Antiques in Colombia – Bogota, Medellin & Cartagena

This Christmas and New Year (December 2018 & January 2019), the banker and I decided to continue the holidays we’ve taken in South America over the years and cashed in our air miles to make a trip to Colombia. Despite what you may think, and the large numbers of policemen and soldiers on many streets, it appears to be as safe a country as most in that part of the world.
As regards antiques and vintage pieces, I went with no expectations at all, thinking I’d be forced to take a ‘real holiday’. Even though it hardly turned into a ‘busman’s holiday’, I was surprised by what I found. Prices were, largely, very keen and sometimes very affordable, but it was the variety in each place that thrilled me. Many shops offer everything from the late 19th century right up to the present day, sometimes all crammed in and mixed up together making for a great (and often surprising!) browsing experience. Colombian made mid-century modern pieces tended to be the most highly priced pieces, together with the finer quality 19th century and earlier items. But there was a raft of other ‘stuff’ that was highly affordable.
Don’t be put off by the number of zeros at the end of prices (100,000 pesos is about £25!), and be aware that if they are not on the tag, they just left them off. ‘$350’ means 350,000 pesos (£84/$110), not 350 pesos (8 pence/11 cents)! For high quality items items, it’s worth checking whether the price is in hundreds of thousands or millions of pesos…

Although there are a couple spattered in other parts of the city, the antiques shops of Bogotá are clustered in two areas, with 90% of them in each area handily being within minutes of each other on foot. The first area in Bogota is just off Carrera 7 along Calle 79b, in the Zona Rosa/Zona T district. The shops here are more upscale, with a strong leaning towards the decorative. A fascinating mix of 19thC to mid-century modern can be found at Arte Antigüedades & Libros and Antigüedades AGP. I nearly bought a delicately painted portrait miniature at the former (£80), and did buy something truly compelling at the latter – all will be revealed in a blog post soon.
For mid-century modern fans, Dessvan and Anticuario Novecento (one floor up above street level) offered a superb selection of design from across the world, with the former being particularly well displayed like a smart home interior. In all, you’ll find around ten shops along this tree-lined street just to the north of the smart ‘design district’.
Somewhat different is the second cluster, mainly along Carrera 9 between Calle 60 and Calle 62 in the Chapinero district, which is also home to the city’s gay bars and the gay mega club Theatron. The area is a little more scruffy, but this is never a bad thing when you’re hunting for a bargainous treasure! The shop I enjoyed the most was Errata, run by the friendly and knowledgeable Silvia. There was still the same mix of pieces in terms of dates, but there was a strong curated feel to the selection. Prices were again good and there was plenty to see and be tempted by. The banker bought a signed print by Alvaro Barrios, which he was delighted with. Across the road, I was tempted by the look of a charming and very worn icon at Antiguedades El Dorado, but I left it behind. In all, there were around a dozen shops in the immediate area, although many of them were closed due to the proximity to Christmas and the New Year.

Much of this previously drug-ridden city, once largely dominated by Pablo Escobar, has a smart, fun and ‘party’ atmosphere to it now. This is partly due to the huge number of restaurants and bars in El Poblado (the area we stayed in), partly due to a large number of pleasure-seeking American tourists, and partly to (seemingly) a general feeling of positivity after the drug wars and a desire to attract more tourists to the fun.
The main cluster of antiques shops are found just to the north of El Poblado, along or on side streets leading from Calle 10 and Calle 10a, between Carrera 35 and 43C. The stand-out favourite for me was Anticuarius, run by the charming, welcoming and enthusiastic Jorge Ramos. A carefully curated selection of pieces, all bought because Jorge loves them himself, are displayed beautifully in the basement of a building in the lush-with-foliage street of Carrera 40 (10a-65). I bought an illegibly signed, curious and complex piece of studio glass (for around £50), but could have spent so much more, especially on a unique carved wood sculpture by the Colombian artist Luis Lalende, which I kind of regret leaving behind at around £350.
My second favourite antiques shop there was the other end of the scale. Antiquedades Fabián Palacio (a long, yellow-painted building one floor above street level) is a veritable treasure trove of everything – the sort of antiques shop that used to exist in the UK and that we all loved. It’s piled high, stacked deep, and crammed together on tables. Walls groan with pictures and there are many rooms full of dust-caked objects to explore. Spend time here – it’s quite something! But always check each piece carefully as a few pieces I wanted were damaged upon closer inspection. Quite an experience, and one I had to do twice to make sure there wasn’t anything I definitely wanted to devote luggage space to!

This stunning, historic (and hot!) city looked to be the most promising from my brief googling before we left the UK. There seemed only to be a few antiques shops but, combined with the setting, trading history and wealth of the city, I was most excited by the prospects here. I was to be disappointed – kind of. El Arcon looked to be the best so, on the afternoon I had put aside for antiques shopping, I thought I’d leave the best until last. Sadly, after a sweltering walk in the baking sun, I found that all of the other antiques shops listed on Google (bar one courtyard of ‘fun’ architectural junk found randomly on a side street) had been replaced by restaurants and bars. A firm favourite with cruise ship visitors and Colombian, American and other tourists, this city is all about drinking, eating, and wandering around gazing at the incredible and varied architecture.
However, having said that, El Arcon (Calle del Camposanto No.9-46, in Barrio San Diego) made up for it in so many ways – it’s incredible and the owners are super friendly! The exterior could look a little off-putting, as it’s inside a smart looking villa with bars on the windows, and you need to ring the doorbell at some rather grand doors to get inside. But it’s more than worth it – the four large rooms and open courtyard are packed with fascinating pieces, all beautifully displayed. There’s everything here from Pre-Colombian artefacts (which you can’t take out of the country as they are deemed ‘cultural heritage’) to religious folk art, to carved and painted figures, pictures relating to Cartagena, metalware – and even cannon balls!
Prices were again keen and fair, and the quality was much higher than the aforementioned courtyard and many of the other places we’d visited in the country. They know their onions too – the most decorative pieces (the world outside Colombia has not escaped them) were priced correctly…I could easily have filled a mini-van with stock that would have fitted right in to a quality decorative fair in the UK.
I bought an nebulously ‘old’ broken, but highly decorative, clay figurine for my shelf of miniature things at home, and the banker bought me a wonderfully colourful late 19thC or early 20thC carved and painted wood sculpture of ‘The Hand of Power’. The total was around £62, after bartering politely.
Relating primarily to Christ, the hand bears the stigmata and on each finger tip rests an individually carved and painted member of Christ’s family. I was told that the components actually mix Christianity with traditional African symbolism which was brought to the city with the slave trade. More research to be done there, I feel! That made it a colourful, unique, potent, and representative piece to come away with from a superb holiday. Amongst everything else I bought, that is…!

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