One of the nicest drives you can make from Medellin is only 35 minutes in length. A trip to El Retiro Antioquia takes you along the winding Las Palmas highway as it snakes through the beautiful green hillsides outside Medellin. This is a woodworking country. Lined up along the banks of the road, perfectly poised to catch the warm rays of the sun, rough-cut timbers await their future. Whether it be brightly painted bowls, birdhouses or dog houses, almost every piece of the tree is cut, shaped, sanded or molded into some useful utensil or decoration.
The highway is dotted with restaurants that draw families on weekends or holidays to fill their benches for the local fare. ”Bandeja paisa” or ”trucha frita” – fried trout are some of the most common plates.
The area is also ideal for a Sunday picnic. Just beyond the round-about exit for El Retiro is another traffic circle. Follow the road about one kilometre and you will discover a beautiful little waterfall and picnic area called Tequedamita.
The last leg of the trip into El Retiro follows a small river lined with pine trees. As you draw nearer to the townsite, there are literally a multitude of barbeque areas with swing sets. Family outings are greatly encouraged by the town and most definitely draw the weekend traffic to town.
The historians tell us El Retiro is the ”Cradle of Freedom”. It seems an odd moniker at first. Certainly, the first cries of freedom from Spain did not resound from this old colonial village tucked high in the Andes Mountains. The Spanish, however, did have everything to do with the story.
In their lust for riches, the Spanish dragged many African slave into the mountains. Why” because there’s gold in them thar hills”. Dotted throughout the mountains in the state of Antioquia are many abandoned and active mining sites and a slave was the ideal worker to have do your ”dirty work”.
Javiera Londoño de Castañeda was born in Medellin in 1696. From a very young age, she managed her family and husband’s business affairs which included a mining operation in the area of El Retiro with well over 100 hundred slaves. In 1757 as a gesture of gratitude and good faith she liberated the slave closest to her, certainly an act unheard of in most parts of the world in this era. In 1767, upon her death, she freed all of the other slaves in service to her. Not only that she gave them a mine and land to live on with one condition. They had to build the Chapel of ‘La Virgen de los Dolores” and every year celebrate a mass for her soul in that chapel.
From 1768 until the middle of the 19th century these grateful families returned yearly in December to celebrate this mass and then perform their ancient rhythms and cheerful dances in the town square. As freed slaves commonly took the name of their master, this event was called the ”Entrance of the Castañeda Family”. Today this important moment in Colombian history is celebrated every December 26 to 30 under the name of ”la Fiesta de los Negritos”.
El Retiro still retains the vestiges of those colonial days. The town’s main employment is the construction of furniture and freshly cut sawdust wafts through the air. The love of wood, so important to a colonial home, is also obvious by the care that is taken by many of the property owners.
The town’s administration is proactive and is interested in seeing the town grow. It is attracting a large grocery store in the near future and many city dwellers are buying in the area and commuting into Medellin daily.
El Retiro was founded in 1790 and officially established as a municipality in 1814. As of the 2009 census, it had a population of about 18,000 people – half rural and half urban. Agriculturally the town is producing Hass avocados for exports and even has a coffee roaster’s coop to toast the coffee grown locally.
This is a charming little town with a pleasant, traditional city square/park. It is well worth exploring. Follow this link to see how one client found happiness in El Retiro Antioquia.
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