Cultural Center of Barranquilla

Barranquilla, Colombia | C.1919

Photo Credit: Daniel Torres

Imagine disembarking from a long journey at sea to be greeted by the bright, banana yellow facade of Barranquilla’s stately Customs Building. For those entering the country, this served as the central hub for customs administration, and more recently, the Cultural Center of Barranquilla.

The story of Barranquilla actually begins hundreds of years before it was officially declared a town in 1813. Nestled near the Magdalena River at the mouth of the Caribbean Sea, the territory was a hotspot for trade for Indigenous tribes. The first documentation dates back to 1533 when Indians of Santa Marta used the area as a landing for their canoes where they harvested shrimp.

By the 19th century, Barranquilla had emerged as a major seaport. The original Customs Building was built in 1849 and stood for seventy years before the new building was constructed. Designed by English architect Leslie Arbouin in the Palladian style, this structure became the epicenter of the Colobmian economy, serving as the gateway for goods and immigration. At one point, even welcoming immigrants leaving Europe after WW1 and WW2.

In 1984, the Customs Building was declared a national monument, but its recognition was perhaps a conciliatory celebration of its significance as the Customs Administration had been moved to a new office and the building itself began to deteriorate. Rusted cars and recycling hostels dotted the premises, leading some government officials to consider demolition.

Thankfully instead the building was restored, and still stands to this day. While its days of managing the comings and goings of commercial goods are far behind it, the building continues to welcome new arrivals of a different sort, welcoming patrons to its exhibits and activities as Cultural Center of Colombia’s Golden Gate.

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