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History of Medellín

The Pre-Columbian era

The history of Medellin is a fascinating journey that starts way back in time. Medellin is located in the Aburra Valley. A 60 kilometer long and between 3 to 10 kilometer wide valley in the heart of the Colombian Andean region.

The valley is known for its mesmerizing beauty and stunning views. Even before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the land where Medellin now stands was home to indigenous peoples.

The earliest archeological evidence indicates human presence in this area over 10.000 years  ago. They roamed the valleys and mountains, farming and crafting pottery. By around 3,000 BC, some settled down and started farming more seriously.

Fast forward a bit to about 800 AD, and you’ll find three different cultures living in the area around Medellin. We know this from the things they left behind, like artifacts. But piecing together their history is a puzzle because we don’t have many clues about when they lived exactly and a lot got destroyed following the Spanish conquest. 

The Arrival of Europeans

The story takes a leap to 1541 when the Conquistadors arrived. A Spaniard named Juan Bautista wrote about the first meeting between the locals and the newcomers. The locals didn’t take too kindly to these visitors and even put up a fight with a bunch of archers and club-wielding warriors. But the Spanish, having guns, attack-dogs and other modern weaponry managed to hold their ground.

These Spanish folks sent word to their leader, Jorge Robledo, who came with a translator to talk things out. They found out that the locals were into farming and trading. The Spanish stayed for a short while and then left, not to return for another 75 years.

Around 1615, the second recorded encounter happened between the native population and a Spanish explorer named Francisco Campuzano. He set up a place called “San Lorenzo.” This was a hub where people lived and traded. 

Time flew by, and in 1649, people started building homes around an area now known as “Parque Berrio.” This place would later become the official city of Medellin in 1675. Back then, the governor decided that only white people could live inside the city limits, while survivors of the indigenous people and mixed-race individuals had to live on the outskirts. Below we see the first map drawn of Medellin in 1791. By the amount of houses we can draw the conclusion that it was not a big city back then.

Modern History of Medellín

The history of Medellin changed in the 19th century as it gradually grew more important over the years. During this time, it became a cultural and intellectual hub. The city started developing its neighborhoods, and the population grew a lot. But things really picked up steam in the 20th century, especially during the 1930s. Urban development plans from the big city, Bogota, played a big role.

However, this growth wasn’t all smooth sailing. The city’s neighborhoods expanded haphazardly, and there was a lot of informal work going on. By the late 1970s, Medellin became a hub for drug trade, forming the infamous Medellin Cartel. Violence and terrorism plagued the city, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world.

It wasn’t until the early 2000s that things started calming down. Paramilitary groups, mafia, and drug cartels gradually lost power, and the city’s economy began to shift toward more legal activities. While there’s been progress, some parts of the economy still rely on organized crime.


Once considered one of the most dangerous cities on Earth, Medellin has undergone a renaissance that’s nothing short of awe-inspiring. The very neighborhoods that were once battlegrounds are now hubs of creativity and innovation. Public spaces that were once feared have been reclaimed by the community, transformed into places of connection and celebration.

One of the city’s most iconic symbols of change is the Medellin Metro system. A comprehensive Metro system that allows rapid transit from all parts of the city, connecting previously isolated communities to the heart of the city. It’s a powerful testament to Medellin’s commitment to inclusivity and progress, bringing opportunities and hope to areas that were once overlooked. You will find no trash in the metro’s or on the stations. If you put your foot up one of the seats, people will request you to take it off quickly. 

Education has become a cornerstone of Medellin’s transformation. Libraries, once scarce, now dot the landscape, offering resources and knowledge to all. Programs have been implemented to provide quality education to children from all walks of life, ensuring that every child has a chance to dream and thrive.

Cultural events, festivals, and art initiatives breathe life into the city’s streets. The sound of music and the laughter of people fill the air, drowning out the echoes of the past. Medellin’s people, known as Paisas, are warm and welcoming, embodying the city’s spirit of change and unity.

The city is home to many beautiful barrios that are worth visiting. Many tourists don’t know about these hidden gems. 

From ancient indigenous cultures to colonial encounters, from crime-ridden times to resilience and progress, the history of Medellin is a rollercoaster that shows how a city can overcome challenges and write its own story of transformation.