This album follows on from
Colombia: on the road
A town literally in the middle of nowhere, where I wanted to go because the 1986 movie version of Gabriel García Márquez‘s „Chronicle of a Death Foretold“ (with Ornella Muti and Rupert Everett), a film of which somehow I have quite a distinct recollection even though it dates from the stone age, was shot there. Mompós is also one of two UNESCO cultural heritage sites in Colombia (the other is Cartagena, where we will finish this trip).
(The original spelling is Mompox, and it is still found. But the pronunciation of the letter x in historic placenames in Spanish America is impossible to predict — you just have to know, which as a foreigner of course you don’t. I suppose that is the reason they replaced the x with an s, which then required the addition of the accent since according to Spanish pronunciation rules a word ending with a consonant is stressed on the final syllable unless that consonant is n or s.)
Despite its world heritage status Mompós does not have all that many visitors and is still clearly a backwater. (Well, try to GET there.) Signs of poverty wherever you look. It‘s picturesque but also leaves you uneasy. However, as everywhere in Colombia, the historic buildings — including hundreds, if not thousands of colonial-era private houses — are almost uniformly in good condition.
The Río Magdalena, Mompós branch. The story you read everywhere suggests that after its founding in 1537 Mompós became a thriving river port, until sometime in the 19th c. the branch of the river where it is situated became too shallow for larger craft. So the town declined and fell into a sleep, preserving its architectural heritage. The latter seems plausible, but it is also obvious that Mompós was never that wealthy even in its heyday. I can understand why it has always been a place you only ever wanted to pass through — humid and extremely hot. (It is situated almost at sea level but far from the coast, where temperatures in the tropics will never rise much above 30 degrees. They do in Mompós.)
Already in pre-Hispanic times the Río Magdalena was the major traffic link between the coast and the highlands around Bogotá.
The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepción seems to be the main church as well as the oldest, but may have been altered, perhaps substantially, in postcolonial times.
These people are washing gold from the river mud.
Independence hero Simón Bolívar was forever passing through Mompós, with the dates recorded on this stone.
H practising his Spanish with a tourist from Bogotá.
The colonnaded houses known as the Portal (or Portales) de la Marquesa (where our hotel was situated too).
Short version: these houses were built in the late 17th c. for the Vargas-Machuca family. In 1715 Ana Gutiérrez y Vargas-Machuca (I love these symphonic-sounding Spanish names) married an immigrant from Asturias, Juan Bautista Mier y La Torre, who became the municipal treasurer and was created Marquess de Santa Coa in 1744.
The name Portal de la Marquesa apparently derives from a descendant, María Josefa Isabel Juana Bartola de Hoyos y Hoyos, Marquesa de Torre Hoyos (! — now try saying that fast). Born in 1779, „última representante de la nobleza en esta ciudad“, she lived her entire life here. She died in 1848. Of course everyone who was anyone called or indeed stayed, such as, in 1801, Alexander von Humboldt, or St Alex as I have taken to calling him following his endlessly being fêted in Germany on occasion of his 250th birthday last year. (Noticeably absent from the list is S. Bolívar, but then one rather suspects the Marquesa of being a royalist…) St Alex spent his time here cutting up crocodiles to study their anatomy (he must have been quite efficient since we saw none), and reports that Mompós was one of the hottest places he had ever been to. I know what he meant. The temperature was forecast to reach a high of 37 degrees and surely did.
I would assume that in colonial Spanish America having a second storey was something of a status symbol (as you may remember from my posts on Bogotá, even Gregorio Vásquez the painter did, to say nothing of grander dwellings, or think of those late 16th-c. upper-floor painted ceilings in Tunja). Yet interestingly, of the many, many colonial houses in Mompós not even the grandest have more than one storey, bar a few where in fact the upper floor may be a later addition. Having said that, colonial houses in M. actually often ARE rather grand. Look at the dimensions here.
Our hotel is a typical example. (I know it‘s typical because as already in Barichara houses here have no glass in their windows or curtains but only shutters and, if windows face the street at ground level, grilles. Since people seem never to shut their shutters, or even their doors, wandering the streets after sunset affords you good views of what the houses are like inside, especially as both doors and windows tend to be huge.)
As in the case of our hotel, seen here, all the big houses in Mompós (which are numerous) have this Great Hall-type front room.
Breakfast table d‘hôte at our hotel.
Colonial mirror selfie.
(Actually that mirror almost certainly ISN‘T colonial but I couldn’t resist the tag.)