Villa de Leyva

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Villa de Leyva
The local church as seen from the Plaza Mayor of Villa de Leyva
The local church as seen from the Plaza Mayor of Villa de Leyva
Flag of Villa de Leyva
Official seal of Villa de Leyva
Nickname(s): Villa de Nuestra Señora
de Santa Maria de Leyva
Location of the town of Villa de Leyva and the Leyva municipality in Boyacá Department.
Location of the town of Villa de Leyva and the Leyva municipality in Boyacá Department.
Coordinates: 5°38′N 73°32′W / 5.633°N 73.533°W / 5.633; -73.533Coordinates: 5°38′N 73°32′W / 5.633°N 73.533°W / 5.633; -73.533
Region Andean
Department Boyacá Department*
Foundation June 12, 1572
 • Mayor German Sanchez Pereira
 • Total 128 km2 (49 sq mi)
Elevation 2,000 m (7,000 ft)
 • Total 9,645

Villa de Leyva is a colonial town and municipality, in the Boyacá department of Colombia, part of the subregion of the Ricaurte Province. The town is located 40 km west of the departmental capital Tunja and has a population of about 9,600 people. It is "three and a half hours by car or bus from Bogotá."[1]

Located away from major trade routes in a high altitude valley of semi-desert terrain, and with no mineral deposits nearby to exploit, the town has undergone little development in the last 400 years. As a consequence, it is one of the few towns in Colombia to have preserved much of its original colonial style and architecture: the streets and large central plaza are still paved with cobblestones, and many buildings date from the sixteenth century. This has resulted in Villa de Leyva becoming one of Colombia's principal tourist attractions, and it was declared a National Monument on December 17, 1954 to preserve its architecture.[1] The town and the surrounding countryside, which contains several sites of interest, are popular weekend destinations for citizens of Bogota, and attract an increasing number of foreign tourists.


The town was founded on June 12, 1572 by Hernán Suarez de Villalobos and named after the first president of the New Kingdom of Granada, Andrés Díaz Venero de Leiva.[1]


It is located in a high altitude valley of 2,144 meters (7034 feet).

Arts and culture[edit]

There are several festivals held throughout the year, including a gastronomical festival in November, the water festival, the tree festival, the International Kite Festival in August, the onion beauty pageant in October, and the Festival of Lights on December 7.


The focus of the town is the Plaza Mayor, which at 14,000 square meters is the largest square in Colombia and believed to be the largest entirely cobbled square in South America.

The town's most famous son is Antonio Ricaurte (1797 – 1814), a captain in Simon Bolivar's army fighting for independence, and who died in a famous act of self-sacrifice at San Mateo in what is now Venezuela. The house in which he was born, on the Plazuela de San Agustín, was acquired by Colombia's Air Force in 1977 and turned into a military museum.

Villa de Leyva has also been home to two other well-known figures in Colombian history. Antonio Nariño, best known for translating The Rights of Man into Spanish and a leading advocate for Colombian independence, lived the last few years of his life and died in Villa de Leyva. Luis Alberto Acuña (1904 – 1993), one of the most important Colombian artists of the 20th century, also spent his final years in the town. The houses of both men are now museums containing their personal effects, and in the case of Acuña, a selection of his works, including two murals on the walls of the internal patio.

The House of the First Congress, where the First Congress of the United Provinces of Nueva Granada met on October 4, 1812, is located on the north corner of the main plaza. It is currently the site of the municipal council.

Near Villa de Leyva are several other sites of interest. The valley in which the town is located is rich in fossils from the Mesozoic and the Cretaceous Eras, the most famous being a near-complete kronosaurus discovered in 1977 about three miles west of Villa de Leyva. Known simply as "El Fósil", the fossil was left in situ where it was discovered and a museum was built around it: another smaller kronosaurus fossil was discovered nearby and brought to the museum to be displayed alongside the larger specimen.[1]

A few miles further west is a Muisca astronomic observatory made of phallic stones, colloquially named El Infiernito ("little hell" in Spanish), as the Spanish conquistadors were horrified by the stones and proclaimed that the Muisca would be banished to hell for their obscene representations.

To the north-east of Villa de Leyva the land rises to cloud-forest and includes the national park of Iguaque, and a group of seven waterfalls collectively named La Periquera 15 km away from the town.

Panoramic view of Villa de Leyva's main square.

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d David Carr (October 22, 2009). "Villa de Leyva, a Graceful Window on Colonial Colombia". NY Times. Retrieved June 18, 2014. 

External Links[edit]