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Museo De Trajes Regionales (Bogota, Colombia)

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Local arts and culture museum in Bogota

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      18.02.2011 17:47
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      A cute museum that may only take an hour but is still worth a visit

      There's a big truckers strike in Colombia this week, and in protest they are blocking some key routes including several in Bogota. As a result, a bunch of my classes are cancelled since we have no way to get to the offices, so I'm being paid to stay home (result!) With some free time, I decided to explore the city a little more, and my first stop was this, the Museum of National Dress.

      While the premise alone might sound interesting, it was really the location that lured me in, as this museum is only a few minutes walk from my new apartment. It's also not free on Sundays like many places (it's closed that day in fact), so I didn't feel like I was wasting money by going on a Thursday.

      The museum is housed in a gorgeous hacienda. On the inside it is set around a couple of courtyards, one with a nice fountain, the other overflowing with small potted trees. If the sun was out (which it wasn't this time) it would be a nice place to while away the time on one of the benches as it's quiet and calming, unlike the road just outside.

      I was expecting it to cost the advertised 3000 pesos (£1) but when I reached the small front desk I was charged only 1000 pesos (33p). With the promise of over 1000 exhibits it seemed like a bargain, especially as you get a proper illustrated ticket you can keep for a scrapbook. Aside from a guard on the entrance and two women at the ticket desk, the place was pleasantly lacking in staff. I'm always convinced guards in art galleries are watching me like a hawk, just waiting for me to swing my bag into a precious vase, or trip head first into a canvas. This place has a much more relaxed feel, including motion sensor lights which come on as you enter the room, making you feel like they're opening up just for you.

      The museum is supposed to be of typical costumes, but it has much more than that. The first room contains pieces of cloth from Peru (so not all that 'National' then) and the next one along is focussed on accessories: beautiful shawls, bags, hats and some baskets that look disturbingly like a couple I brought back from West Africa last month.

      From here you move on to the museum's namesake stock, traditional costumes from the country. Something I only found out on my visit was that Colombia has a number of very distinct areas in terms of fashion - the Atlantic region, the Amazon and so on. Who knew? I can tell you who probably didn't: any dancing teacher who choreographed a Colombian peasant dance for a National solo. (I, on the other hand, was a Sicilian fisher girl and, I hope, much more authentic).

      Alongside the dresses and outfits on display are coordinating accessories, from a washboard to drums and maracas to half finished embroidery to show you the process. Most outfits get their own display case, and there are detailed boards next to each explaining the history behind the outfit, often with photos of people wearing them in action. These were interesting but it should be noted that information is ONLY available in Spanish, so si no hablas español you will just have to look at the pretty things and imagine their history. But, I can tell you now, there are dresses for dancing, dresses for parties, dresses for Sundays, dresses for every day. The range is astonishing, from muted paisley prints to bright pink daisies with a neon sequin trim, and there are even some male get ups to show what you'd look like with a partner by your side.

      Towards the back of the museum is a room dedicated to Manuela Sáenz. She was the mistress of Simon Bolívar, a local revolutionary hero who has everything from a huge city park to a plaza to cafes named after him. As for her, well if this room is anything to go by, she had quite demure taste in fashion, with nothing as garish as the regional outfits on display. This room doesn't tell you much about her personally, but she also has a Casa Museo dedicated to her in Bogota, so I may have to pay that a visit (having not come across her other museum last year in Quito). There was a weird typo in this room that kept catching my eye - for years, they inserted a decimal point, as in 1.795 for 1795.

      Upstairs there are further exhibits and a conference hall where, if my Spanish is correct, they run knitting seminars. And probably give talks and stuff. Outside they have displays of both knitted baby clothes (random!) and beautiful, intricate lace. This is also where they display indigenous clothing, which is not dissimilar from what you might find in neighbouring Ecuador and its own neighbour Peru. The most bizarre things on offer seemed to be a boob chain you wore while naked on top, sort of like a harness round the breasticles but with snazzy gold coins on, and a loin cloth complete with pompom (and not the cool Cheerleader kind, but the sort you make in primary school, with wool and circles of cardboard).

      The top floor is also home to administration offices, some of which have windows onto the courtyard. I felt a bit like a peeping Tom, nosing in, but they clearly meant you to as the windows had displays of dolls in different outfits, laid out all pretty. As it was, the offices were empty at the time I went, but evidence of ongoing use (computers, files of papers) remained.

      I'm not sure I spotted 1000 exhibits, but there were a lot, and almost all the display cases were currently in use. The few that were completely empty made me wonder if it was just me...perhaps they were displaying the Emperor's new clothes...?

      The building is full of character and worth a visit, regardless of the exhibits. The ground floor has stone, farmhouse style floors while the upstairs has gorgeous hardwood. There are wooden beams at the ceiling, and the decor is mild and unobtrusive, allowing you to focus on the displays and not be distracted. If they removed all the costumes and stuck in some bookshelves it would be high on my list of places to live.

      All the ground floor rooms with steps also have ramps, though I didn't see an accessible way to get to the upper level apart from the staircase. There's no clear seating in the rooms, or at least none I was sure wasn't meant as an exhibit: a few boast Beckham wedding-esque thrones but they looked so old I really didn't think they could be for visitors. The courtyards have benches, however. There are also toilets on the ground floor, plus a shop which sells pretty, arty things, but much more modern than most of the stuff on show.

      Would I recommend? If you're in town and have time to kill, it's well worth the 33p entrance. It makes a change from all the generic pre-Colombian artefacts the city and history museums in this part of the world exhibit, and at the same time it shows you more of the culture of years gone by than walking down a street where everyone's in jeans will.

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      The museum is located at Calle 10 No 6-20, which means on Calle 10 between Carerra 6 and Carerra 7.

      It is open from 10am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, and closes at 4pm on Saturday.

      Its website (only in Spanish) is:

      http://www.museodetrajesregionales.com/museo.html

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