Newest Review: ... into different rooms. They were roped off, and she took down the barriers to let us pass which felt almost naughty at times, as if we w... more
Not The Little Boys' Room(s)
Museo de El Chico (Bogota, Colombia)
Member Name: zoe_page_1
Museo de El Chico (Bogota, Colombia)
Advantages: Interesting, European inspired home
Disadvantages: Little in the way of family history
I have been trying to go to the Museo del Chicó for 6 months which seems an inordinate amount of time but can be explained by it being only open mid week and Saturday mornings, and being located way in the north (it's on Calle 93, and I live on Calle 10). It also shuts for lunch - I almost made it once after I'd just arrived, but as I was sitting in the sun, waiting for it to open, I got asked to cover a class so had to dash off. So, with only a few days left in Bogota, I decided it was now or never.
The museum is easy to reach because it is in grounds which span several blocks, so any bus going up Septima, or any going up Calle 10 will drop you right outside. The east end of the site looks a bit like a castle, with fancy stonework, turrets included, and though most of it is fenced off there is a small gate where you can get in without having to walk all the way round. The gardens are extensive and beautifully maintained. There are dozens of pieces of play equipment for children, and the same number of benches for the adults. As we arrived on Saturday morning, there was a group doing what looked like Tai Chi in one of the open spaces while in another area they were setting up for an event with what appeared to be a huge, blown up domed bouncy castle (though I think it was going to act as a marquee).
Compared to the grounds, the museum is quite small but equally well kept. We approached the open door but since the security guard appeared concerned, we checked it was open before entering. There is no ticket office, but the entrance fee is $3500 per person - a little over £1. Your only option is to take the included guided tour, so we waited a moment and our guide appeared. The tours run on demand (I guess because demand is quite low) so you don't have to wait for a group to form.
The museum is housed in a Casona - a large house which in this case was like a Hacienda with a central courtyard and the rooms set around it in a square. The courtyard matches many you'll see here, with a central fountain and all manner of greenery, though we weren't really given the chance to linger. The walls around it display fabulous, colorful tiling in places and it had a very Spanish feel to it.
We followed our guide into different rooms. They were roped off, and she took down the barriers to let us pass which felt almost naughty at times, as if we were going where no museum visitors had gone before. The museum was once home to Mercedes Sierra de Pérez, daughter of Pepe Sierra who was, in the 19th Century, Colombia's most successful and richest business man. No one has lived there since she died, and the museum now acts as a Stately Home, preserving a lot of her belongings and displaying them as they would have been used while the house was inhabited. I didn't know the museum was a private home before visiting, and knew nothing about the family, but since we were there and had paid the entrance, we stuck around for a nosy.
Despite the Spanish tiling, most of the rooms were very French in the style of their furnishings. It was, as you might expect, a sign of wealth to have imported furniture from Europe in the 19th and early 20th Century, and this stuff looked like it had come straight off a boat from Calais, with delicately upholstered Chaises-longues and fine dining wear. The rooms were labeled (in Spanish only) and once the guide had introduced each Salle she backed off to let us explore a little. There were little touches added to make the rooms appear more lived in - like a plumed hat resting on one of the ottomans.
The dining room in particular was stunning, with the table laid for a dinner party of 8 with stacked up plates at each setting, and so much crockery on the table there would barely have been room for the food. This was, however, a room of contrasts as the dinner set was gold and cream, and the blue, almost Wedgewood-esque plates that decorated the walls didn't really seem to fit in.
In all the rooms we were amazed by how sparkly everything was - there wasn't a speck of dust to be seen and you could literally check your hair in the reflection of the oh-so-polished wooden tables. Someone clearly took great pride in maintaining it and if I could only find out who I'd be quite happy to fly them out to the UK to clean for me when I'm back in a few weeks. I don't know how often they cleaned and polished, but it looked like it had been done that morning, so I felt glad we were there to appreciate it as it is a little known and infrequently visited museum from what I can tell.
A few of the rooms were shut for renovation, but we moved on to the final one, the family chapel. This was a surprisingly large room with a guilt altar and oddly modern stained glass (blocks of primary colours, rather than religious scenes, though the art on the wall depicted these). The guide told us the chapel could be rented for wedding ceremonies, and it would have been a nice setting for a more intimate gathering, with huge opportunities for photos outside in the beautiful grounds.
The literature informs me that there are over 1200 pieces on display in the museum, and that is quite plausible if you count every spoon and every sauce jug, though there is also a notable number of oil paintings, mirrors, carvings, ceramics and the main furniture (the salon is helpfully labeled as having "one sofa, 4 chairs with arms and 2 non-armed chairs" in case you were unsure what those crazy looking seat like things were...) We didn't see a bedroom which was a little odd, though that could have been one of the rooms being done up, but there were several sitting rooms and a tea room as well as the dining room and chapel. Therefore although it seemed like only half a house, at the same time we got a good feel for what life would have been like for the lady of the manor.
For the rooms themselves, having a guide wasn't strictly necessary, though clearly it is the way they operate. We took advantage of having her there to ask vaguely related questions, like what "Chicó" means (without an accent it means 'boy' but with it is a gentrified form of the name of a river that flows nearby) and what the weird little pots at each place on the dining table were. The tour seemed only to be available in Spanish, but again you didn't have to listen to rambling monologues and most of the insides were self explanatory so you could just nod politely at the brief intros and then take in the rooms themselves. I especially liked that fact that the guide seemed there more as a caretaker than anything else, leaving us to explore at our own pace. There were no other visitors while we were there so I'm not sure how many guides they have or if they work between several groups. Certainly none of my students here have ever visited (and most didn't even know it existed).
I was a little surprised that we didn't learn more about the previous owners. The only reason this particular house has been preserved ahead of others in the area is because of who lived there, and yet there is no information given other than the brief family tree as you enter. There is also very little available online, so you can't really go home and research it either. In contrast, the Casa Museo Quinta de Bolivar had clear personal touches to it (despite him not having spent many days physically there) whereas the Museo del Chicó was quite anonymous really.
Though the museum is small, we enjoyed seeing it as it truly is a window into what life was like back in the day. While you might think the world is all becoming pretty samey and international now, it was fun to see that even back then the in thing was to have foreign decor and if you'd not known better you could honestly have thought you were in a home in Versailles rather than an equally well preserved casa in north Bogota.
There's not much to see up around Calle 93, but a few streets from the museum is Parque de la 93 (they like nice simple names here) which is lined with chain restaurants, while the malls of Atlantis and Andino are also not far. It's not a museum that's going to win awards or even attract a local loyal fan base, but it's a very well kept place that we enjoyed seeing.Given the cheap entrance, I didn't feel cheated that our visit was brief, and I'm glad I finally, finally got to tick it off my list.
Though the visit was quite swift you could easily prolong your stay by enjoying the grounds. There are toilets available, and the kids' area is colourful and well maintained (with swings big enough for adult sized bottoms). On a sunny day it would be a calm, relaxed place to have a picnic or just enjoy the peace and quiet and the pretty surroundings, and since the park itself is free, you could also head there even if you didn't fancy stepping inside the house.
The museum is open Monday to Friday 10 am - 1 pm and 2 pm - 5 pm. Saturdays it opens for a half day, from 8 am - 12 noon.
The museum has an annoying, overly complicated (and therefore slow) website in Spanish only which can be found here:
Summary: A small museum in a huge, sprawling park
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