Growing populations continue to live in hierarchically organized chiefdoms or small kingdoms. Class distinctions are between chiefs and their families, chiefs of lower rank, and commoners. Specialized artisans, religious specialists, merchants, and warriors form a separate class. Professional merchants are very active, traveling hundreds of miles to exchange cotton, tropical fruits, salt, gold, and copper. The wealthiest chiefdoms, and consequently the most important trading centers in Colombia, are in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the far north (Tairona peoples), the Sinú River area in the northwest (Zenú peoples), the highlands of the eastern Andes (Muisca peoples), and the middle Cauca (Anserma, Quimbaya, Arma peoples) and upper Cauca River (Popayán, Pasto peoples). In Ecuador, the coastal Manteño peoples control long-distance sea trade. The Inka of Peru extend their empire into Ecuador, establishing administrative centers in the highlands, but do not succeed in conquering the coast. Decorated ceramics for ritual use and burial continue to be made by many groups. Large quantities of ceramic spindle whorls, and flat and cylinder stamps with delicate incised or carved designs, are evidence of widespread textile production. Tumbaga, a gold-copper alloy, and semi-precious stones are widely used for the manufacture of ornaments and luxury items.
After 1500, the Spaniards, sailing the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Colombia, establish the coastal towns of Santa Marta and Cartagena. Anticipating prodigious amounts of gold and other treasures, expeditions to the interior begin, with immediate and systematic looting of burials. The conquest of Colombia and Ecuador is accomplished swiftly due to the devastating effects of European diseases on native populations. Relatively few battles take place. The indigenous population of the coastal regions is reduced by as much as 90 percent. Highland peoples resist Spanish domination and survive in small numbers for decades, most eventually dying out. Colonial rule and forced conversion to Catholicism abruptly cut off indigenous traditions. Newly established art schoolsusually part of monasteriesinstruct native artists in European aesthetics and culture. Indigenous painters and sculptors alike work from European models such as imported prints. New native interpretations include details of local flora, fauna, landscape, and dress.
ca. 1400Tuza/Cuasmal ceramic artists in the high Andes between Colombia and Ecuador abandon resist decoration (also called negative decoration) for painted brown or red designs on a light cream-colored background.
ca. 1425The Tairona people in the far north of Colombia build large ceremonial houses. Accessed by paved causeways, they have multiple entrances, stairways, columns, and stone benches. Sacred offerings are buried in vessels or pits in temples. The caches include ritual stone staffs, ceramic whistles, quartz beads, and polished winged sound plaques (placas sonajeras) also of stone.
ca. 1450The Zenú peoples' vast territory in northwestern Colombia is divided into three chiefdoms: Finzenú, Panzenú, and Zenufana. Chiefs are related by blood or marriage. Finzenú province is ruled by a woman.
ca. 1460The fertile plains west of the Andes in central Ecuador are densely dotted with Milagro-phase villages. Urn burials are placed in artificial mounds (tolas), usually accompanied by several ceramic vessels and small amounts of copper: knives, beads, and nose rings.
ca. 1463The Inka of Peru, led by Topa Inka, invade southern Ecuador. Fiercely resisted by local chiefdoms, they eventually gain control of the highlands. Tomebamba (outside the modern town of Cuenca) becomes an important Inka administrative center.
ca. 1470Among the Chibcha-speaking Muisca peoplesthe most homogeneous ethnic group in all of Colombiaentire villages and small towns specialize in craft production: they make ceramics, gold objects, textiles, and stone carvings, among other objects. Local and long-distance trade networks exist.
ca. 1480Peoples of Ecuador's Pacific coast produce textiles decorated with designs using the ikat process.
ca. 1480Huayna Capac consolidates Inka power in Ecuador, extending the empire as far north as southern Colombia. The imperial highway runs from Cuzco to Quito, which is declared the second capital of the Inka empire. Small fortresses, rest stops, and administrative centers are built throughout the highlands.
ca. 1490The Pasto peoples of the Nariño region of southern Colombia maintain closer cultural and commercial ties with peoples to the south in Ecuador. Metalworkers produce handsome nose ornaments of sheet gold with bicolored surfaces.
ca. 1500Spanish exploration and conquest of Colombia and Ecuador begin. The Caribbean coast of Colombia is explored by Spaniards Rodrigo de Bastidas (ca. 14601527) and Juan de la Cosa (14601510). They trade with Zenú chiefs and collect large amounts of gold.
ca. 1508King Ferdinand of Spain (14521516) authorizes Spanish settlements on the tierra firme (mainland) of South America to facilitate the search for gold mines.
ca. 1510In the territory of the Muisca confederation of four powerful chiefdomsBacatá, Tunja, Sogamoso, the Duitamathe supreme chiefs are considered to be of divine descent. Political and spiritual leaders, they settle conflicts, wage wars, and receive much tribute, including gold ornaments and fine painted cotton mantles.
ca. 1510Large numbers of the indigenous populations in Tairona chiefdoms and Zenú provinces die from European diseases.
ca. 1510Santa María la Antigua de Darién, on the western shore of the Gulf of Urabá, is the first Spanish town founded in South America.
ca. 1520High-ranking individuals in Milagro society in Ecuador wear broad collars of gold or gilt silver decorated in the center with an embossed human face, feather crowns embellished with narrow feathers in gold and silver, large gold disks, and wide gold bracelets.
ca. 1525Francisco Pizarro (ca. 14751541) sails along the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador. He captures a large Ecuadorian trading vessel loaded with merchandise.
ca. 1527A victim of an epidemic disease of European introduction, the Inka ruler Huayna Capac dies in Quito along with an estimated 200,000 of his subjects.
ca. 1530Accounts of the fabulous wealth of the Inka empire to the south reach Caribbean ports. Spanish colonists contemplate a land route south to Peru.
ca. 1533Three Colombian Caribbean townsSanta María la Antigua de Darién, Santa Marta, and Cartagenabecome the major naval and merchant marine bases of the Spanish empire.
ca. 1534In the lagoons and savannas of the wealthy Zenú provinces, the first successful treasure-hunting expedition removes gold objects from burial mounds of Zenú chiefs. The looting of gold offerings from Zenú temples becomes the main occupation of the Spaniards in the region.
ca. 1534Spanish soldiers, led by Sebastián de Belalcázar (14791551), defeat the Inka in Quito. They name the town Villa de San Francisco de Quito.
ca. 1535An art school is established in Quito. Focusing on wood carving and painting, it is an important center for religious art throughout the Spanish colonial period.
ca. 1535The port of Guayaquil is founded at the mouth of the Guayaquil River on the Pacific coast of Ecuador.
ca. 1535The Galapagos Islands are discovered by chance when a ship bound from Panama to Peru sails off course. The existence of the islands is documented by one of the passengers, Tomás de Berlanga (ca. 14851551), bishop of Panama.
ca. 1535Construction of the first monastery in South America, San Francisco in Quito, begins on the site of an Inka palace.
ca. 1536Accounts of El Dorado (The Gilded Man) reach the Spaniards on the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, prompting several expeditions to search for gold.
ca. 1539The Spaniards reach Muisca territory in central Colombia, conquering Bacatá, the main center of a wealthy Muisca chiefdom. Named Santa Fé de Bacatá, the town soon becomes Bogotá.
ca. 1540The Spanish crown divides the newly conquered lands among Spaniards, and establishes local governments. The church becomes a major landowner.
ca. 1542Colombia and Ecuador are part of the Viceroyalty of Perú.
ca. 1545Attempts are made to drain Lake Guatavita north of Santa Fé de Bogotá. Gold offerings had been made there during Muisca ceremonies. A human chain of men with gourd buckets reduces the water level by almost ten feet, exposing the banks of the lake and many gold objects (about 550 ounces).
ca. 1549Santa Fé de Bogotá is the seat of the administrative and judicial tribunal (audiencia). The audiencia is subject to the viceroy of Perú.
ca. 1551The Colegio de San Juan Evangelista is founded in Quito. Renamed Colegio de San Andrés four years later, Franciscan friars instruct Indians in practical trades, Spanish grammar, music, painting, sculpture, and ironworking.
ca. 1563Quito becomes the seat of a royal audiencia.
ca. 1575Artists are organized into guilds. Favoring European and criollo artists (people of European descent born in the Americas), guilds regulate artistic activity, including work supervision and payment to painters, gilders, sculptors, ceramicists, gold- and silversmiths, carpenters, and masons.
ca. 1580Eight thousand Indian workmen are contracted to cut a notch in the mountain range surrounding Lake Guatavita to allow water to run out. Lowering the level by 65 feet, about 1,700 ounces of gold and an emerald the size of an egg are recovered.
ca. 1585Begun in 1557, the Church of San Francisco in Santa Fé de Bogotá is completed. The friars maintain a school for indigenous people in the adjacent monastery.
ca. 1599The Indian painter Andrés Sánchez Galque, a student of the Colegio in Quito, paints the Portrait of the Mulattos of Esmeraldas: Don Francisco de la Robe and His Sons Pedro and Domingo. The mixed-race governor of Esmeraldas, Ecuador, is shown with his sons wearing fine European embroidered robes. Golden nose, ear, and lip ornaments appropriate for people of high social status in indigenous Ecuadorian society are also worn.
ca. 1600After many unsuccessful rebellions, the last of the Tairona chiefs submit to Spanish rule.