During the pre-Colombian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous peoples who were primitive hunters or nomadic farmers. The Chibchas, who lived in the Bogotá region, were the largest indigenous group.
The Spanish sailed along the north coast of Colombia as early as 1500; however, their first permanent settlement, at Santa Marta, was not established until 1525. In 1549, the area was a Spanish colony with the capital at Santa Fe de Bogotá. In 1717, Bogotá became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama. The city became one of the principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World, along with Lima and Mexico City.
On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogotá created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia was formed.
The new Republic of Greater Colombia included all the territory of the former Viceroyalty. Simon Bolívar was elected its first president and Francisco de Paula Santander, vice president. Two political parties grew out of conflicts between the followers of Bolívar and Santander and their political visions - the Conservatives and the Liberals - and have since dominated Colombian politics.
Colombia's history also has been characterized by widespread, violent conflict. Two civil wars resulted from bitter rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties: The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and La Violencia (1946-1957) cost another 300,000 Colombians.
Colombia still struggles with violent conflict as drug trafficking and corruption run rampant in the country. According to SIPRI (el Instituto Internacional de Investigaciòn Sobre Paz), the internal conflict in Colombia is among the 10 most bloody in the world.
Drug trafficking continues to grow, and presidents resolve to fight. Former President Álvaro Uribe survived 15 assassination attempts before coming to office.
Despite decades of internal conflict and drug-related security challenges, Colombia maintains relatively strong democratic institutions characterized by peaceful, transparent elections and the protection of civil liberties.
Source: The World Factbook, 2014.