Ernst Röthlisberger’s View of Bogotá

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Ernst Röthlisberger’s View of Bogotá





An indigenous man being punished by public humiliation in the stocks.

Born in Switzerland in 1858, Ernst Röthlisberger arrived in Bogotá 23 years later hired as one of the National University’s first foreign professors to teach history, philosophy and law.

The machine room in El Charquito,
the hydroelectric works at Tequendama.

Fortunately for us, Röthlisberger was also an enthusiastic documentary photographer, and chronicled soldiers, tragedies, construction work and everyday people. He returned to Switzerland about 1900, but his work was only revealed in 2015, when his descendents donated two albums of photographs to Bogotá’s National University, which restored them. Dozens of his photographs are now on display in the Archivo de Bogotá.

Röthlisberger’s photos show an interest in dramatic events, such as the construction of the El Charquito hydroelectric complex near the Tequendama falls, whose ruined machines still remain, and the conflaguration in the Arrubla shopping mall, located in what is today City Hall on Plaza Bolivar, which destroyed the complex and also many priceless historical papers, including Colombia’s independence documents. 

Soldiers.

He also photographed recruits to the Thousand Days War, as well as common people on the street. To me, those are the most interesting pics: The wealthy in their bowler hats and the poor in their bulky ruanas and dark faces – whether due to heredity or work. 

I liked the photo of the wealthy businessmen chatting and ignoring the indigenous street vendor alongside them – a scene which can be seen today. The bareness of Bogotá’s eastern hills is a testament to the fact that residents cooked and heated their homes with firewood. 

Also jarring is the photo of the indigenous man seated on a sidewalk with his legs in the stock. Which is crueler, public humiliation or today’s private solitary confinement?

The train to Zipaquira.

Carrying a confessional.

Mules on Plaza Bolivar.

Falls on the Rio del Arzobispo, today above the Parque Nacional – and almost off limits because of muggers.

Note the dramatic class differences in dress. Which side are the rich on?

A mill on the way up to what is now Monserrate.

A warship, presumably from the Thousand Days War.

The Arrubla conflaguration on Plaza Bolivar in 1900.

A view along the Calle Real, today’s Carrera Septima, looking toward Plaza Bolivar.

The U.S. Embassy was located off of the Plaza Bolivar.

A view of the Iglesia de Egipto when it stood almost alone.

The Eastern Hills were completely deforested. Today, they are forested – with exotic pines and eucalyptus.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours






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