Ciudad Perdida: Lost City in Colombian Highlands holds Mysteries of Ancient Civilization
In the early 1970s, a local guaquero (meaning ‘grave robber’), Florentino Sepúlveda, and his two sons Julio César and Jacobo, were said to have stumbled upon an ancient city in Colombia's Sierra Nevada after climbing a flight of over 1000 stone stairs from a riverbank. Another source states that the guaqueros were hunting for tropical bird feathers when they stumbled upon the deserted city. There was treasure to be found in the abandoned city, and Sepúlveda wasted no time in looting the site. News soon spread around, attracting other guaqueros who wanted a share of the wealth. As a result, deadly fights broke out between rival gangs for control of the site. The guaqueros would come to dub this site as the Infierno Verde (meaning ‘Green Hell’). Today, however, this site is known as Ciudad Perdida (meaning ‘Lost City’).
Indigenous Koguis Shaman at Ciudad Perdida. It is said the Koguis are the modern day keepers of the Tayrona Civilization. 2014, by Uhkabu ( Wikimedia Commons )
Ciudad Perdida is believed to have been built sometime in the 9 th century A.D., and was occupied by the Tayrona until the end of the 16 th century. Although archaeological work has been conducted at Ciudad Perdida for over 30 years, it is estimated that only 10% of the entire site has been properly excavated. Archaeologists have uncovered more than 200 structures covering an area of roughly 0.3 square km. These structures include houses of various sizes, terraces, stone-lined paths and staircases, plazas, ceremonial and feasting areas, canals and storehouses.
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Photograph showing the beauty of the stonework at Ciudad Perdida. 2010, Photo by Jmage ( Wikimedia Commons )
Although the guaqueros were ruthless in their looting, they did not manage to take everything from Ciudad Perdida. Therefore, archaeological work subsequently conducted at the site has yielded various artifacts that shed some light on the Tayrona people who once inhabited Ciudad Perdida. The objects include pottery, both for ritual and everyday use, gold work, as well as necklaces of semi-precious stones. Some of these artifacts are on display in Santa Marta, a coastal city some distance from the site, and in the Museo Del Oro in the country’s capital, Bogotá.
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Crotal bell, tumbaga, Tayrona culture, 1000-1500 A.D., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 2010. Photo by Janmad ( Wikimedia Commons )
It was in the middle of the 1970s, some years after Sepúlveda’s discovery of Ciudad Perdida that the Colombian government stepped in. Troops and archaeologists were sent in to protect this important site. Nevertheless, sporadic fighting and looting by some persistent guaqueros continued for several years. In addition to the guaqueros, the surrounding jungle has also been plagued by drug warfare and paramilitary activity since the mid-1960s. In 2003, a group of eight foreign tourists and their guide were kidnapped by a guerrilla group known as the ELN whilst on their way to Ciudad Perdida. Fortunately, they were released three months later. After the incident, access to Ciudad Perdida was closed to the public. It was only in 2005 that tourists were once more allowed to visit this ancient site, after the military was sent in to ensure that the treks were safe.
Stairs and walkways, part of the Ciudad Perdida. By Raphael Chay ( Wikitravel)
This increase in safety resulted also in an increase in tourist numbers. For instance, it is recorded that the number of visitors to Ciudad Perdida increased from 2000 people in 2007 to 8000 in 2011. Whilst tourism may potentially be a replacement for drug trafficking as a source of income in the region, it poses its own problems. For instance, uncontrolled tourism would certainly have a negative impact on the site, as evident in many other heritage sites across the world. Additionally, tourism might encourage looting at lesser known sites in the region that are not under the surveillance of the authorities. Such looted artifacts might be sold on the black market to tourists as ‘souvenirs’.
Featured image: Mystical Lost City in Tayrona National Park, Santa Marta, Colombia. Photo Courtesy ( sumak-travel.org)
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Available at: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20120720-trekking-to-colombias-lost-city
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Available at: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/colombia/ciudad-perdida
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Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patrick-mcginnis/la-ciudad-perdida-visitin_b_2475363.html
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Available at: http://theculturetrip.com/south-america/colombia/articles/colombia-s-mysterious-lost-city-finding-the-ciudad-perdida/
Thomson, E., 2014. Colombia's Ciudad Perdida: Secrets of the Lost City. [Online]
Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/americas/colombias-ciudad-perdida-secrets-of-the-lost-city-9860415.html