About this project

The first time I saw the Painting of the lands, marshes, and swamps of the town of Bogotá, I was taken aback by its colors and details. It was 2012 and I was starting my PhD in History at Yale University. I had decided to study the relationships between Indigenous people and the Spanish empire, and in order to narrow the scope of my inquiry I traveled to Seville to visit the Archivo General de Indias. This archive holds vast quantities of important documents produced by the Spanish empire for the administration of their possessions in the Americas and Asia. What first caught my eye in this map was the unusually beautiful way in which animals, spaces, and agricultural practices in the early seventeenth-century savanna of Bogotá were depicted. What struck me was both its use of color and attention to detail, but also how this harmonious landscape encapsulated some of the historical processes that took place between the Spanish invasion of the savanna of Bogotá in the 1530s and the time the image was painted around 1614.

I had taken an interest in the history of maps a few years prior. In our first encounters with maps from the past we tend to compare them with modern ones in search for correct and incorrect representations, but I learned that they can be unique sources for understanding how different societies saw and conceived their world. This is because what is interesting about these varied interpretations is not whether they are precise or imprecise, but the way in which they illustrate the processes of a society in a given place and time.

Colonial Landscapes is an attempt to show how the Painting of the lands, marshes, and swamps of the town of Bogotá reveals some of the processes triggered by the Spanish invasion in the landscapes and societies of the Americas. As we delve into the many layers of the map, we find this beautiful painting of the savanna to be full of tensions and we understand that it encapsulates part of the human drama and the environmental transformations imposed by the Spanish invasion on the landscapes of the Andes and its Indigenous societies.

Project Research and Direction:

Santiago Muñoz Arbeláez (PhD in History, Yale University)
Assistant Professor of History
Associate, Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies LLILAS
The University of Texas at Austin

Design and production:

Adelaida Ávila Cabrera


María Alejandra Orduz Avella


Anthony Picón Rodríguez


Natalie Cobo
Matías Godoy

Development of Learning Resources:

María Alejandra Orduz Avella

Advisory Committee of Learning Resources:

Ana María Durán
Camilo Villamizar
Juan Camilo Rodríguez Manríque
María Lucía Guerrero, Centro de Enseñanza y Aprendizaje
Bibiana Alfonso, Centro de Enseñanza y Aprendizaje


Catalina Holguín
Cristina Velásquez
Juan Cobo Betancourt
Daniela López Baracaldo
Catalina Salguero Palacino
Víctor Gómez
Juan de Brigard
Ossman Aldana
Sergio Alvarado
Eugenia Concha

With the support of:
Institutional acknowledgments:

Archivo General de la Nación, Museo Colonial (Bogotá), Museo del Oro, Biblioteca John Carter Brown, Archivo General de Indias, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Biblioteca Real Danesa, British Museum, Library of Congress, Pitt Rivers Museum, Real Academia de la Historia e Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi.