Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ciudad Perdida, Colombia

This remote site, founded around 800 AD, was rediscovered by archaeologists in the 1970s after gold idols and other objects began to show up for sale in Colombian markets. It was the largest center of a culture called the Tairona that emerged around 200 AD and endured until the Spanish conquest. Local Indians call the site Teyuna. In its prime the town had perhaps 2,000 inhabitants. Ciudad Perdida is now the focus of a major preservation effort of the Global Heritage Fund.

The site is in mountainous terrain and is centered around 169 stone terraces.

The site can be reached only along this ancient road, with more than a thousand stone steps.

Like so much else about Colombia, it was caught up in and damaged by the civil war between the government and the alliance of leftist rebels and drug traffickers. In 2003, eight tourists visiting the site were kidnapped by rebels and held hostage for three months.

This stone is thought by some archaeologists to be an ancient map of the city and its surrounding area.

The name Tairona may mean "Sons of the Jaguar," and it seems to refer to the initiates of a society that included most or all adult men. Tairona society was strongly divided into separate men's and women's spheres, and the religious activity of males was focused on the "men's house" where women were not permitted. Jesuit missionaries thought the rites of the men's house included homosexuality, but local Indians dispute this.

The Tairona rebelled against Spanish rule in 1599. They were defeated, their leaders executed, their towns burned. After this they faded, perhaps ravaged by European diseases, and the jungle grew over much of their homeland. Their rediscovery owes much to the value of their artistic productions, like the golden pendant above, now in the Louvre.

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