How to get to Comuna 13? Joining the graffiti tour or exploring the area alone?
The history and street art of Comuna 13.
We got you covered!
18th of September, 2017 6°14'52.3"N 75°37'19.5"W
Comuna 13, a small “barrio” in Medellín was for decades known for its crime and drug wars. It’s one out of 16 barrios in Medellín and has one of the highest densities in population. The neighborhood is built on steep hills outside of the main city – a labyrinth of tiny houses and cottages connected by streets, paths and stairs. This over years made it hard to access the highest parts of the comuna and didn’t allow the people living there to be part of the life down in the city. Poverty was and still is a big problem in this neighborhood even though that nowadays the tourism and the efforts to improve the life in Comuna 13 might give a different impression.
Especially in the 1980s the barrio was drowning in chaos – ruled by the Medellín Cartel, famous for its bloody and deadly combats in between drug gangs and police, strong social tensions, large class differences, unemployment and the ongoing civil war were dedicating the life of all in Comuna 13.
Even though the homicide rate (murder rate) is decreasing, in 2011 there were still about 1600 cases of murder in Medellín. In fact no-one really knows how many people got killed in comuna 13 over the years – but one thing is for sure, it’s old name as one of the most dangerous places in the world wasn’t for no reason.
The comunas such as comuna 13 were often illegal neighborhoods which were formed by those escaping from the crime – refugees who were finding a place apart from the city on the sometimes steep hills around Medellín.
In October 2002, President Álvaro Uribe was carrying out “Operation Orion” with the objective to end the dominance of urban militias of the FARC and the AUC. If you see Medellín now, the city of eternal spring – as it’s called due to the yearlong warm temperatures – you won’t believe that this criminal past is not too long ago. The city is in transformation and with some clever investments in infrastructure such as cable cars, a metro system and electric staircases also the poorer barrios get access to the main city, to jobs, to civilization. Investments in parks, libraries, schools, kindergartens, open sports facilities and public places changed the picture of many comunas. Now it’s not the fear but the hope which is dominant and the driving force. But sometimes the presentation and the image created and given to the world is covering the still existing problems and tries to hide the fact that there is still huge differences in between poor and rich, in between those living in Poblado – one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods – and barrios like comuna 13. Criminality is still a huge concern even though it is getting pushed more and more in outer parts of the city, away from the spotlight, away from what is noticed by the big audiences. Projects such as the “casa de la memoria” an interactive museum are telling the story of Medellin and serve as a reminder of how the life once was dominated by crime.
If you visit Comuna 13 now, you will find a still poor but colourful and hopeful community. The graffiti along the walls tell a lot about the history, but at the same time it is a symbol of hope for the future. Kids are playing in the small streets, old people are chatting over a drink and the comuna seems to rest in peace.
Take your time to see the amazing street art
Talk with the people (highlight/talk about the positive)
Enjoy the views over the city
Make sure to go during the day
How to get there:
Be aware that criminality is still a problem. Nevertheless, you can do the tour by yourself.
Take the metro until San Javier, then change to the bus and ask the driver to let you out at the “escaleras electricas”. If you are going in a group, taking a taxi from the metro station until the staircases might be even cheaper than the bus.
If you want to go with someone local we can recommend the Medellin Graffiti Tour which is a good opportunity to learn more about the graffiti and their meaning as well as about the transformation of this city. The “guides” are street artists from the Casa Kolacho foundation who run educational programs for local youth in Comuna 13 and who are responsible for most of the street art in this area. Find the link here!
If you are into street art and how this can have a huge impact on the transformation of a whole “barrio”, you have to check our article about Callao, a district in Peru close to Lima
Monumental Callao – street art, transformation and history
Looking for more information on Colombia?
Find here our Fact Sheet to Colombia
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