Surrounded by stately structures, this square marks the spot where Bogotá was declared the seat of New Granada's colonial government. Today it's popular with photographers snapping pictures, unemployed men intermittently snoozing and chatting, street theater groups performing for a few hundred pesos, and children who never seem to grow bored with chasing pigeons. The Capitolio Nacional, Alcaldía Municipal, and Palacio de Justicia are not open to the public.
On the plaza's east side, the Catedral Primada de Colombia (officially the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception) was only completed three centuries after construction began in 1565 owing to a series of misfortunes—including the disastrous earthquake of 1785. Its French baroque facade is made from locally mined sandstone. The expansive windows give the immense interior a light, airy feel, even on one of Bogotá's many gray rainy-season days. The ornate altar with gold leaf over heavily carved wood sharply
contrasts with the lack of ornamentation elsewhere. In one of the side chapels lies conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada's tomb. The church is open Monday through Saturday. Next door, in the Capilla del Sagrario, is an exquisite baldacchino, a smaller version of the ornate canopy structure in St. Peter's in Rome. The Sanctuary Chapel, open daily, also has a splendid collection of paintings, including works by the Taller de Figueroa and Gregorio Vasquez.