Twenty-five years ago, Time magazine dubbed Colombia's Medellin "the most dangerous city on Earth". Drug lords lived like princes, judges and policeman were regularly assassinated, paramilitaries invaded neighbourhoods and ordinary people disappeared overnight without trace. Even 10 years ago, Medellin was a "bad-ass town". Violence reigned, civil society had been destroyed and no one seemed to know how to put Medellin back together again.
Fast-forward to the present, and Medellin is a delightful place of law-abiding entrepreneurial Is colombia dangerous.
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With an economy that is among the fastest-growing on the continent, it is one of the great success stories of Latin America. InMedellin was hailed as "the most innovative city in the world" by the Urban Land Institute, brimming with creative ideas for urban living, like the eco-arbol, a treelike Is colombia dangerous that acts as an air-purifier, and the spectacular Orquideorama for growing orchids.
In Barefoot Park, Is colombia dangerous passers-by are encouraged to discard their shoes to wriggle their toes in pebbles, mud, and soft grass before finally soaking their feet in pools of water, I asked my guide, Julian, what had happened, how Medellin had gone from gangs and gunfire to Zen-like experiences for bare feet. It was a moment before I realised he was serious.
It was like a bridge to a different world. We suddenly realised that things could change.
It was the beginning of a revolution in Medellin. Traditionally, Colombia's second city had a reputation as a savvy and entrepreneurial place. But in the s and 90s those business smarts made Medellin the leading supplier for America's cocaine habit. At the head of its drug operations was Pablo Escobar, king of cocaine lords, who would eventually be gunned down by American-funded paramilitaries Is colombia dangerous a Medellin rooftop in It was also one of the front lines in the battle between the government and FARC, Colombia's guerrilla movement.
Medellin became the world's murder capital. So many people in this city have suffered, and Julian was one of them. His father had been left close to death in a shooting when Julian was 8.
Several of his closest friends never made it to adulthood. Is colombia dangerous were moments when he talked of his own experiences, of the friends he had lost, when he needed to stop and compose himself.
Tears were never far away. Medellin's pain has its own monument - the Casa de la Memoria, the House of Memories.
On the interactive walls are digital timelines with documents, newspaper reports, and film clips. Most moving of all are the dignified video testimonies of people's experiences, of years spent searching for lost sons and husbands, of time spent fighting for the return of a box of ashes.
It was the sheer scale of the suffering eventually that drove ordinary people to reclaim their city from the guerrillas and the drug lords. Medellin's transformation, of course, is part of a larger national revival.
After decades of civil war, Colombia has been born again. Young people who went overseas for education and for work in the bad years have come home in droves, bearing an international sophistication and Is colombia dangerous entrepreneurial energy.
But in Medellin Is colombia dangerous where public projects helped instil a sense of pride and where ordinary private individuals simply turned their backs on the old ways - the renaissance has been more dramatic than anywhere else in the country. Today, Medellin feels newborn. It helps that the setting is gorgeous.
The city lies in a long valley between two Andean mountain ridges. Capital of Antioquia province, a fertile region famous for its coffee plantations and its flower farms, for its orchids and butterflies, it is known as the City of Eternal Spring for its idyllic climate.
Everywhere Is colombia dangerous turn there seem to be new things happening. I was wowed by the wide modern esplanades of the Parque de los Desos, the Park of Wishes, like an upgrade of London's South Bank Centre with cafes and restaurants, lively concert halls and an interactive museum, the city's university, a modern library and an open-air cinema.
In the botanical garden I followed boardwalks through tropical rainforest laced with orchids and bamboo into secret corners of birdsong and green shadows. At the metro, Julian was gratified by how impressed I was by the modernity and Is colombia dangerous cleanliness. He said the system had been rated as one of the best in the world. Inwe needed to be shown that. People got out of their barrios, their neighbourhoods.
They went to work in different places from where they lived. The metro became a vast bridge, joining disparate parts of the city. It may be just a metro - but it changed the psychology of the city.
We hopped off at the Plazoleta de las Esculturas, a grand central square with 23 large bronze sculptures by Fernando Botero, Latin America's most famous artist, and Medellin's most famous son. Is colombia dangerous is the Beryl Cook of Latin America. His figures are exaggerated and oversized and fun, and the whole square - promenading couples, strolling families, old people on benches - was infected by their playful character.
Nearby in Parque Berrio, the first square in the city, old men were strumming guitars in the gathering dusk while young girls walked arm in arm. We followed the crowds into the great Basilica de la Candelaria where parishioners knelt in incense-laden candlelight with their guilt and their griefs.
The organist began to play a Bach fugue, the notes echoing into the great vaults of the roof. Like some echo of Fitzcarraldo, the great organ had been transported here from Germany a few centuries ago, coming up the Rio Magdalena from the Caribbean coast and then across the Andes in pieces on horseback. They could have done with cable cars - the best part of Medellin's new transport system. Connecting to the metro, the cable cars are the answer to the steep streets of the labyrinthine barrios that climb the mountain sides above the city centre.
They carry passengers aloft above the rooftops and the congested lanes Is colombia dangerous glass Is colombia dangerous.