In the downtown of Medellín there’s a building that catches everyone’s eyes and is a kind of mystery because, seeing it from the outside, visitors and even some residents cannot say with certainty if it is a church, a museum or a Government office.

Curiously, the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture meets these 3 descriptions and many more. The confusion surrounding this magnificent work goes back to its origins, when pedenstrians made gigantic lines just to ride its elevator (the first with public access in the city).

There were even people who opposed the construction without the first bricks being laid, which is why it is one of the most controversial buildings in our history. Among the opponents was Pedro Nel Gómez (famous engineer, urban planner and muralist), who came to demand its complete destruction.

However, the structure became one of the most impressive architectural heritage in the city and was declared a national monument in 1982. Here I will tell you several curiosities about the Palace of Culture and what it keeps inside.

Location

The Palace of Culture is located in the downtown of Medellín, in the Candelaria sector, between Av. Carabobo, Carrera Bolívar and the intersection of both with Calle Calibío. The exact address is: carrera 51 No. 52-03.

It is surrounded to the north by Plaza Botero, to the west by Museo de Antioquia and Iglesia de la Veracruz, and to the southeast by Parque Berrío and the Metro station that has the same name.

Getting there

Due to its proximity, the best option is the Metro transport system. Other alternatives are taking a taxi (or ridesharing apps such as Didi, Uber and Cabify).

However, the latter are not so recommended because the streets that lead to the Palace of Culture (and the downtown in general) are usually very busy an chaotic. In addition, I advice against the use of your own vehicle because it is difficult to find a good parking lot.

Talking about the Metro, you must get off at the line A station called Parque Berrío, which is one step away of the palace. Keep in mind that we are talking about one of the largest Metro station, so there are 3 different exit points and that can be confusing (the chaos is part of what makes the center so fascinating).

But relax, there is no way to get lost here. From the same metro station, when you get off the train, you will see the checkered facade of the building at the north end of the station. Look for the nearest stairs and go down.

When you pass the turnstiles, take the exit on the right, which will leave you at Carrera Bolívar. A few steps away, your destination awaits: a large building in white and gray colors, like an extravagant chessboard.

As we indicated in our post about Plaza Botero, there will be hundreds of street vendors between Parque Berrío and the palace. They may or may not offer you their wares. The important thing is that you do not feel obligated to buy and even if you want to buy a product, do it quickly, without browsing too much.

Complaints of theft are often received in this area. It is best to go to the landline; the less you wander, the less you expose yourself to pickpockets. Luckily, the risk and the distance you have to travel to enter are almost nothing, especially if you go in the morning.

There are other places like Carabobo where you can shop more calmly. The important thing here is the history and architecture, so let’s explore a bit of that.

History

The Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture was the last great public work carried out by a foreigner in Medellín during the 20th century. Although technically it was never finished, at least not in the way it was planned from the beginning.

It turns out that in the 1920s, President Pedro Nel Ospina (not to be confused with his artist namesake), decided to hire the Belgian Agustín Goovaerts to carry out this project. Quickly, Goovaerts’s world-renowned talent and the interest shown in him by the private sectors, earned him all kinds of commissions.

And, although this caused rejection among people who defended a modernization of the country from within, the few qualified architects and local builders did not cover the growing demand. So Goovaerts ended up designing, among other things, the National Palace, the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the San Pedro Cemetery, the Junín Theater and several mansions in the Prado neighborhood.

His stamp of various aesthetics is imprinted on much of what we know as ancient Medellín. But the strong opposition against him caused him to return to Belgium in 1928 without completing the Government Palace. While construction was put on hold, the building was occupied as the headquarters of the Government.

In 1970 the work was finished without following Gooavert’s original guidelines. Shortly after, in 1987, the government institutions moved from there to its current headquarters in the Alpujarra and the palace, intended for cultural purposes, was named in honor of Rafael Uribe Uribe, a very prominent national leader between the end of the 19th century and beginning of the XX.

Now the Palace of Culture is the house of the ICPA (Institute of Culture and Heritage of Antioquia), the main engine of artistic and cultural expressions in the region.

Architecture

The Palace of Culture has more than one style, since the design proposed by Agustín Goovaerts, which in principle was Renaissance Gothic or Flemish Gothic, had to change due to multiple disputes with its detractors, causing delays in execution.

In fact, it was Goovaerts himself who integrated different elements and influences to allow the intervention of the other architects and engineers who participated in the work. And although only half of the project materialized, it was possible to preserve its essence, full of pointed shapes that seem to reach the sky.

From the outside, the most striking thing is the dome, whose height of 20 meters is guarded by gargoyles like those of Notre-Dame. While inside, the auditorium stands out, with a mural by Ignacio Gómez Jaramillo representing the liberation of the slaves in 1851. For a time, this was censored for showing nudity and explicit violence.

What’s inside?

Being the headquarters of the Institute of Culture and Heritage of Antioquia, in the palace facilities you will find the Departmental Historical Archive, the Carlos Castro Saavedra Library, the Departmental Music Library and Center for Musical Documentation, the Art Gallery and the Permanent Exhibition on Rafael Uribe Uribe and the history of the building.

In addition to this, there are two great spaces where you can cool off, rest and even have a drink (although they don’t sell food inside). The first is the fountain in the basement and the second is the terrace on the fourth floor, overlooking Plaza Botero.

From there you can take incredible panoramic photos, but keep in mind that the elevator only goes to the third floor, so you have to climb the stairs.

Occasionally there are artistic and cultural events, such as cinema shows inside the dome. So it is good to review the programming on its official page.

Admission

Access to the building is free, you just have to present your identity document at the entrance.

The tour is also free and, although the officials can give you some indications, their job is not to make guides. Personally, I recommend visiting the entire first floor, the fountain and the terrace.

Open hours

Remember that the whole plan includes to visit the Palace of Culture, Plaza Botero and the Museum of Antioquia. If you can, book early keeping in mind that for security reasons it is not good to visit the area after 4 p.m.

  • Monday to Friday From 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
  • Saturdays From 8 a.m. until 1 p.m.
  • Sundays Not open to the public