Founded in the 16th century during the Spanish colony in Latin America, it became an important commercial port on the banks of the Magdalena river, connecting the interior of the country with Cartagena. Many constructions are still standing as a testimony of the town's past splendor, making Mompox a special tourist destination. The town was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1995.
Mompox is a remote paradise, frozen in time. Its foundation is a subject of debate, although experts place it between 1530 and 1540. Its name was taken from the Cacique Mompoj, leader of the tribes that inhabited the region at that time.
The Catholic Church was present from the very foundation of the city. At the end of the 16th century, the Villa de Santa Cruz de Mompox counted with: the Church of the Immaculate Conception 1537-1540; the Church of Santo Domingo 1544, belonging to the Dominican community who gave rise to the Inquisition during the Albigensian Crusade in 1184; The Church of San Juan Bautista 1555, belonging to the community in charge of administering the Hospital of Mompox, which still functions in its original location under the name of San Juan de Dios; The Church of San Francisco in 1564 and the Church of Santa Barbara and the Chapel of Ecce Homo, whose construction began at the end of the 16th century and were erected (consecrated) in 1613, turning the town into a centre of operations for the Inquisition, from where condemnations for heresy, palmistry and blasphemy, among others, were issued (and executed).
During the colonial period, Mompox stood out for its goldsmith tradition. Large shipments of gold from the rich mines of Antioquia were handled, especially from Zaragoza, Remedios and Guamocó, which was minted in the Mompox Mint, better known as the Casa de la Contaduría, This gave rise to an important availability of precious metals and the development of goldsmithing in Mompox up to the present day, especially in the filigree technique, which is part of the Arab legacy that crossed the Atlantic with the Spaniards.
The prosperity gained by the city is due to its commercial importance. During the whole colonial period, it controlled the only access route between the cities of the coast and the interior of the New Granada. This led it to become a provincial capital in 1561, with part of the government of Cartagena and part of what today is Antioquia, a condition maintained until 1564, when the people of Mompox decided that they did not want to have governors or royal authority to control trade in their town. The commercial wealth gave rise to the largest number of members of the Creole nobility that ever existed in New Granada, two marquises and three counts lived there, according to research by sociologist Orlando Fals Borda. Also, many important figures of the time passed through or settled in Mompox, such as the scientist Alexander von Humboldt, and José Celestino Mutis, whose brother lived in Mompox.
Mompox became the first Colombian town (then Nueva Granada) to proclaim its independence from the Spanish Empire in 1810, under the slogan "Be Free or Die", which led to the first civil war between Cartagena and Mompox in January 1811. The capital of the province won because it had an army and weapons that the town of Mompox did not have. In compensation, the signatories of the Act of Mompox, Gutiérrez de Piñerez and Germán de Ribón managed to agitate the Cartageneros and together with the inhabitants of Getsemaní forced Cartagena to sign their act of independence on 11 November 1811.
Two years later, the city repulsed a crucial attack by royalist forces from the governorate of Santa Marta of which Simón Bolívar had been aware, through correspondence with the Gutiérrez de Piñerez family and Germán de Ribón. In December 1812, Bolívar arrived in Mompox and was welcomed by these families, who gave him resources and organised an army of 400 Mompox citizens, starting the Lower Magdalena Campaign, which in the course of time became the Admirable Campaign, reaching Caracas and liberating it on 6 August 1813. This support led the Liberator to declare:
"If I owe my life to Caracas, to Mompox I owe my glory".
The city retained its port importance until 1860 when it was isolated for several months as sedimentation prevented transit along its branch of the Magdalena River. The town of Magangué took over its role, marking the end of Mompox' commercial splendour.
We are grateful for the contribution of historian Alvaro Castro Abuabara to this review.