If you were given the task of picking the most famous tourist spot of the Coffee Triangle, the choice would likely fall on Salento and the Valle de Cocora. I’ve read information on the Internet that claims it’s one of the top tourist spots (for Colombians) in the entire country. Obviously you can get loads of info on the web and pictures of the wax palms in the Valle de Cocora are a dime a dozen in Google Images, so you may well wonder what point there is in having Yours Truly go over ground so thoroughly travelled already. Well, I’ve found my market niche as a reporter on Salento. I’m giving you the Aesthetics Tour. 🙂 Was that a smile or a grimace I saw flit across your face?
Continuing in the vein I opened in an earlier post about just being after the pretty stuff, I’m going to comment on the aesthetics of the place rather than load you up with tourist info on where to get the best burger. You can get that stuff from plenty of other folks, in English even, woohoo! I went to Salento and the Valle after a month of gathering experiences in other places in the Triangle. That experiential offset brought me to consider the place from the standpoint of comparison. Such a perspective has something useful to contribute to the discussion, so here we go.
This map gives you the general layout of the town. It’s a typical town with the typical structure we’ve seen already in Filandia and Marsella. The main plaza has the church and the two-storey buildings forming the other arms of the square. As far as historical significance goes, Salento has more in its past than other towns and considerably less to show for it than places like Filandia or Marsella. More skinny on that from the Wikipedia page (here):
In the colonial era, the main route from Popayán to Bogotá traveled over the Quindío Pass (a.k.a. “La Línea”), passing through the modern-day site of Salento. In 1830 Simón Bolívar traveled the route and ordered that it be upgraded due to its poor condition and strategic importance. However, the town was not established until 5 January 1842, after the Guerra de los Supremos. Political prisoners from that war were sent from Panamá, Antioquia and Cauca to upgrade and maintain the road. After completing their sentences they were given a plot of land in the region.
The site of the penal colony was known as Barcinales, located where Salento is today. However, the main settlement was in the valley in Boquía, where the Boquía stream joins the Quindío river. Families of the prisoners arrived and built their houses in Boquía and established farms upstream in the Cocora valley.
Sometime around 1854 a flood of the Quindío river destroyed the settlement of Boquía, and the survivors rebuilt their houses in Barcinales. They retained the name Boquía for the new settlement, changing the name of the original settlement to Pueblo Viejo.
In 1864 a census of the new Boquía showed that it had 581 inhabitants. The occupational breakdown comprised 148 farmers, 2 carpenters, 1 blacksmith, 11 doctors, 1 lawyer, 2 tailors, 4 laborers, 11 merchants and 11 watchmakers.
In 1865 Boquía was officially declared a municipality and its name was changed again to Villa de Nueva Salento, and the name of Boquía reverted to the original settlement in the valley. The new name of the municipality was given in honor of Salento, a region in the south of Italy.
Marsella in Risaralda Department is named after Marseilles, France. What an internationally aspirational lot these colonizing paisas were. Whoda thunkit?
A little further on in the article we come across this chestnut, which confirms what I said above:
The town is one of the major tourist attractions of Colombia, thanks to its peaceful nature (although it fills up with tourists at weekends and on bank holidays), impressive scenery, easy access to the Cocora valley, and the retention of much of its original bahareque architecture typical of the eje cafetero region. This style of architecture is especially notable on Carrera 6, a.k.a. Calle Real (English: Royal Road), the road that leads north-east from the town square to a mirador (look-out point), the Alto de la Cruz. The road is the major thoroughfare of Salento and contains many shops, mainly selling locally-made handcrafts.
There, you see — you don’t need me to tell you what’s what in Salento, Wikipedia has beat me to the punch. But ah, the aesthetics … what about the aesthetics? That’s a different matter altogether.
Despite Salento’s longer history compared with other towns of the Eje Cafetero it has relatively little to show in the way of unified town architecture. There are some impressive balconies, on that account there is no doubt, but the town doesn’t provide the experience of an historical town in the manner that Marsella or Filandia delivers it. It has its architecture zoned in the town square area and the commercial streets just off the square. In that sense, it doesn’t feel organically historic like Marsella. It feels like a tourist town staged for the purpose of making money. That doesn’t detract from the handsomeness of the architectural details on offer, but it hardly contributes to a sense of history coming alive before your very eyes. Let’s start with some pics of the architectural details on the main commercial street: