What’s Tierradentro?

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Tierradentro in Colombia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with pre-Columbian tombs and statues. The site has four smaller sites, three with tombs and one with statues. The tombs have beautiful paintings and are hand-carved into volcanic stone. The largest burial site, Sergovia, is the most impressive. Alto del Duende has four tombs, and Alto de San Andres has difficult-to-see tombs. El Tablon has beautiful statues. Exploring the site on foot takes a full day, and bringing a torch is recommended. The Ethnographic and Archaeological Museums offer more information. Getting to Tierradentro is challenging, but the site is often empty, and guards patrol the area.

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 notable example of pre-Columbian construction.

The first inhabitants of Tierradentro, an agricultural people who spoke Chibcha, arrived in the 7th century. Little is known about them, but they are thought to have been a peaceful people, with great skill in painting, carving and pottery. They existed at the same time as the neighboring San Agustin culture and appear to have shared roads and traded with each other on a regular basis.

The Tierradentro site contains four smaller sites, three of which contain tombs and one of which is a collection of statues. Each of the tombs appears to have been hand carved directly into 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 geometric patterns. Some tombs also include small statues and artifacts, although the vast majority of these were looted over the following centuries.

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

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

Another site in Tierradentro, El Tablon, is notable for containing a number of beautiful statues. These statues are similar in style to the statues found at San Augustin. They are handsome somewhat squat figures, with broad heads and noses and fairly straight lines.
Exploring Tierradentro is done on foot, and it takes 15 to 45 minutes to get from site to site, so a full day is needed to fully appreciate the larger site. As lights are only installed in some of the tombs in Sergovia, bringing a torch is highly recommended.

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 used.
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 patrol the area, both to protect the site and to keep visitors safe, and can be helpful in pointing you in the right direction, should you get lost on one of the long hikes between sites.

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