Medellín reborn: the graffiti tour in the Comuna 13

Michelle Jiménez | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Medellín is a city located in the northwest of Colombia, in the Andean region, about eight hours away from Bogotá by car. Affectionately called "the city of the eternal spring", Medellín is hometown to numerous worldwide known singers such as Maluma, J Balvin and Juanes.* Some great names such as the painter and sculptor Fernando Botero and international soccer players Juan Pablo Angel, David Ospina, Santiago Arias, and Juan Fernando Quintero come from Medellín. And yes, Medellín was also home to one of the most dangerous and biggest drug lords, Pablo Escobar, which is not something we are very proud of. Hence, this city has a very complex past, as it went from one of the most dangerous places in Colombia to one of the most artistic and touristic hotspots. If you wonder how Medellín was reborn, here is the tip. You can see Medellin's** history portrayed in murals *and walls when you take the graffiti tour in the Comuna 13.

Comuna 13

© iStock/ hanohiki

Comuna 13 is the second-largest commune in Medellín, made up of approximately twenty-seven neighborhoods and around one hundred and sixty thousand inhabitants. In the middle of the armed conflict that Colombia lived for years, the guerrilla groups of the ELN, M-19 and the FARC, which used to operate mostly in remote areas, somehow settled for the first time in an urban area, the communes located in the hills of Medellín. In the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, Pablo Escobar developed a network of hitmen recruiting young people in the Comuna 13. People from this area were poor, many of them were displaced farmers and the economic situation in Colombia, in general, was not the best. So, many saw in this an opportunity to survive.

© iStock/ Markpittimages

Before it transformed itself from war to art placeComuna 13 went through twenty-one military operations by the Colombian government between 1998 and 2002. This includes the operation Orion (the largest urban military intervention in the history of Colombia), where during three days, a thousand men from the army and the police took over Commune 13 to confront the guerrilla militias. Soon after, the place got free from all those armed groups. Nowadays, Comuna 13 lives** **another life. In the recent years, the commune has won multiple innovation awards. There are multiple initiatives to get the young one and adults into sports, dance, music, crafting, and arts as part of the transformation process that aims to cultivate and increase the progress in the place.

© iStock/ Juan Alberto Casado

The graffiti tour

This is the right place to learn more about Paisa culture, particularly if you opt for graffiti tour. You will see and understand how the Comuna 13 went from being the most conflictive and dangerous place in Medellín to becoming the city's most visited area. While you stroll around the different neighborhoods, a local tour guide will narrate and explain commune's past and the multiple operations that transformed it. For instance, you will hear how it was established, the reasons why the rebel groups got there, the armed conflict, the transformation, and current information about Medellín and its events.

The tour usually starts in San Javier, the nearby metro station, or sometimes from El Poblado park, and it has from eight to ten stops around the different neighborhoods of the Comuna 13. During the tour, you will observe the transformation that took place in this area through culture and art

Along the tour, you will see amazing graffitis made by locals, and the meaning of the most significant ones will be explained to you. You will also see street dance groups and live street musicians, but also meet local businesses and visit the gallery of a local artist. Finally, you will admire the city's great views and taste some local food, snacks, or icecreams.

Taking the graffiti tour in the Comuna 13 is certainly an eye-opening experience. Medellín is way more than war, drugs and Pablo Escobar, and that is one of the main messages that the community in this part of the city wants to communicate through the murals and graffiti.  

With the hope and faith intact after years of drug war and violence, the people of the Comuna 13 in Medellín placed a bet on the art and sports to rise from the bad years and shine progress. The social and artistic transformation is proof that it is possible to live with hope, in harmony and peace even after some of the worst years of war and violence.

© iStock/ Juan Alberto Casado

By taking the amazing graffiti tour in the Comuna 13 in Medellín, you will learn first hand about the transformation and all of the projects that are in place to keep on shinning this place. You will, for sure enjoy this colorful visit, full of warm smiles and fun tour-guides. And you might get inspired by the locals' tenacity to always rise from the dirt and reach for the best.

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