Mompox

AS A COUPLE
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Marooned on a freshwater island in the vast low-lying wetlands of the Rio Magdalena’s eastern branch, MOMPOX (also spelt Mompós) was founded in 1537 by Don Alonso de Heredia (brother of Cartagena’s founder). It served as the lynchpin for the mighty river’s trade network between coastal Cartagena and the country’s interior, and remained one of Colombia’s most prosperous commercial centres until the silt-heavy river changed its course in the late nineteenth century and Mompox was left to languish as a forgotten backwater. Simón Bolívar raised an army here and Mompox was later the first town in Colombia to declare complete independence from Spain in 1810.

Its beauty has remained practically untouched ever since and UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1995 in recognition of its outstanding colonial architecture. It was also the setting for Gabriel García Márquez’s classic novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Time seems to stand still here: locals unhurriedly putter around the unpaved streets, cats doze in the shade of the tombs at the cemetery and fishing boats ply the network of rivers and lakes. The town’s remoteness has kept it out of mainstream travel but its appeal as the “anti-Cartagena” – architecture to rival the coastal city but none of the hustle – has seen a recent influx of visitors.

Mompox’s grid of streets stretches out alongside the river and is easy to explore on foot. Its sprawl of grand Catholic churches and elaborate colonial mansions is a constant reminder of the town’s faded glory and wealth. The town is also famous for its wooden rocking chairs, which residents drag on to the streets in the evenings to watch the world go by, as well as filigree silver and gold work sold around Calle Real del Medio, and Vinimompox – fruit wines made from banana, guava, orange and tamarind.

The best way to explore is to wander the streets, peeking at the whitewashed colonial houses with wrought-iron grilles, intricately carved doorways, clay-tile roofs and fragrant flower-draped balconies.

Boat tours

Particularly worthwhile if you’re interested in local birds and wildlife, boat trips are a great way to spend an afternoon and are best booked through La Casa Amarilla. Your guide will point out numerous animals and birds that live alongside the river, such as giant iguanas, monkeys, herons, fishing eagles and kingfishers, and there’s usually an opportunity for a swim in one of the lakes, such as the Ciénaga de Pjinon, reachable by narrow channels from the main waterway. Returning by boat to Mompox after a quick sunset dip, you’ll be greeted by a sixteenth-century vision of how the town would have appeared to new arrivals (if you discount the anachronistic mounds of twenty-first-century trash on the riverbank), with all six of its imposing churches facing the river to welcome you.

Cementerio Municipal

Hiding behind Mompox’s most attractive leafy square, the atmospheric cemetery, where elaborate white marble tombs stand alongside more modest graves in the unkempt grass, will appeal to those with a taste for the macabre.

The churches

Of its six churches, the finest is Iglesia de Santa Bárbara, at the end of Calle 14 on the riverfront plaza of the same name. With its Baroque octagonal bell tower and Moorish balcony adorned with ornate mouldings of flowers and lions, it resembles a fancy cake. Iglesia de San Agustín, on Calle Real del Medio, houses several richly gilded religious objects, most notably the Santo Sepulcro, used in the traditional Semana Santa processions.

Magical Macondo

Before you came to Colombia, you may have read about the town of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Now you can visit it. Yes, officially it’s called Aracataca, but the birthplace of the author seems to blur the lines between reality and magical realism, largely through the efforts of one Aan’t Goor (a.k.a. Tim Buendía). Goor is an eccentric 2m-tall” Dutchman who wears a dress around town, claims to be the last surviving member of the Buendía family from the novel and whose enthusiasm for the book knows no limits. His colourful hostel is named after Melquíades, the character who introduces ice to Macondo, and Goor/Buendía has even built Melquíades’s tombstone, to be visited as part of his hugely entertaining day-long tour of the town, which takes in a plethora of García Márquez-themed attractions, including the re-creation of the author’s family home.

Museo Cultural

The Museo Cultural, at Cra 2 No. 14–15, where Simón Bolívar once stayed, has a small collection of religious art. Bolívar’s statue graces the small namesake square, while the inscription on the plinth of another Bolívar-related statue in a tiny nearby square reads (in Spanish): “To Caracas I owe my life but to Mompós I owe my glory.”

Marooned on a freshwater island in the vast low-lying wetlands of the Rio Magdalena’s eastern branch, MOMPOX (also spelt Mompós) was founded in 1537 by Don Alonso de Heredia (brother of Cartagena’s founder). It served as the lynchpin for the mighty river’s trade network between coastal Cartagena and the country’s interior, and remained one of Colombia’s most prosperous commercial centres until the silt-heavy river changed its course in the late nineteenth century and Mompox was left to languish as a forgotten backwater. Simón Bolívar raised an army here and Mompox was later the first town in Colombia to declare complete independence from Spain in 1810.

Its beauty has remained practically untouched ever since and UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1995 in recognition of its outstanding colonial architecture. It was also the setting for Gabriel García Márquez’s classic novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Time seems to stand still here: locals unhurriedly putter around the unpaved streets, cats doze in the shade of the tombs at the cemetery and fishing boats ply the network of rivers and lakes. The town’s remoteness has kept it out of mainstream travel but its appeal as the “anti-Cartagena” – architecture to rival the coastal city but none of the hustle – has seen a recent influx of visitors.

Mompox’s grid of streets stretches out alongside the river and is easy to explore on foot. Its sprawl of grand Catholic churches and elaborate colonial mansions is a constant reminder of the town’s faded glory and wealth. The town is also famous for its wooden rocking chairs, which residents drag on to the streets in the evenings to watch the world go by, as well as filigree silver and gold work sold around Calle Real del Medio, and Vinimompox – fruit wines made from banana, guava, orange and tamarind.

The best way to explore is to wander the streets, peeking at the whitewashed colonial houses with wrought-iron grilles, intricately carved doorways, clay-tile roofs and fragrant flower-draped balconies.

Boat tours

Particularly worthwhile if you’re interested in local birds and wildlife, boat trips are a great way to spend an afternoon and are best booked through La Casa Amarilla. Your guide will point out numerous animals and birds that live alongside the river, such as giant iguanas, monkeys, herons, fishing eagles and kingfishers, and there’s usually an opportunity for a swim in one of the lakes, such as the Ciénaga de Pjinon, reachable by narrow channels from the main waterway. Returning by boat to Mompox after a quick sunset dip, you’ll be greeted by a sixteenth-century vision of how the town would have appeared to new arrivals (if you discount the anachronistic mounds of twenty-first-century trash on the riverbank), with all six of its imposing churches facing the river to welcome you.

Cementerio Municipal

Hiding behind Mompox’s most attractive leafy square, the atmospheric cemetery, where elaborate white marble tombs stand alongside more modest graves in the unkempt grass, will appeal to those with a taste for the macabre.

The churches

Of its six churches, the finest is Iglesia de Santa Bárbara, at the end of Calle 14 on the riverfront plaza of the same name. With its Baroque octagonal bell tower and Moorish balcony adorned with ornate mouldings of flowers and lions, it resembles a fancy cake. Iglesia de San Agustín, on Calle Real del Medio, houses several richly gilded religious objects, most notably the Santo Sepulcro, used in the traditional Semana Santa processions.

Magical Macondo

Before you came to Colombia, you may have read about the town of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Now you can visit it. Yes, officially it’s called Aracataca, but the birthplace of the author seems to blur the lines between reality and magical realism, largely through the efforts of one Aan’t Goor (a.k.a. Tim Buendía). Goor is an eccentric 2m-tall” Dutchman who wears a dress around town, claims to be the last surviving member of the Buendía family from the novel and whose enthusiasm for the book knows no limits. His colourful hostel is named after Melquíades, the character who introduces ice to Macondo, and Goor/Buendía has even built Melquíades’s tombstone, to be visited as part of his hugely entertaining day-long tour of the town, which takes in a plethora of García Márquez-themed attractions, including the re-creation of the author’s family home.

Museo Cultural

The Museo Cultural, at Cra 2 No. 14–15, where Simón Bolívar once stayed, has a small collection of religious art. Bolívar’s statue graces the small namesake square, while the inscription on the plinth of another Bolívar-related statue in a tiny nearby square reads (in Spanish): “To Caracas I owe my life but to Mompós I owe my glory.”

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Rough Guides Editors
8/29/2020
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