The area of modern Bogotá was first populated by groups of indigenous people who migrated from Mesoamerica. Among these groups were the Muiscas, who settled mainly in the regions that we know today as the Departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacá. With the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the area became a major settlement, founded by Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada and later capital of the Spanish provinces and the seat of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. With independence, Bogotá became capital of the Gran Colombia and later the capital of the Republic of Colombia.

Pre-Columbian era

The Muisca raft, a pre-Columbian gold sculpture representing the Muisca's offerings of gold.

The first populations inhabiting Bogotá were the Muiscas, members of the Chibcha language family. At the arrival of the conquerors, the population was estimated to be half a million indigenous people. They occupied the highland and mild climate flanks between the Sumapaz Mountains to the southwest and Cocuy's snowy peak to the northeast, covering an approximate area of 25,000 km2 (9,653 sq mi), comprising Bogotá's high plain, the current Boyacá department portion and a small Santander region. Most fertile lands were ancient Pleistocene lake beds and regions irrigated by high Bogotá, Suárez, Chicamocha and some Meta affluent river beds.

In this area, the population was organised in two large federations, each commanded by a chief. The southwest area was dominated by the Zipa with the center located in Bacatá, currently Bogotá. He was the strongest leader, occupying two-fifths of the territory. The northeast zone was the Zaque domain and the center was Hunza region, currently Tunja. Unlike the Tayronas, the Muiscas did not develop large cities. Muisca, eminently farmers, formed a disperse population occupying numerous small villages and hut settlements. In addition, some free isolated tribes also existed: Iraca or Sugamuxi, Tundama, and Guanentá.

Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada expedition

The Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, founder of the city

From 1533, a belief persisted that the Río Grande de la Magdalena was the trail to the South Sea, to Peru, legendary El Dorado. Such was the target of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, the Spaniard conqueror who left Santa Marta on 6 April 1536 with 500 soldiers, heading towards the interior of current Colombia. The expedition divided into two groups, one under Quesada's command to move on land, and the other commanded by Diego de Urbino would go up river in four brigantine ships to, later on, meet Quesada troops at the site named Tora de las Barrancas Bermejas. When they arrived, they heard news about Indians inhabiting the south and making large salt cakes used to trade for wild cotton and fish. Jiménez decided to abandon the route to Peru and cross the mountain in search of salt villages. They saw crops, trails, white salt cakes and then huts where they found corn, yucca and beans. From Tora, the expedition went up the Opón River and found Indians covered with very finely painted cotton mats. When they arrived to Grita Valley, of the expedition leaving Santa Marta, only 70 men were left.

Along their trip, they took a large amount of gold and emeralds. In Hunza, they captured the Zaque Quemuenchatocha and headed towards Sogamoso, where they plundered and set the Sun temple on fire and obtaining immense prize.

On 22 March 1537, they arrived from the north crossing Nemocón and Zipaquirá salt villages to a place they named Valle de los Alcázares (Valley of the Fortress). Already in Chibcha territory they found goods roads and moved southwest. In the next few days, they came across several villages, among them Lenguazaque and Suesca. They continued through Cajicá, Chía and Suba, the start of Bogotá Kingdom, where they fought Bogotá Chief Indians, who tried to prevent them from entering their town, and saw Muequetá or Bacatá fenced ranch village, built on a swampy ravine, and Tisquesusa Zipa capital on the right margin of the Tisquesusa River.