Many Indian groups lived in what is now known as Colombia, long before the first Europeans arrived. The Chibcha, an advanced civilization in the Andes, traded Emeralds and salt for gold and cotton with Indians along the Coast. By 1500, Spanish explorers had sailed along Colombia's Carribean Coast. The first permanent Spanish settlement in South America was founded at Santa Marta in 1525. In 1538, Jimenez de Quesada founded Santa Fe de Bogota, now the city of Bogota. Spanish rule gradually spread over the New Kingdom of Granada as Spanish colonists founded more and more towns. The Colony lacked the mineral wealth of Mexico and Peru. But it produced emeralds, platinum, and some gold.
Spanish settlers in the Andes forced the Indians to work in the mines and on large estates that raised cattle and grain. Many Indians died of mistreatments or of diseases brought by the Spaniards. Along the Carribean Coast, the Spaniards brought in black slaves from Africa to work on sugar cane and cacao plantations. In 1564, the Spaniards government appointed a president to govern the colony. In the early 1700's, Spain combined the colony with neighboring territories into one large colony called the Viceroyalty of New Granada. The Viceroyalty consisted of what are now Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. Bogota is the capital.
In 1780 and 1781, many people violently protested against new taxes. Most parts of the Viceroyalty set up independent government in 1810. The French army occupied Spain at that time, and Spain's South America colonies took advantage of the other countries weakness to declare their freedom. Spain sent troops to South America after the defeat of France in 1814. In 1819, the Venezuelan General Simon Bolivar defeated Spain in the battle of Boyaca, North of Bogota. Bolivar then became the first president of Gran Colombia, a republica made up of the territory of the former viceroyalty.