Art In The Necropolis, Visiting The Fascinating Provence Of Tierradentro, Columibia

The National Archaelogical Park of Tierradentro, Colombia, is the location of an outstanding ancient site, a necropolis of 78 prehispanic tombs carved directly into the rock beneath the province’s hills. Tierredentro was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO back in 1995, based upon the necropolis, the stone statuary in the area, and other archaelogical remains.

The tombs of the necropolis are dug into four hills, or Altos: Segovia, El Duende, San Andrs and El Aguacate. In addition, there are 11 stone statues visible to the public at the nearby location of El Tabln, and about 30 other statues dispersed throughout the park. All five sites are accessible by trail off the road from the town of Inz, though El Aguacate is somewhat less accessible than the others.

The soft rock that the tombs have been dug into is formed from volcanic ash, and was ideally suited for the stone tools the indigenous inhabitants used for digging and sculpting. The tombs typically have shaft with a stairway, leading down to one or more chambers that are usually about eight feet in diameter. A few of the chambers are larger, with 1-3 columns supporting the ceiling.

The majority of the tombs have paintings on the walls. In the Segovia, El Duende, San Andrs tombs, the paintings are of geometric shapes and patterns, while in the apparently older El Aguacate tombs, the paintings are more naturalistic renditions of suns, moons, and salamanders, along with geometric shapes. Some of the more complex tombs have high relief sculptures of anthropomorphic forms carved into the columns, and in a few there is high relief sculpting apparently to make the tomb resemble the inside of an above-ground dwelling.

This archaelogical park is well worth a visit. In the words of the UNESCO/World Heritage List formulation, the site is an “exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition”, and represents a “masterpiece of human creative genius.”