Popayán is the capital of the Colombian department of Cauca. It is located in southwestern Colombia between Colombia's Western Mountain Range and Central Mountain Range. It has a population of 258,653 people, a territorial extension of 512 km2, is located 1760 meters above sea level, and has an average temperature of 18/20°C.
This town is well-known because of its beautiful colonial architecture and its contributions to Colombian cultural and political life. It is also known as the "white city" due to the color of the most of colonial houses and places in the city downtown, where several churches are located, such as San Francisco, San José, Belén, Santo Domingo, San Agustín, and the Catedral Basílica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, known locally as "La Catedral".
The city's cathedral was home to the Crown of the Andes, a 16th century Marianist devotional object featuring emeralds taken from the captured Inca Emperor Atahualpa before its sale to finance local health care institutions.
Much of the city's original splendor was destroyed on 31 March 1983, when an earthquake toppled many buildings. Though many of them were rebuilt and repaired, the heart of the city still bears ruins and empty lots since the disaster.
Popayán has been home to seventeen Colombian presidents, as well as noted poets, painters, and composers. The University of Cauca (est. 1827), one of Colombia's oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher education, is located here; that is why Popayan is also known as the "University City."