cauca, Guaviare, and Caquetá. Colombia has four main drainage systems: the Pacific drain, the Caribbean drain, the Orinoco Basin and the Amazon Basin. The Orinoco and Amazon Rivers mark limits with Colombia to Venezuela and Peru respectively.
The striking variety in temperature and precipitation results principally from differences in elevation. Temperatures range from very hot at sea level to relatively cold at higher elevations but vary little with the season. Temperatures generally decrease about 3.5°F (2°C) for every 1,000-ft (300-m) increase in altitude above sea level, presenting perpetual snowy peaks to hot river valleys and basins. Rainfall is concentrated in two wet seasons (roughly corresponding to the spring and autumn of temperate latitudes) but varies considerably by location. Colombia's Pacific coast has one of the highest levels of rainfall in the world, with the south east often drenched by more than 200 in (500 cm) of rain per year. On the other hand, rainfall in parts of the Guajira Peninsula seldom exceeds 30 in (75 cm) per year. Rainfall in the rest of the country runs between these two extremes.
Colombians customarily describe their country in terms of the climatic zones. Below 900 meters (2,953 ft) in elevation is the tierra caliente (hot land), where temperatures vary between 24 and 38 °C (75.2 and 100.4 °F). The most productive land and the majority of the population can be found in the tierra templada (temperate land, between 900 and 1,980 meters (2,953 and 6,496 ft)), which provide the best conditions for the country's coffee growers, and the tierra fría (cold land, 1,980 and 3,500 meters (6,496 and 11,483 ft)), where wheat and potatoes dominate. In the tierra fría mean temperatures range between 10 and 19 °C (50.0 and 66.2 °F). Beyond the tierra fría lie the alpine conditions of the zona forestada (forested zone) and then the treeless grasslands of the páramos. Above 4,500 meters (14,764 ft), where temperatures are below freezing, is the tierra helada, a zone of permanent snow and ice.
About 86% of the country's total area lies in the tierra caliente. Included in this, and interrupting the temperate area of the Andean highlands, are the long and narrow extension of the Magdalena Valley and a small extension in the Cauca Valley. The tierra fría constitutes just 6% of the total area, but supports about a quarter of the country's population.
Because of its natural structure, Colombia can be divided into six very distinct natural regions.
Colombia did not receive substantial immigration after the period of Spanish rule. Some exceptions are the capital city of Bogota, the second largest city Medellin and the atlantic port city of Barranquilla. Groups of French, Swiss, Dutch, Belgian, German, Italian, Lebanese and Syrian-Lebanese-Palestinian immigrants settled in the city and played a large role in its development. Shakira, a native of Barranquilla, is of partial Lebanese ancestry. Bogotá received some immigrants from Europe in the period following World War II; the eccentric former mayor of Bogotá and semiotics professor Antanas Mockus is the son of Lithuanian immigrants. Most Chinese in Colombia originally came from Panama, where they helped in the building of the railways of the Panama Canal, to help in building the train and road routes between the Pacific port of Buenaventura and the interior city of Cali. Today, in the surrounding area of the Cauca Valley, virtually every town has a Chinese restaurant.
A few Japanese families settled in Colombia, inspired by the bucolic description of the Cauca Valley in Jorge Isaacs' novel María. The heads-of-household of Japanese descent would be interred in prisons near Zipaquirá, during World War II.
Colombian politicians, intellectuals, and members of elite society turned to France for inspiration in the period, following independence from Spain. Colombian's civil code (adopted in 1887) is based on the Napoleonic Code. French architect Gastón Lelarge (1861–1934) designed many of the public edifices in Bogotá, as well as the cupola of the church of Saint Peter Claver in Cartagena.
Starting in the 20th century, North American culture had increasing influence on the culture of Colombia. Shopping malls and tract housing in the style of North American suburbs are very popular and are considered status symbols. Hollywood films, American fashions, and English-language popular music are also popular.
The educational experience of many Colombian children begins with attendance at a preschool academy until age five (Educación preescolar). Basic education (Educación básica) is compulsory by law. It has two stages: Primary basic education (Educación básica primaria) which goes from first to fifth grade – children from six to ten years old, and Secondary basic education (Educación básica secundaria), which goes from sixth to ninth grade. Basic education is followed by Middle vocational education (Educación media vocacional) that comprises the tenth and eleventh grades. It may have different vocational training modalities or specialties (academic, technical, business, and so on.) according to the curriculum adopted by each school.
After the successful completion of all the basic and middle education years, a high-school diploma is awarded. The high-school graduate is known as a bachiller, because secondary basic school and middle education are traditionally considered together as a unit called bachillerato (sixth to eleventh grade). Students in their final year of middle education take the ICFES test (now renamed Saber 11) in order to gain access to higher education (Educación superior). This higher education includes undergraduate professional studies, technical, technological and intermediate professional education, and post-graduate studies.
Bachilleres (high-school graduates) may enter into a professional undergraduate career program offered by a university; these programs last up to five years (or less for technical, technological and intermediate professional education, and post-graduate studies), even as much to six to seven years for some careers, such as medicine. In Colombia, there is not an institution such as college; students go directly into a career program at a university or any other educational institution to obtain a professional, technical or technological title. Once graduated from the university, people are granted a (professional, technical or technological) diploma and licensed (if required) to practice the career they have chosen. For some professional career programs, students are required to take the Saber-Pro test, in their final year of undergraduate academic education.
Public spending on education as a proportion of gross domestic product in 2012 was 4.4%. This represented 15.8% of total government expenditure. In 2012, the primary and secondary gross enrolment ratios stood at 106.9% and 92.8% respectively. School-life expectancy was 13.2 years. A total of 93.6% of the population aged 15 and older were recorded as literate, including 98.2% of those aged 15–24.
The family is, as it is with nearly all of Latin America, a highly important institution to Colombians as engraved by the traditional Roman Catholic church teachings. Members of the extended family are close and children rarely move far away from their parents. There is a deep sense of familial responsibility that stretches through many generations.
Traditionally, men were usually the head of the household, in charge of earning most of the family's income, while women were responsible for cooking, housework, and raising children. However, as in most cultures around the world, the dawn of the 20th century brought forth a great empowerment for women who were given a right to vote during the 1950s rule of dictator Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. The Constitution of 1991 gave a wider opportunity for women, and today, the majority of families (regardless of economic class) have two working parents due to the need of an income to sustain a family.
The Politics of Colombia take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Colombia is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of Congress, the Senate, and the House of Representatives of Colombia. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
There is a large variety of dishes that take into account the difference in regional climates. For example:
Inland, the dishes reflect the mix of cultures, inherited mainly from Amerindian and European cuisine, and the produce of the land mainly agriculture, cattle, river fishing, and other animals' raising. Such is the case of the sancocho soup in Valledupar, the arepas (a corn based bread-like patty). Local species of animals like the guaratinaja, part of the wayuu Amerindian culture.
Colombia has many traditional folk tales and stories about legendary creatures, which are transmitted orally and kept for next generations to come. Some of them are common with other Latin American countries. The Colombian folklore has strong influences from Spanish culture, with elements of African and Native American cultures.
Colombians have been producing art for thousands of years. Ornate golden figures, and jewelry from millennia ago have been discovered by both ruthless conquistadors and careful archaeological digs.
In the colonial time, the painting was characterized by the works of the three Figueroa, pioneers of this art: Baltasar de Figueroa, the old; Gaspar the Figueroa, his son and Baltazar de Figueroa, the young. Gaspar was the teacher of important artists, lie Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos. José María Espinoza Prieto, painter and engraver, also is important for his portraits, landscapes and caricatures. Epifanio Garay is highlighted, especially by his portraits.
After the war of independence, in 1819, the Colombian art still was dependent of the figurative. Some people explain that delay in the evolution of the Colombian artistic style is due to the geography of the country, that make difficult a contact and dialogue between the different creative tendencies
In the decades between 1920 and 1940, Marco Tobón Mejía, José Horacio Betancur, Pedro Nel Gómez, Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo, Santiago Martínez Delgado, and Alipio Jaramillo created some dynamics in the elaboration of murals. They were influenced by the Mexican art, although with neoclassic and Art Nouveau characteristics. At the beginning of the 1940 decade, are created works that was new in Colombia, inspired in the post-impressionism and the academic French style.
Many historians of art believe that the Colombian art only began to have a distinctive character in the second half of the 20th century, with a new point of view, integrating the cultural and artistic traditional elements, with the concepts of the art in the 20th century. Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo, for example, combine the new techniques with cultural elements, in his Portrait to the Greiff Brothers. Pedro Nel Gómez, highlighted in the drawing, the water color, the fresco, the oilpainting, and the sculpture in wood, stone, and bronze, shows, for example in "Autorretrato con sombrero" (1941), his familiarity with the works of Gauguin and Van Gogh. In other works, he reveal the influence of Cézanne. Alejandro Obregon, considered by many as the father of the Colombian art (most by his originality), has been acclaimed by critics and the public, because of his painting of national landscapes characterized by violent strokes and the symbolic and expressionist use of animals (specially birds, like the condor). His work is influenced by Picasso and Graham Sutherland.
In last years, some Colombian artists, such as Fernando Botero, Enrique Grau, David Manzur, Luis Caballero, Santiago Martinez Delgado, Ignacio Gomez Jaramillo, Débora Arango, Kajuma and have received international fame, awards and wide public acclaim.
Studies suggest that about 70.9% of Colombians are Roman Catholic. However, Colombians are notable for their acceptance of other creeds and faith.
The National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) does not collect religious statistics, and accurate reports are difficult to obtain. However, based on various studies and a survey, about 90% of the population adheres to Christianity, the majority of which (70.9%) are Roman Catholic, while a significant minority (16.7%) adhere to Protestantism (primarily Evangelicalism). Some 4.7% of the population is atheist or agnostic, while 3.5% claim to believe in God but do not follow a specific religion. 1.8% of Colombians adhere to Jehovah's Witnesses and Adventism and less than 1% adhere to other religions, such as Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Hinduism, Indigenous religions, Hare Krishna movement, Rastafari movement, Orthodox Catholic Church, and spiritual studies. The remaining people either did not respond or replied that they did not know. In addition to the above statistics, 35.9% of Colombians reported that they did not practice their faith actively.
While Colombia remains a mostly Roman Catholic country by baptism numbers, the 1991 Colombian constitution guarantees freedom of religion and all religious faiths and churches are equally free before the law.
Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, is from Aracataca, Colombia. His novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is recognized as a landmark of the literary movement known as "magical realism (realismo mágico)".
Other important writers are Jorge Isaacs, who wrote "María", Gonzalo Arango, founder of the Nadaismo movement, Álvaro Mutis, winner of the Cervantes Prize, Fernando Vallejo, winner of the Rómulo Gallegos prize, José Asunción Silva, precursor of Latin American romanticism, Raúl Gómez Jattin, Efraím Medina, Andrés Caicedo, the poets Piedad Bonnet and María Mercedes Carranza, Aurelio Arturo, the novelist Germán Espinosa, and Rafael Chaparro Madiedo. The most important literary magazines are El Malpensante, Arcadia, Número, La Movida Literaria, Universidad de Antioquia, and Puesto de Combate.
Festival de teatro Gitanos en Macondo - first week of September in Aracataca, Madalena.
The interest for the film production came late to Colombia. Vicenzo and Francesco Di Doménico, of Italian origin, were the pioneers in the films production. In 1912, it is inaugurated the first movie theater in Colombia: the Salón Olympia, with a capacity of three thousand people. The most outstanding directors of the film production are Sergio Cabrera, Felipe Aljure, Luis Ospina, Víctor Gaviria, and Carlos Mayolo. Between the most recent proposals, we find to Andy Baíz and Juan Felipe Orozco, director of "Al final del espectro". The work of Dago García and Rodrigo Triana is in a commercial line.
Soccer, or, Association Football (Spanish: fútbol) is the most popular sport in Colombia. Soccer games are popular social events in Colombia. Baseball has become popular in recent years; it is especially popular along the coast, and is strongly promoted all around the country. Édgar Rentería is an example of a famous Colombian baseball player, but football is still the main sport in the country. Boxing and martial arts are also very popular amongst the male population, and all of these are practiced avidly by the youth.
An ancient game called Tejo, inherited from the Muisca, is also played. The object of tejo is to throw a small metal disk at a gunpowder detonator in a small circular area. The winner is calculated by the number of explosions compared to number of throws.
Colombian comedy's original birthplace is the radio, since this was the first original mass media with wide coverage of the national territory rendering radio a very important medium for the promotion of comedy. A distinctive representative of Colombian comedy on the radio and who was praised by generations, even before television became popular was Colombian comedian Gullermo Zuluaga, better known by his stage name Montecristo. Since then, many other comedians and storytellers have shaped Colombian's concept of what is humorous in many cases at the expense of the tragedies of war, economic distress, and misbehaved politicians.
Shakira, Colombian singer
Modern Colombian music is a mixture of Native Indigenous, European, and African influences, as well as more modern American, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean music forms, such as Trinidadian, Cuban, and Jamaican. The music varies greatly between regions but cumbia is widely accepted as the national musical genre.
Cumbia is a mixture of Spanish, Native Indigenous, and African music, the latter brought by slaves. The style of dance is designed to recall the shackles worn around the ankles of the slaves. In the 19th century, slavery was abolished and Africans, Indians, and other ethnic groups mixed more fully. Styles like bambuco, vallenato, and porro were especially influential. When the waltz became popular in the 19th century, a Colombian version called pasillo was invented. International Latin, a type of pop, ballad, and salsa music are best-represented by Charlie Zaa and Joe Arroyo, respectively.
Music and dancing are very popular in Colombia, with dozens of popular vibrant styles. The most popular local musical styles are Vallenato, salsa, Merengue, Cumbia and Bambuco. The latter is a very complicated dance with many differently named steps.
The musical genre of Colombian pop music has been growing recently with artists like Fonseca, San Alejo, Lucas Arnau or Mauricio y Palo de Agua. Pop with strong traces of traditional Colombian music is also currently rising. Los De Adentro and Maía represent this trend. Many Colombian artists are recognized internationally including among others, Shakira, who is the most recognized Colombian artist in the world.