Santa Marta lays claim to being the oldest surviving colonial town in Colombia. It was Rodrigo de Bastidas who planted a Spanish flag here in 1525, deliberately choosing a site at the foot of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to serve as a convenient base for the reputedly incalculable gold treasures of the Tayronas. Bastidas had previously briefly explored the area and was aware of the Indian riches to be found.
As soon as the plundering of the Sierra began, so did the natives' resistance, and clashes followed. By the end of the 16th century the Tayronas had been wiped out and many of their extraordinary gold objects (melted down for rough material by the Spaniards) were in the Crown's coffers.
Santa Marta was also one of the early gateways to the interior of the colony. It was from here that Jiménez de Quesada set off in 1536 for his strenuous march up the Magdalena Valley, to found Bogotá two years later.
Engaged in the war with the Tayronas and repeatedly ransacked by pirates, Santa Marta didn't have many glorious moments in its colonial history and was soon overshadowed by its younger, more progressive neighbor, Cartagena. An important date remembered nationwide in Santa Marta's history is December 17, 1830, when Simón Bolívar died here, after bringing independence to six Latin American countries.