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What is Tierradentro?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Tierradentro is a large collection of ruins in Colombia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1995. Tierradentro contains a number of individual sites, and is a remarkable example of pre-Columbian construction.

The early inhabitants of Tierradentro, an agricultural people who spoke Chibcha, arrived in the 7th century. Little is known about them, but it is thought they were a peaceful people, with great skill in painting, carving, and ceramics. They existed at the same time as the nearby San Agustin culture, and it appears they shared roads and traded with one another regularly.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

The site of Tierradentro contains four smaller sites, three of which contain tombs, and one of which is a collection of statues. Each of the tombs appear to have been hand-carved directly into the volcanic stone, and reach depths of up to 10 feet (3m).

The tombs are notable for their beautiful paintings. These paintings are done in red, ochre, black, and white, and consist of intricate geometrical patterns. Some tombs also include small statuary and artifacts, although the vast majority of these have been looted in the intervening centuries.

The first site, Sergovia, contains roughly thirty tombs which have been opened, and sixteen of these have been lit for exploration. These are the only tombs in Tierradentro which have been lit, and Sergovia is the most extensive of the burial sites, and is considered the most impressive by most visitors.

The next site in Tierradentro, Alto del Duende, includes four tombs, but none of these are lit, and so are not ideal for exploration. The last set of tombs, Alto de San Andres, is found beyond the San Andres Pisimbala, and these tombs are also difficult to see.

Another site at Tierradentro, El Tablon, is notable because it contains a number of beautiful statues. These statues are similar in style to the statues found in San Augustin. They are beautiful, somewhat squat figures, with wide heads and noses, and fairly straight lines.

Exploring Tierradentro is done on foot, and it takes between 15 and 45 minutes to get from one site to the next, so a full day is needed to fully appreciate the larger site. Since lights are installed only in some of the tombs of Sergovia, bringing a flashlight is highly encouraged.

After exploring Tierradentro itself, both the Ethnographic Museum and the Archaeological museums offer excellent opportunities to learn more about the culture that once inhabited the area, and the architectural styles they employed.

Getting to Tierradentro is not particularly easy, especially during the rainy season. This is a blessing as well as a curse, however, as it means the site is often virtually empty. Guards do walk the area, both to protect the site and to protect visitors, and can be helpful in pointing you in the right direction, should you become lost on any of the long hikes between sites.

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