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Medellín is Colombia’s second city and one of its proudest success stories. Perched in the Andes mountain range, surrounded by peaks and high altitude rural farming areas, the city itself has become known for its innovative social development programmes.

Spanish explorers reached what is now known as the Aburrá Valley in central Colombia in 1541, but the settlement of Medellín was founded almost two centuries later, on 2 March 1616, by the conquistador Don Francisco Herrera Campuzano, beside the Aburrá River. Land was divided by early settlers, believed to be Spanish Jews fleeing the inquisition, into small plots for farming. A culture of self-reliance developed, and the people of Medellín and the surrounding region of Antioquia became known for their hard-working and independent attitude.

Medellín remained a minor town until the early twentieth century, when a new railway improved connectivity and a boom in the coffee industry allowed the town to emerge into the world economy. In the 1980s, the city’s story took a monumental turn when the drug lord Pablo Escobar gained control of Medellín, and reigned for over a decade. During this time, life in Medellín was brutal and dangerous, and when Escobar was killed during a raid on 2 December 1993, the city had already been deeply scarred.

Since then, huge efforts have transformed Medellín into a safe, modern, pioneering city. Local social regeneration projects were recognised on an international stage when the city was named the world’s most innovative city in a competition run by Urban Land Institute. Citizens continue to strive to improve living conditions and turn away from the past, placing art installations in previously notorious sites, and modernising transport services between the outer, poorer, suburbs and the centre. Public escalators now run through what were once the most inaccessible suburbs, positioned on the steep sides of the valley. One of the best ways to witness these moving walkways is to take the Metro Cable, a cable car providing an aerial view of the innovative project and a city panorama.