On this day, a group of citizens known as Criollos (those of Spanish descent born in the Americas rather than in Spain), went to Don José González Llorente´s home (a Spaniard) on the pretext of borrowing a flower vase for a dinner that was to honor the Royal Commissioner Antonio Villavicencio. This event, without any apparent significance, unleashed a confrontation between the Criollos and the Spanish that ended in the eventual independence of Colombia.
The roots of this conflict are found in the years leading up to the 1810 Flower Vase Incident. The Spanish ruled through local governments called Juntas and Cabildos. In the Juntas that were held in the years prior to 1810, the Criollos were very poorly represented -- 36 Spanish representatives to 9 Criollos. The Criollos were very dissatisfied. They felt that their needs were not well represented and many had secretly begun to discuss creating an independent nation state.
In an act of protest, they had soon formed a secret group or Junta that included several prominent Criollo civil authorities and intellectuals. They began meeting in the homes of the members and then moved their meetings to the Astronomical Observatory, whose director was Francisco José de Caldas.
In the meetings, they devised a plan to provoke a limited and temporary public disturbance or conflict which could then give rise to the overall public feel of discontent with the Royalists of Spain. Their hope was to then take control away from the Spanish.
They chose to stage the event on the 20th of July because it was Market Day (Día del Mercado) and the main Plaza (La Plaza Principal) would be full of common citizens. On that day, a little before noon, Luis de Rubio went to Llorente's store to ask to borrow a flower vase as a decoration for the dinner in honor of Villavicencio. Llorente denied his request explaining that he had let others borrow the vase and they had done damage to the vase and it was losing its value as a result.
At that very moment, Francisco José de Caldas "happened" by in the company of Antonio Morales. They greeted Llorente and then de Rubio began explaining that Llorente wouldn't let him borrow the vase and Morales began yelling toward the people at the square that Llorente was using bad language in referring to Villavicencio and other Criollos. Something that Llorente categorically denied. Meanwhile, the other members of the group began to disperse through the crowded Marketplace yelling things like: "They are insulting the Americans!" "We want our own Junta!" "Down with the government!" "Let the Bonapartes die!" etc. The people in the market began to become enraged. Indians, Mestizos, Criollos, rich and poor began to throw rocks and break windows. The Viceroy, the military, and the Spanish began to worry. The Criollos declared a new government "la Junta de Gobierno" which was to replace the Viceroy.
This was just the beginning -- Colombia's first step toward independence. There were many additional protests, considerable violence, and a war before Colombia would become independent.
While in Bogotá, I recommend that you visit the Museum of the Flower Vase or the House of the 20th of July. Take pictures with your kids and teach them the history of Colombian Independence. It is located on the North/East corner of the Plaza de Bolívar.
Below you will find the information about the museum.
20th of July Museum or the Home of the Flower Vase (Museo el 20 de Julio o Casa del Florero)
Open: Tuesday – Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday & Sunday 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Address: Calle 11 No.6-94, Bogotá
Tours are always available in Spanish. However, I believe you can schedule a tour in English or perhaps other languages prior to your visit.