Popayan is built on a great plain sloping N.W.
Popayan is the seat of a bishopric dating from 1547, whose cathedral was built by the Jesuits; and in the days of its prosperity it possessed a university of considerable reputation.
Earthquakes have also caused much damage to Popayan, especially those of 1827 and 1834.
Popayan was founded by Sebastian Benalcazar in 1538 on the site of an Indian settlement, whose chief, Payan, had the unusual honour of having his name given to the usurping town.
From Bogota the Spaniards constructed two partially-paved highways, one leading down to the Magdalena in the vicinity of Honda, while the other passed down into the upper valley of the same river in a south-westerly direction, over which communication was maintained with Popayan and other settlements of southern Colombia and Ecuador.
There are woollen mills at Popayan and Pasto, and small cigar-making industries at Ambalema and Palmira.