Colonia Tovar, Venezuela’s German Town

The Church of La Colonia Tovar, also known as the Church of San Martin de Tours

photography by: Rjcastillo/ Wikimedia Commons

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If a passerby was to walk around the streets of Colonia Tovar in Venezuela, he would most probably mistake it with a typical townlet in Germany. As its architecture suggests, the town was established in the mid-19th century by a group of German settlers, who imported their customs, language, cuisine and style of building, creating a piece of Germany in the middle of the new world.

In the aftermath of Venezuela’s war of independence (1810–1823), the country experienced a severe shortage of manpower. Faced with the hefty challenge of cultivating its empty tracts of arable land, the Venezuelan government resorted to attracting European settlers to make up for the demographic loss.


One of the country’s most ambitious plans to colonize its hinterland took place in the 1840’s, when Agostino Codazzi, an Italian-Venezuelan who served as the governor of Barinas province, was entrusted with the task of alluring German immigrants to settle in the nascent country.


As Codazzi sought to entice people from the Grand Duchy of Baden, a former state on the east bank of the Rhine, he chose a speck of mountainous land in the north-central part of the country. Due its high elevation, the location of the future colony was reminiscent of the climatic conditions of the settlers’ homeland, with day temperatures often around 15°C.


In 1843, following a treacherous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, accompanied by an onboard smallpox epidemic and a lengthy quarantine, hundreds of German settlers finally arrived to their new home in South America.


Since the newcomers still had a deep affinity to their ancestral land, they ended up creating their own home away from home, a facsimile of a typical German village. Aptly named after the local member of the government who donated the land, Martín Tovar y Ponte, Colonia Tovar was bestowed with dozens of Tudor houses, known for their iconic whitewashed walls and timber framing.


Interestingly, the German-style architecture was merely a small part of the town’s distinct identity. For almost a century, locals intermarried each other as they sought to preserve their original heritage, resulting in a homogenous ethnic enclave. It wasn’t until the 1940’s when the town first opened to the outside world, adopting the Spanish language and accommodating visitors from all over the country.


While originally, the town functioned as an agricultural outpost awash with fruit and vegetable crops, in recent decades, it also became a popular destination among domestic tourists, abounds with dozens of guesthouses, restaurants and souvenir shops.


In spite of its increasing popularity, Colonia Tovar retains much of its unique character, offering a glimpse of rural Germany amid Venezuela’s lush highlands. In fact, visitors who come here will have plenty of dining options to choose from, all of which offer a plethora of German dishes, including sausages with sauerkraut, wiener schnitzel, German beer, apple-strudel and the Black Forest cake, just to name a few.


Often dubbed as the Germany of the Caribbean, the town still boasts tens of well-preserved buildings throughout its historic center, with the most conspicuous of all being the white and black Church of San Martin de Tours, towering over Plaza bolivar, the town’s main square.