Colombia stretches over approximately 1,140,000 sq. km, roughly equal to the area of Portugal, Spain, and France put together. Colombia occupies the northwestern end of South America, and is the only country there with coasts on both the Pacific (1350 km long), and the Atlantic (over 1600 km.) Three Andean ranges run north and south through the western half of the country (about 45% of the total territory.) The eastern part is a vast lowland which can be generally divided into two regions: a huge open savannah on the north, and the amazon in the south (400,000 sq. km approx.).Colombia is a country of geographical contrasts and extremes. As well as the features mentioned, it has such curiosities as the desert of La Guajira, the peninsula in the most north-eastern tip of the country; the jungle of the pacific coast which holds one of the world's rainfall records; and the Serran?a de la Macarena, an isolated mountain formation about 120 km. long, rising abruptly from the eastern plains to some 2500 meters. Colombia also has several small islands. The major ones are the archipelago of San Andr?s and Providencia in the Caribbean Sea, the Islas del Rosario and San Bernardo along the Caribeian coast, and Gorgona and Malpelo in the Pacific Ocean.
Spaniards founded Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien in 1510, the first permanent European settlement on the American mainland. In 1538 the Spaniards established the colony of New Granada, the area's name until 1861. After a 14-year struggle, in which Sim?n Bol?var's troops won the battle of Boyac? in Colombia on Aug. 7, 1819, independence was attained in 1824. Bol?var united Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Ecuador in the Republic of Greater Colombia (1810-1830), but lost Venezuela and Ecuador to separatists.
Bol?var's Vice President, Francisco de Paula Santander, founded the Liberal Party as the Federalists while Bol?var established the Conservatives as the Centralists. Santander's presidency (1832-1936) re-established order, but later periods of Liberal dominance (1849-1857 and 1861-1880), when the Liberals sought to disestablish the Roman Catholic Church, were marked by insurrection and even civil war. Rafael Nu?ez, in a 15-year-presidency, restored the power of the central government and the church, which led in 1899 to a bloody civil war and the loss in 1903 of Panama over ratification of a lease to the U.S of the canal zone.
The racial makeup of the Colombian population is diversified. About half the people are mestizo (of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry), about 20 percent are of unmixed European ancestry, and about 14 percent are mulatto (of mixed black and white ancestry). The remaining 8 percent is made up of blacks, Native Americans, and people of mixed race. The population of Colombia (1993 estimate) was 34,942,767, giving the country an overall population density of about 30 persons per sq km (about 79 per sq mi). About 70 percent of the population was classified as urban in the late 1980s. CULTURE : The heritage of the Spanish colonial period is more noticeably preserved in Colombia than in any other South American country, and family life and dress often still conform to traditional norms. Although Colombia is a country of many racial mixtures, its culture is diversified more by region than by ethnicity. The Native American civilization was rapidly assimilated into that of the Spanish settlers, whose language nearly all Colombians speak today.
Distinguished Colombian writers include the 19th-century novelist Jorge Isaacs and, in the 20th century, the poet Germ?n Pard? Garc?a and the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The National Library in Bogot? (1777) contains more than 680,000 volumes; it also administers town and village libraries throughout the country. The leading museums are located in Bogot?. The National Museum contains collections relating to the Spanish conquest and the colonial period. The National Archaeological Museum exhibits utensils, stone carvings, textiles, gold works, and other materials found at sites throughout the country. The famous Gold Museum features a noted collection of pre-Columbian gold objects.