Founded in 1539 on the ruins of the ancient Muisca capital of Hunza, TUNJA is not the region’s most exciting city, though its historic centre is one of the foremost preserves of the country’s colonial heritage, and is worth a quick stop on the way to Villa de Leyva.
About 16km south of Tunja on the main road back to Bogotá is a reconstructed colonial-era bridge, El Puente de Boyacá, commemorating the Battle of Boyacá of August 7, 1819, which cleared the way for Bolívar and his freedom fighters to march triumphantly into Bogotá. Any Bogotá–Tunja bus will drop you off/pick you up (provided there’s room).
Iglesia de Santo Domingo is known for its Rosario Chapel, richly decorated with religious paintings and magnificent gilded woodcarving by Gregori Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos. Iglesia y Convento de Santa Clara de Real was the first convent in Nueva Granada, and combines indigenous and Catholic imagery in its elaborate decor; note the sun on the ceiling – the main god of the Muisca.
The mansions around the Plaza de Bolívar are particularly splendid. The Casa del Fundador Suárez Rendón, home of the town’s founder, was built in the Moorish Mudéjar style in 1540 and features interesting scenes on its ceiling, while the Casa de Don Juan de Vargas also stands out for its eighteenth-century ceiling frescoes. The motifs are a curious mishmash of imagery – from Greek gods to exotic animals and coats of arms, combined in unusual settings.