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