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Museo de la Independencia (Bogota, Colombia)

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Museum celebrating Bogota's independence

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      07.03.2011 13:02
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      Colombia became independent over a fight for a vase. No, really

      Whenever we discuss national holidays in my English classes, my students ask what days we have off in the UK and I explain that we have two days in May 'just because'. I tell them they were lucky to have had independence battles, and revolutions, because it gives them extra days off that we in the UK just don't have.

      Colombia gained independence on 20th July 1810 and the Museo de la Independencia celebrates this. It is housed in the Casa del Florero, a stone's throw from the Cathedral, and a few minutes walk from my flat, so I went for a nosy. You enter a building via the courtyard, and have to walk through the sort of rock garden to get to the entrance as there isn't a path. It was raining when I went (it is ALWAYS raining here) and as I approached the reception I was offered the chance to deposit my wet umbrella in a sort of bag check, which I gratefully accepted.

      The museum is spread over two levels, and a combination of the flooring (big stone slabs, slightly uneven in places) and the lack of lift make it unsuitable for those with severe mobility difficulties. But on the subject of the physical aspects of the building, one thing that I loved about this museum was that it was warm! Small heaters were plugged in in each room, making it lovely and cosy, in stark contrast to my apartment and the school where I work.

      The first room I headed into puzzled me, though the sign on the wall soon explained what was going on. Basically, in 2010 the museum (which first opened in 1960 to mark 150 years of independence) has a rejig to change it into a more modern, interactive place. Or, to quote them: "a museum of the 21st Century expects its visitors to contribute their experience and knowledge dynamically (sic) to the interpretation of their history and heritage. We invite one and all to continue to build history with their own past". The problem comes when you don't have experience or knowledge of Colombia's history, say if you're a foreigner, which we'll return to later.

      The first room combines the old with the new: paintings, coins and other artefacts from the 1800s are displayed in space age, rather minimalist spherical cases. The contrast is startling, but no one seemed to mind. The museum was crowded and, in the nicest possible way, it has to be noted that Colombians have no sense of shared space, and are quite the exhibit hogs, standing and blocking them from view until they are completely finished and ready to move on.

      Part of the Casa de Flores used to be a shop in the 1700s and one room is dedicated to this. It features a display of items that used to be sold there (mainly luxury imported goods including...English salt and English iron bars) and an interactive screen where you can see how much they cost back then and how much they would cost now, both in actual money and in the equivalent of a soldier's wage. It sounds odd, but it was really fascinating, and the one place I lingered to get my go on the activity once the locals had exhausted it.

      Some of the displays are better presented than others - one large animated street plan, for example, looked like it was crawling with ants, and there was little info explaining what it was about.

      About this time last year I was in Philadelphia, visiting their Independence attractions. The one thing that I think lets down this museum is the assumption they make that you know the facts. I went to learn about Colombian independence, but left with lots of unanswered questions. In one room they also had an exhibit dedicated to the 6th and 7th November 1985. This clearly wasn't the date or anniversary of independence, but there was no explanation as to the significance of the date in Colombian history, so I had to come home and google it. Maybe it's the equivalent of September 11th or July 7th to the minds of Colombians, but in a museum like this I would still have expected them to spell it out for visitors.

      Upstairs there is one room that doesn't really seem to fit in, though I liked it as it was filled with classical paintings. Off here there was a window into what looked a bit like an Ikea storeroom: a sign on the wall explained how difficult it is to decide what to have on show at any one time. This also suggested they might change exhibits quite regularly given their vast amounts of stuff in storage.

      Once you're done with the standard exhibits, there are two different activities. The first is a film which runs every 8 minutes - you're kept waiting outside until they're ready for you to go in. This was a bit of a disappointment due to the distinct lack of planning that had gone into the room layout. There are seats on 3 sides, but screens on 3 sides too and they all show different things, so there's only one really suitable place to sit - unfortunately you can't tell this as soon as you enter as the screens only descend from the ceiling once you're all seated. And, there are not enough seats to go around, meaning some people stand, and can't help but block your view in the process. The film is really a series of people speaking about a vase. This may sound trivial, but the story goes that the reason Colombia gained independence in the first place was down to a fight over a vase...

      The film room takes 30 people at a time, but from here you can venture out onto the balcony for a bird's eye view of the plaza. Since the balcony only holds 10 people at once, this means there is another brief bottleneck. It's worth waiting, though, as the square, which is bordered by the cathedral, palace and other important buildings, looks quite different from above, and you can also practice your royal wave in the process.

      The final attraction is in the next room. On entering it looks quite frankly a bit bizarre: there are 5 full size hammocks suspended from the ceiling, which of course everyone makes a mad dash for. I got one and sat for a few minutes but then decided to do the good British thing and let someone else have a turn. Big mistake! A minute later another film started playing...this time on the ceiling. Those who were in the hammocks reclined to watch, while the rest of us strained out heads upwards.

      I spent nearly an hour in the museum, which was longer than I thought I would when I first entered. Without being exactly what I was expecting (a clear explanation of the events up to, and results of, independence) it was certainly a 'different' place to visit, and a decent place to pass a wet weekend.

      Unlike the other museums in Bogota I've skipped round so far, this one stands out for having information in a multitude of languages. While the individual exhibits are labelled only in Spanish, the walls have introductory summaries in English and French as well.

      The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, and costs 3000 pesos (£1) for adults. This breaks down as 2000 pesos entrance and a 1000 peso donation to something I didn't quite grasp - but also include a pretty free postcard AND a nice entrance ticket for scrapbooks. There is a small, quite empty shop as you leave, and the museum's exit is not by the entrance, bringing you out round the corner, slightly up a street (important to know if you're meeting people)

      The museum goes by 3 names:

      Museo de la Independencia
      Casa del Florero
      Museo de 20 Julio


      There is a website but it's in Spanish:

      http://www.mincultura.gov.co/tools/marco.php?idcategoria=8944

      Address: Carrera 7 No. 11 - 28 (next to Ley supermarket)



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