When Monumento A Los Héroes was inaugurated in 1963, in remembrance of those who gave their lives during the Independence campaign in South America, it towered over Bogotá’s most northern limits.
During more than a half-century, since it was planned during the presidency of Guillermo León Valencia, this stone edifice became entangled in a web of large-scale road infrastructure as the capital kept on expanding. At the crossroads of Calle 80, Calle 76, Avenida Caracas and the start of the Autopista Norte, Los Héroes is a frenetic transportation hub, critical to vehicular mobility, and where the four cardinal points meet under the names of battalions that participated in the battles of Boyacá, Carabobo, Bomboná, Junín, Pichincha, and Ayacucho. On the Eastern face of the 57-meter high tower, there is also a reference to the British Legion who fought alongside cavalry, fusiliers, and rangers in the battle of Boyacá on August 7, 1918, liberating New Granada (Colombia) from Spain.
Many Bogotanos associate Los Héroes with their daily commute rather than a landmark that also has direct historical ties with Italy, as it was designed in 1952 by architect Angiolo Mazzoni and collaborator Ludovico Consorti. Both Mazzoni and Consorti, were staunch supporters of the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, with Mazzoni, appointed by “Il Duce” as the state’s architect.
Los Héroes also has a French connection as the bronze sculpture of a horse-mounted Simon Bolívar was created by Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910) in Paris, an artist most famously known for his golden Jeanne d’Arc that graces the Place des Pyramides. The statue of Bolívar was one of Frémiet’s final works.
While the representation of the Catholic martyr is one of the most visited monuments in Paris, few tourists descend on Los Heroes as an attraction, despite it being one of few examples of Italian fascist architecture on the continent. In Italy, however, Mazzoni’s work was very prolific, having designed in the 1920s and 30s the railway stations of Siena, Trento, Reggio Emilia, Bolzano, Venezia Santa Lucia, Messina and Roma Termini, as well as post offices and home of Mussolini’s mother Rosa Maltoni in Pisa. When Mussolini’s regime collapsed at end of World War II in Europe, Mazzoni exiled himself in Bogotá, where he lived until 1963.
Within the next couple of months Los Heroes’ historical timeline faces the ax, hammer, and power-drill after the mayoralty of Bogotá announced that the monument must be relocated in order for construction to begin of the first line of the Metro. Already strangled by access roads and designated bus lanes, Bolívar and horse Palomo must now find a new home so that the metro can move passengers from Calle 170 to the city center. According to Metro de Bogotá, the company in charge of operating the city’s elevated transport system, two possible locations are being considered for the heroes of Independence: Portal de las Américas or Calle 72.
Moving monuments in Bogotá is nothing new, but Los Heroes will out-weigh them all, as the tower includes a deep vault and four floors used as exhibition space for art installations.
When Jaime Castro was mayor of Bogotá (1990-1994) he authorized the relocation of a monument in honor of the Colombian servicemen who fought during the Korea War. A stone pagoda stood in the middle of the roundabout on Calle 100 with 15. When the city went ahead to build a tunnel – and bridge – that today connects NQS with Carrera 9, La Pagoda was placed in the garden of a monument-caring family, before officially finding a new home in a parking lot of the military battalion on Calle 106 with Carrera 11.
The most mistreated of all Bogotá landmarks, however, has to be La Rebeca. Crafted in Paris in 1926 by the Colombian artist Hernando Henao Buriticá, the white marble statue cost 500 pesos to make and arrived in the Colombian capital to look over the water lilies in the Parque Centenario. Similar in size to Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid, and created just 13 years after Edvard Eriksen unveiled his Baltic-facing sea creature, Bogota- nos shunned La Rebeca, and President Miguel Abadía Méndez disapproved of her nakedness. In fact, La Rebeca was Bogotá’s equivalent to a Lady Godiva and city’s first publicly exhibited nude.
La Rebeca became a case study in abuse, as vandals went at her, and after losing a nose and several fingers during an attack, the statue was removed from the park to grace a fountain at the corner of Carrera 10 with Calle 26. The expansion of TransMilenio along Ave. Caracas and public works along Calle 26 forced La Rebeca into exile. In 2015, she reappeared again in the centro, but on a different corner (Carrera 13 with Calle 26) to stare, until her next transfer, into murky water. In the meantime, our Héroes of the Independence have to contemplate homelessness in 2019. A destiny that would have knocked Bolívar off his horse.