Popayán – The White City

Popayán – The White City
August 10, 2011 Lainie Liberti

Tradition of White

Miro and I were so lucky to spend a couple of wonderful days in the beautiful city of Popayán.  We hadn’t expected the beauty we found among the  beautiful colonial architecture and were surprised to experience the “white city” in the midst of constant rain showers.

We had learned some about the city’s vast history and upon researching for this post, was excited to discover the rich contributions made to colombia in this beautiful town.

From wikipedia:
Popayán has been home to seventeen Colombian presidents, as well as noted poets, painters, and composers. The University of Cauca (est. 1827), one of Colombia’s oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher education, is located here; that is why Popayan is also known as the “University City.” In 2005, Popayán was declared by the UNESCO as the first city of gastronomy because of its variety and meaning to the intangible patrimony of Colombian culture.The culinary history of the Cauca department was chosen because of their maintaining of traditional methods of food preparation which has been passed over through different generations orally.

On 2009 September 28, UNESCO also declared the processions of the Easter Week processions as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Patrimony of Humanity.


Situated in the Andean cordillera halfway between Bogota and Quito,  Popayán drew settlers who established sugar plantations along the Cauca river valley. Additionally, the mild climate attracted many became an important religious center with many churches, monasteries and seminaries, as well as a prosperous trade center. Much of the activity of the area is recorded in the Popayán Papers, correspondence between the inter-related members of the local aristocracy, plus patriotic writings from Colombia’s struggle for independence.

As the economic importance of the town waned, Popayán lost business, but retained its importance in religious and cultural spheres. The University of Cauca was founded in 1827, following the requirements established by Simón Bolívar, El Libertador, on the site of an indigenous village.

The residents of  Popayán are proud of their famous Semana Santa celebrations. During the Holy Week, the city is inundated with visitors from across the country to see the processions. Although not having experienced the Holy Week in  Popayán myself, I wonder if the contrast of the colorful processions have a greater contrast against the white buildings.

Next year perhaps.

Be sure to visit our photo essay of the street art of Popayán.

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