Ciénaga, Magdalena

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Ciénaga is a municipality and village in the Magdalena Department, Colombia, second largest population center in this department after the city of Santa Marta. It is situated at 11° 00' North, 74° 15' West, between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the Caribbean Sea and the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta marsh in northern Colombia. The town is situated north of Magdalena and 35 km from Santa Marta. In 1993, there were 121.681 inhabitants (65.357 in urban areas and 56.324 in rural areas).


Prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonizers the area was vastly populated by Chimila indians and a village known as Pongueyca. The foundation of Ciénaga has always been a matter of dispute due to many different historical theories and the lack of sources. It is believed to have been founded first in what is now a small village known as Pueblo Viejo and the site of a former Chimila tribe. In 1585 the monk Fray Tomás Ortiz established a parish that would later burn in a fire. It was then refounded as a city by Fernando de Mier y Guerra under the name of Villa de San Juan Bautista de la Ciénaga but was also known as Aldea Grande, Córdoba, Pueblo de la Ciénaga and simply Ciénaga.

During the war of independence from Spain, Ciénaga became a battleground on November 10, 1820, in the battle between loyalist and independentists of what became known as the Battle of Ciénaga.

On December 6, 1928, the Santa Marta massacre (matanza de las bananeras) occurred in this town. It was a massacre of workers for the United Fruit Company. An unknown number of workers died after the government decided to send the military forces to end a month-long strike organized by the workers' union in order to demand better working conditions.


Ciénaga has been the birthplace of, and home to, numerous notable people including native musician and farmer Clemente Escalona, father and teacher of Vallenato composer Rafael Escalona. It was also the birthplace of the Cumbia Ciénaguera founder and musical composer Andrés Paz Barros. Ciénaga celebrates every year on January 20 the Fiesta del Caimán (Feast of the Caiman) honoring a local legend known as La Historia de Tomasita. Another important celebration is the Guillermo de Jesús Buitrago Guitar Festival.

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