Gallery: Guatapé, town of the zócalos
In Guatapé, almost every building is a work of art, and its streets tell of its history. I have read that this is the most photographed small town in Colombia, and I can well believe it. Certainly there is no denying that it is colourful, nor that it is touristy. But all over the world places become touristy for a reason, and Guatapé is no exception to that.
Many other Colombian towns are colourful of course. What sets Guatapé apart is a traditional building technique, the zócalo, which here has been adopted in a very distinctive manner.
The word zócalo means ‘base’ or ‘plinth’ in Spanish. It is used in Colombia to describe the lower part of a wall of a house, constructed in a strong hard material such as cement to give the building stability. Above this section the remainder of the wall can be built with bamboo or timber, covered in mud and straw. This lower part therefore often stands out a little from the rest and is usually painted a different colour.
While other towns have been built using the same technique, here in Guatapé the zócalos have become a canvas for local expression and identity. Using bas-reliefs and the brightest of contrasting colours, some tell the history of the area, with objects and designs taken from pre-Hispanic discoveries. Some depict local occupations such as farming, or advertise a trade run within the building. Some reflect the occupants’ beliefs, interests and tastes. And some are purely decorative.
Part street art, part building technique, the zócalos of Guatapé have given the town a unique place in Colombian architectural folk tradition.
Textiles shop with a boating-themed zócalo
Rural scenes with packhorses
I was surprised to see giraffes on this zócalo; it must reflect a particular fondness for them as they certainly aren’t seen locally!
Reindeer aren’t too common in Colombia either!
But alpacas are, of course; in fact we’d seen some only that morning, on our way here.
Motifs taken from pre-Hispanic artefacts
Tropical birds, orchids and sunflowers
One of the more simple designs, a row of owls
Angels with lanterns on a building belonging to a religious organisation
Seahorse detail in an underwater themed design
On a building that once served as a nursery school
And one of my favourites. a cobbler’s workshop complete with mischievous cat!
And to finish, a selection of some purely decorative designs
Sharing for Natalie’s Photographing Public Art challenge
I visited Colombia in February 2023
The images on the buildings are unusual and very folk arty.
Yes, this is quite a unique folk art style, we didn’t see anything quite like it elsewhere in the country
Oooh! Love those bold colors, Sarah. I wish more places in the world would paint their buildings that way.
Me too – I think you can’t help but feel more cheerful, walking down a street like these!
Aletta - nowathome
I love all these colourful buildings Sarah!
Thank you Aletta, glad you liked them 🙂
The more I see this incredible array of colorful buildings, the more I want to visit Colombia and spend weeks just wandering the streets and be part of that colorful, vibrant area 🙂
If you like bright colours you will love Colombia for sure!
What a lovely (and yes colourful) place Guatapé is. I like the rural scene with the pack horses and the one with the mischievous cat is also a favourite of mine. It must have been lovely to walk these streets with your camera!
Oh yes, I had great fun taking photos here 😀
so much colour!wonderful!
Thank you Tanja, glad you enjoyed this 😀
No one does travel writing like you, Sarah. There’s enough information but not too much and it balances beautifully with your excellent photos. As usual, I learned something. It’s surprising to see how immaculately well-kept the designs are but I guess tourism encourages that, which is nice.
Aw, thank you so much Lynn 😊 It’s great to know you appreciate these posts! Yes, I’m sure tourism is the main driver for maintaining these so well, although a few were in need of a touch up (like the reindeer above!)
They are fabulous and I also love the variety and colours of the iron shutters and grills. What a wonderful place for a photographer.
Yes, the shutters etc. are fabulous and anywhere else would have been the main thing I photographed!
Such colour!! Our own towns and housing estates are SO drab!!
I know, but can you imagine what the neighbours would say if one of us did something like this?!
Mike and Kellye Hefner
I absolutely love these zocalos, Sarah! What fun you must have had walking around and photographing them. I think Columbia is the most colorful country I’ve seen in photographs so far, and I always enjoy seeing yours.
You’re right Kellye, I loved exploring here and taking these photos (and many more besides!)
That’s a very unusual way to decorate properties, quite different. The zocalo is usually the main square in Latin America…and I thought that was all it meant, I didn’t realise it had another, original, meaning.
Yes, for some reason in Colombia zocalo has retained its literal Spanish meaning of ‘base’ which elsewhere has somehow been transformed to mean the central square in a city. I have no idea why!
I absolutely love this post for its color and education. I like that some zócalos told a story while others were purely for design.
Anne, thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed and found this interesting 😊
Beautiful pictures Sarah of this adorable Colombian town. I feel like I’m back there with you looking at these 🙂 Maggie
Thanks so much Maggie, happy to have taken you back somewhere so lovely as Guatapé 😊
Thank you Sarah for your PPAC contribution. I enjoyed reading your explanation, the bold and contrasting colours, and the unique folk art designs. My favourites are the packed horses and pre-Hispanic artifacts.
Thank you Natalie, I’m glad you found this interesting – and thanks too for keeping PPAC going 😀