The Comuna 13 in Medellin has become one of the must-visit places in Colombia, not only because it boasts color and art in every corner but also because it shows how culture and social awareness can transform a sad part of our Colombian history into unity, progress, and joy among the community.
Comunas were the names given to the neighborhoods that were built down the hillsides of the mountains that surround the city. Not too long ago, the comunas (and specially the Comuna 13) were considered as the most dangerous areas of Medellin due to violence and drug trafficking. However, over time this past began to change thanks to the hard work of their own inhabitants.
Let’s travel in time
In order for us to value the current importance of the graffiti in the Comuna 13, we need to understand its background.
At the beginning, the inhabitants in the comunas were mostly humble people who lived in small towns or rural areas until they were forced to move from their territories during the armed conflict. As their social and economic situation was hard and there weren’t enough resources to afford a house, they took their own terrain and build a space for them and their families to live in.
Unfortunately, the area became the perfect place for drug trafficking during the 1980s because of its difficult access and multiple alleys in which people could hide from the police or create scape routes. The comunas suffered the violence perpetrated by guerrillas, paramilitary and Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel. They were even military operations to stop guerillas, but it brought more violence and death. People said it was hell on earth. All these contexts led to a generation of young people who were forced to turn into hitmen, kidnappers or extortionists as a way of survive and protect their families, and as if they didn’t know other ways of living better.
The role of art and graffiti in the social transformation
After all those years of violence, the members of these neighborhoods decided to speak up and took actions collectively in order to change not only their background, but also their territory. The Colombian State also started to invest money to give the comunas easier access to basic resources such as better public lighting and better means of transport with the cable car. There were also social inclusion programs to invite mainly the youth to reflect about their own place, the things they wanted to change and the ways they would like to live instead.
The urge of living in peace, instead of resentment, fear and violence, made these people workhard for their own community and they found in urban art expressions, such as hip-hop
culture, muralism, breakdance, rap, graffiti, etc., a path in which they could tell their stories, so everyone knows about them, but also to remember a situation which they are not letting it to
happen again. Graffiti was one of the languages they had to leave a positive mark and transform bad memories into portraits of hope.
Over time, and after tons of collective effort and forgiveness, members of La Comuna 13 started receiving travelers and tourists who wanted to learn about their stories and learnings, and they transformed their neighborhood into a public open-door-art gallery.
It sounds like an amazing place to visit, but is it safe to go to Comuna 13?
Yes! People in the comunas have worked hard to create an immersive experience for tourists and to let them feel safe during their visit. There is the cable car and electric stairs so people could access there easily, and neighbors will try to help you with anything you may need, so you will always feel welcomed.
Nowadays, doing a graffiti tour in Comuna 13 is one of the best plans in Medellin, especially because it allows you to meet members of the community and have real interactions with them, so you get their side of the story, and you receive an authentic experience of how culture actually can heal and repair historical wounds.
If you still have doubts, you can always take a chance and the cable car up there!