When thinking about the Venezuelan capital, the first image that comes to mind is probably the green and majestic Waraira Repano, better known as El Ávila, which monitors the whole town from above. Extended from end to end, the mountain embraces a vibrant and hectic metropolis, whose demanding everyday hides the thousands of stories and anecdotes that Caracas has to tell.
And, as happens in every large city, many residents tend to dive into their routine to the point that they no longer meet the most fascinating side of their own city. Founded in 1567, under the name of Santiago de Leon de Caracas, this South American capital houses on every corner a memory and definitely has much more to offer than what we see from the window – with all due respect El Ávila of course.
Although pedestrian mobility is rather difficult in Caracas, explore it on foot is an unparalleled experience. In fact, that is the concept that moves the Urbanimia project, an initiative created by a couple of cultural managers whose goal is to present the human side of the city, through a variety of pedestrian tours that enrich and even surprise to local and foreign. An idea certainly refreshing to Caracas inhabitants, condemned to spend many hours of their lives stuck in very heavy traffic or traveling underground, without even a landscape to admire.
In the historic center of Caracas – recently recovered – is normal to see a high number of pedestrians moving from side to side, in a hurry to reach their destinations. However, it is likely that very few of them know that each corner owes its name to a particular story, some of them supported historically while others inspired by legends and even ghosts. “Witches, ghosts and banshees are part of the small stories about the city. In the corners at midnight and the aged buildings of Caracas, the imaginary and the legend know how to put the willies,” describes Urbanimia the darker face of downtown Caracas.
Thus, the characteristic wit of those who lived which was popularly called “city of red roofs” is kept alive in avenues as busy as Urdaneta, where several buildings of governance, such as the Ministry of Interior and Justice, and one of the country’s leading newspapers, El Universal are located. Right there it is the corner of Las Animas (The Souls), which speaks of the spirit both religious and superstitious of the Venezuelan in the nineteenth century. At the time, the lighting was very poor and the neighbors claimed that when someone was dying it was possible to hear a chorus of voices parlor. Legend has it that one night some young people took to the shadowy streets and, right in that corner, they saw a group of figures wearing white robes slowly disappear again. From there, the bleak place name.
Another curious name is the corner El Muerto (The Dead), which owes its name to a historical event seasoned, again, with superstition. After the bloody Guerra de los Azules (War of the Blue, 1868), a gang went through the streets to collect the bodies. Right in this corner, the men were about to take a body when he got up saying, “Do not bury me, I’m alive!”. The group ran, and since then, this spot was best known as “the place where the dead are raised.”
Rediscovering the known
Across town, in the east, we find Petare, a popular area whose rapid growth contrasts with a center that appears to have stopped in time. With an incomparable cultural value, life in this historic town serves as a window into what would have been Caracas many years ago, certainly very different from the one we know today.
There, structures as the temple “Dulce Nombre de Jesus” (1961), the House of Leon and the Plaza Sucre (both early nineteenth century) seduce with their old world charm, turning the town into a very special place. This is confirmed by the Mayor of Sucre Municipality: “Its authenticity as defined by morphology and structural elements of their houses and the social value of community deeply rooted with a defined historical and cultural personality, constitute sufficient reason to regard as a legitimate National Cultural Asset that invites everyone to know and enjoy adventure.”
However, this protected area is rarely visited by the people of Caracas and in fact, many do not even been here. People may not know that despite the numerous problems around the place, it is a colonial area that is also the setting for cultural activities driven by their own people, in their efforts to proudly preserve values that differ from the overwhelming modernity that dominates the whole city.
Moreover, in the southern area of Caracas, is the Paseo Los Proceres, one of the favorite places for both the family and for athletes because of its size, beauty and security since it is located in a military area. It is not even necessary to stop jogging or bike ride to admire the beauty of its fountains, gardens, sculptures and murals, accompanied by an immense sheet of water that reflects an obelisk pointing the iconic Cerro El Ávila. Details, in the midst of physical activity, should not go unnoticed.
It is common to see a large influx of people in the place but in addition to its lively visitors, this monument -inaugurated in 1956- also has bronze statues of the heroes of the independence of the Bolivarian countries, who in life had different relations to the capital of Venezuela. For example, Urbanimia offers a walking tour in which the personal life stories of these heroic figures are shared, but from a human and possibly unexpected level.
Caracas, surround and chaotic, is also a multifaceted city that enjoys a privileged climate and magnificent green areas, but it also has features that go far beyond nature, as the great cultural heritage that is seen on every street. Anyone wishing to learn in depth the birthplace of El Libertador definitely should not stay in what is at first sight; Caracas contains treasures that will surprise you.