Visiting Tierradentro ranks pretty high on my Favourite-Travel-Experiences list.

It began with the bus ride in from Popayán, on bumpy dirt roads over the beautiful mountains (never mind the heat and dust), and being dropped off at a small intersection in the middle of nowhere.


One of the stylised heads that decorate some of the columns.

Walking to the different sites, is in itself worth savouring, as the views are gorgeous and the climate mild and pleasant. The village is somewhat detached from the “archeological experience”. It lies about 2 km away from the park’s entrance and main sites. Its main attraction, the thatched church, was in the process of being rebuilt due to fire damage, missing the thatched roof. It’s worth for supplies, as they are much cheaper than in the stores near the sites. However, water is only sold in small bottles – not the most convenient option for a day-long hike. The burial chambers were absolutely fascinating to me, as they struck me with an otherworldliness I don’t remember experiencing anywhere else. What drove the people to dig into the rock to lay their dead to rest? What where they thinking when they painted these patterns? What was their inspiration to depict humans and animals the way they did?

The Archeological Park is located near the village of San Andrés de Pisimbalá, in the Colombian Andes and contains several underground burial chambers and statues.

The burial sites can be seen on the “Alto de San Andrés”, “Alto de Segóvia”, “Alto del Duende”, and the “Alto del Aguacate”, whereas the statues are displayed on “El Tablón”.

These sites date back to a time between the 6th and 10th centuries AD, and were built by the people of the Tierradentro culture. The funeral chambers were carved out of the rock, with a spiralled set of stairs leading down to the entrance of the oval chamber. The larger ones, of up to 12 m in width and 7 m deep and high enough to stand in, had carved pillars supporting the structure.

The interiors were decorated with geometric designs, painted in red and black over a white background. Apart from these geometric patters, depictions of both animal- and human-like figures are also present.

Apparently, these structures and decorations were modelled after the actual living quarters of these pre-hispanic people. It is believed that only village chiefs and priests were laid to rest in these chambers, leading to the conclusion that these societies had a hierarchical structure. Not much else is known about these folk, other than that their homes were oval-shaped, built on man-made terraces. The houses had no divisions, with one central fireplace and wooden benches to sleep on. The building materials consisted of a wooden frame, filled out with interwoven twigs and sticks, which would then be covered with mud, forming the walls; the roofs were thatched. Settlements were established in valleys, with hillside fields.

The statues found in this area were carved out of volcanic rock, and represented humans with their arms upon their chest, as well as animals, such as felines and amphibians. Men were represented wearing different head-dresses and long cloths in combination with various adornments. On the other hand, women were depicted wearing turbans, sleeveless shirts, and skirts.

Underground burial sites are not uncommon in the Americas, having been discovered from Mexico to Argentina. However, the biggest concentration was found in Colombia.


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