History of Medellín

Spanish Discovery

The valley of Aburrá was discovered by Spanish explorer Jeronimo Luis Tejelo in 1541, but the settlement of Medellín was founded later, on March 2, 1616 by Spanish conqueror Don Francisco Herrera Campuzano under the name of San Lorenzo de Aburrá. Early development started in the southern part of the city now known as El Poblado. In 1675 the name was changed to Villa de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de Medellín. It was not until 1813 that the villa got the denomination of city. Thirteen years later it was proclaimed capital of the Department of Antioquia, after government officials decided to move out from Santa Fe de Antioquia. Sometime after that, the name was shortened to the present day version of just Medellín.

Historians believe that many early settlers to Medellín were Spanish Jews fleeing the inquisition. They divided the land into small haciendas which they farmed themselves. This contrasts greatly the slave-based plantation culture that dominated early Colombian settlements. With their focus on self-reliance, these early settlers had little interest with outside commercial contact and neighboring regions. They came to be known as hard workers with a fierce independence streak. These are traits that still hold true to this day and can be seen all throughout this radiant city on a daily basis. The people of Antioquia are the heart and backbone of Colombia.

Medellin Industrial Revolution

The city’s growth began only at the beginning of the 20th century with the arrival of the railroad and the predominance of Medellín increased as coffee production became more important and permitted the country to enter the world economy. Mine owners and coffee barons invested their profits in a nascent textile industry and their gamble paid off big. The industrialization of the district commenced towards the end of the past century and continues today with the development of textiles, clothing, food products, tobacco, agricultural machinery, steel, chemicals, cement and furniture, among others, which turned the city into the second industrial zone of the country and home to the leading textile industry in South America. It also has excellent public services and the most efficient generation of electricity in the country.

Hard Times/Rise of Drug Cartels

By the 1980’s, the city’s entrepreneurial spirit began to show a dark side. Rising through the ranks of the Medellín underworld, a paisa by the name of Pablo Escobar would soon become the king of cocaine and forever change the complexion and reputation of a great city and its people. Due to the new found demand for the drug in places like the USA and Europe, an industry unrivalled emerged and with it came fierce violence based on greed, corruption and dark spirit. Gun battles were common, and the city’s homicide rate was one of the highest in the world. Reaching its pinnacle in the early 1990’s, the government was at the point of collapse as well as the economy. With the aid of the United States Special Forces and tactical units, an effort was made to hunt down one of the world’s most notorious criminals. Led by the Colombian government and local strategic private forces, Pablo Escobar was hunted down and killed in a hail of bullets on December 2, 1993. Pablo Escobar became so rich and powerful in the drug business; Forbes listed him as the seventh richest man in the world in 1989. He is actually considered to be one of the most brutally cruel and cold killers the drug industry has ever known. His grave site can be seen to this day and routinely attracts curious visitors and travelers. Click here for photos.

Although the name Pablo Escobar is well known in Medellín, many locals prefer not to openly talk about him. The paisa locals have been dealt a card they never wanted and many have suffered because of this unfortunate time event. Deeply scarred by one man and his murderous ascent to the top of the drug industry, Medellín is working hard to rebuild its spirit and long history of independence. As a matter of fact, the government of Medellín has launched a media campaign that boasts the slogan “Medellín: Adelante y Sin Reversa”, which translates to moving ahead without looking back. It is vitally important for this city to shed its past and begin to re-emerge into a wonderfully diverse and culturally rich city that every paisa is aware of and wishes to share with its future visitors and travelers.