Under brisk Andean skies, rolling clouds and the rutted streets of Santa Fe de Bogotá’s colonial grid, on July 20, 1810, anti-Royalists gathered outside the home of the Spanish merchant Joaquín Gonzalez Llorente to borrow a ceramic, hand-painted vase that would be the centerpiece of a celebration dinner in honor of Antonio Villavicencio. Villavicencio was a Spanish naval officer who earned distinction during the decisive sea battle at Trafalgar in which Napoleon, joined by the Spanish Armada, attempted to defeat the Royal Navy commandeered by Vice Admiral Lord Nelson.
Having witnessed first-hand the ebb and flow of the Napoleonic wars sweeping from the straits of Gibraltar to iron-bolted gates of Moscow, the Quito-born representative of the Spanish Crown had shifted ideological ground in the New World to become sympathetic to a people’s right to self-determination and rule.
The flower vase of Andulsian origin became a cauldron of revolutionary zeal after the Spanish merchant Llorente refused to hand it over, and as the heated meetings between the Viceroy Antonio José Amar y Borbón, his advisors, and representatives of the Republican cause, turned to insults, crowds festered outside Llorente’s house facing what is today, the Plaza de Bolívar. Llorente with a mob laying siege to his home was then attacked by the rioters, but his life saved from a lynching when Bogotá Mayor José Miguel Pey, and cavalry, arrived at the scene.
The vase of discontent did not meet the same fate as Llorente, smashed during an “incident” that cemented the revolutionary ambitions of the local criollos, who were over-taxed and excluded from the political discourse. The Spanish aristocrats, more concerned over the preservation of their estate accessories, seemed oblivious to the inevitable: the advance of a liberating army made up of ex-Napoleonic soldiers, Irish and British mercenaries, fiercely independent Llaneros with their spear-wielding horsemen, even Spaniards enticed to fight, not out of ideology, but a quest for riches.
As Simón Bolívar plotted his advance across a dominion that would carry his name in every square, including the one facing Llorente’s two-storey house (sans vase), a campaign that started with shards of smashed porcelain, broken dreams and a cancelled dinner party, culminated nine years later, in 1819, with the death of the British Legion’s Lieutenant James Rooke at the Battle of Vargas swamp and whose remains are buried in a small monastery near what is today, the capital of Boyacá, Tunja.
The battle of Vargas swamp – Batalla del Pantano de Vargas – turned the tide against the Royalist forces, before Bolívar’s final victory on August 7, 1819, at the Battle of Boyacá, and that sealed the independence of Colombia. So on this day, 20 de Julio, raise your flag to Colombia with #YOALZOMIBANDERA