Venezuela: The Mighty Orinoco Home to Angostura Bitters (August 2010)

Venezuela: The Mighty Orinoco Home to Angostura Bitters

August 2010


The mighty Orinoco River, South America’s second largest river, flows through Ciudad Bolívar, its colourful cobbled streets covering the upper part of the city, while comparatively new roads line the banks of the river below. It is considered to be one of Venezuela’s most beautiful cities and, historically, one of its most important.


Ciudad Bolívar was founded in 1764 as Angostura. Given its strategic location along the banks of the Orinoco, in the XIX and XX centuries it remained Venezuela’s prime transport hub, as well as the perfect location for visitors eager to break their journeys. Thus the city and its river also acquired importance thanks to their environmental beauty, becoming the object of both artistic and literary expressions. Jules Verne published The Magnificent Orinoco in 1898. Long before his time, Daniel Defoe in Robinson Crusoe alludes to the mighty Orinoco and to its strategic location for the Spanish conquistadores as an entry point into the deeper El Dorado. Indeed, at the time of the Spaniards’ arrival in this region, the Orinoco river basin was home to a number of indigenous villages that lined the banks of the river. The various architectural styles present throughout the city, from Spanish colonial to English and French Antillean, are representative of the subsequent occupational stages of the city.


The city’s strategic importance inevitably led to economic prosperity. Numerous archaeological objects, from ceramics to coins, serve as clear attestation to the significance the city had during this time. Ciudad Bolívar was also to play a vital role in the Latin American independence process, serving not only as an ideal military base, but, thanks to its excellent cattle breeding, also as an ideal production and distribution centre for victuals and raw materials to be dispatched to the armed forces in the other regions of the Andes and the American continent.


Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German doctor who was appointed Surgeon-General and who fought in Simón Bolívar’s army, was determined to create a medicine which would bring relief to his soldier patients by improving their appetite and digestive system. After years of research, in 1824 he concocted a blend of herbs that he named amargo aromático or ‘aromatic bitters’, as it is known today. His bitters were soon in high demand not only locally but also internationally, given the frequent sailors who stopped off in the city looking for a cure for their seasickness. Given Angostura’s importance as a maritime hub and trading post, Dr Siegert’s remedies started their trip around the world, with demand rapidly rising in plenty of countries worldwide. He eventually resigned and decided to dedicate himself solely to manufacturing his bitters, and in the 1930s he founded House of Angostura. Despite Simon Bolívar’s desire to instill peace and stability in his motherland, Venezuela was in political turmoil and internal strife; Dr Siegert decided to relocate to the nearby islands of Trinidad and Tobago, which to this day remain the location of the Angostura Bitters headquarters.