Three things about Popayan
Local food specialities
Sweet Potato and peanut empanadas (empanadas de pipian) are particular to the area. They are tiny and tasty and come served with a peanut sauce. We also tried the tamales de pipian which are everywhere as are the local favourite fruit juices; lulo and mora.
Popayan is designated as a UNESCO city of gastronomy, but we found it hard to understand why. We decide to avoid lasagne at all costs in Colombia after an experience in Popayan (85% cheese, no sauce, very sweet). Fried chicken is pretty much the only option in town on a Sunday evening. No restaurants had great reviews and all the restaurants we looked at had pretty boring food with very little variety, regardless of price.
The power brokers of Popayan sip coffee in the secluded Juan Valdez courtyard, just off the main plaza.
A self guided walking tour around the historical centre revealed much of the town known as the “white city”, birthplace of more presidents of Colombia than any other city. Not too shabby for a population of about 300,000. The plaza was fun, but my personal favourite was the theatre, which has female statues on the roof and is totally out of keeping with the rest of towns architecture.
In 1983, an earthquake lasting 18 seconds razed the city to the ground. The ancient churches barely survived.
The earthquake revealed 6 mummies in the foundations of one church (the Inglesia de San Francisco) – two of which are now displayed in the church. In the oldest church (Ingelsia La Ermita), the earthquake revealed fragments of ancient frescoes on the walls. It took 20 years to rebuild the city, restoring it all to the former glory using all the original facades and building materials.
The university is in an amazingly beautiful building which we were invited in to look around by the guard. It’s one of the top universities in Colombia and is housed in what used to be a monastery.
Yet again, we find the museums closed (this time because it’s Tuesday!).
Puente del Humilladero – Humilation Bridge
The first story we are told as to why the bridge has this name, is because about 200 years ago only privileged people could pay the toll and were allowed to cross the bridge, all others not deemed rich enough or smart enough had to pass underneath.
The second story, perhaps a variation on the first is that visiting merchants had to carry their loads across, without the use of donkeys/carts and by the time they reached the end, they were sweating and exhausted.
The third story is that slaves were forced to build the bridge to publicly make amends for their wrong doings.
Then we hear one more story; that priests built the bridge in order to carry food across to the poor people who lived on the other over side of the bridge, although again there is local debate about this – it may have been another adjacent bridge (Puente de la Custodia).
Whatever the historical truth may be, we are sure of one thing – the people of Popayan are great storytellers!