Ciudad Perdida: Lost City in Colombian Highlands holds Mysteries of Ancient Civilization

Ciudad Perdida: Lost City in Colombian Highlands holds Mysteries of Ancient Civilization

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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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  • Archaeologists find untouched ruins in their search for the Lost City of the Monkey God

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.

  • High-Tech Equipment Leads to Discovery of Lost City in Cambodian Jungle
  • Have Scientists Finally Discovered the Lost City of Gold?
  • The Search for El Dorado – Lost City of Gold

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 (


Global Heritage Fund, 2015. Ciudad Perdida, Colombia. [Online]
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Hotfelder, A., 2010. Ciudad Perdida: The spectacular five-day trek to Colombia’s Lost City. [Online]
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Hudson, S., 2012. Trekking to Colombia's Lost City. [Online]
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Lonely Planet, 2015. Ciudad Perdida. [Online]
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McGinnis, P., 2013. La Ciudad Perdida: Colombia's Lost City Gets Found. [Online]
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The Culture Trip, 2015. Colombia’s Mysterious Lost City: Finding the Ciudad Perdida. [Online]
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Thomson, E., 2014. Colombia's Ciudad Perdida: Secrets of the Lost City. [Online]
Available at:

By Ḏḥwty

10 Legendary Lost Cities That Were Rediscovered

Our fascination with ancient civilisations and the ancient past causes us to dig, often deep into the Earth, to see what’s been concealed for centuries by the elements, hidden by lava or buried under a pile of natural rubble where trees took root.

Some mysterious cities founded by those ancient civilisations considered to be myths or legends for centuries were actually out there, just waiting for us to uncover them. Indeed, our curiosity can lead us to entire buried cities. And as technology improves, with tools like remote sensors and satellites, archaeologists are able to see more detail, more clearly and faster.

Here, we look at ten ancient lost cities that shed light on the history of people all over the world.

1 – Dvaraka: Home of Lord Krishna, the Hindu Deity

The city of Dvarka, also spelled as Dwarka holds immense religious sentiment to it. It is a sacred town and the birthplace of Lord Krishna, the Hindu deity who is believed to be the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu (the creator of the world).

Dvarka city was home to Lord Krishna almost 5000 years ago. It is believed that the town was built by the architect of the gods under Krishna’s supervision who wanted a city made of silver, emeralds, and crystals. Krishna demanded the construction of 16,108 palaces in the town for his 16,108 queens. However, the battle between Krishna and King Salva destroyed the entire city of Dvaraka due to the blasts of energy.

While we may find it a little difficult to believe in mythology, archaeologists found the ruins of the city under the sea where the city once existed. Although it did not have 16,108 palaces, it had the same layout as the actual town of Dvaraka.

Dvaraka city was built almost 9000 years ago which qualifies it as one of the oldest cities on earth. While the city was at its peak, it was one of the busiest seaports in the world. In second millennium BC, the city collapsed into the water just as its mention in the legend.

2 – The Palace Of Kublai Khan

Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant traveler, returned from China to give some wonderful descriptions of the Kublai Khan’s empire. Kublai Khan was the first emperor of China’s Yuan Dynasty. The king’s palace, Xanadu, is certainly worth a mention. The castle is made of marble and is surrounded by an enormous 26-kilometer-wide park with beautiful fountains, rivers and inhabited by wild animals. Khan kept around 10,000 pure white horses in the golden palace guarded by dragons.

The palace was like a paradise on earth. Unfortunately, the castle was destroyed by the Ming army from the Ming dynasty in 1369 well before the Europeans could see it. As centuries passed, the palace became a legend. Poets wrote extensively about this place and found a place in their imagination.

When Kublai Khan’s palace was discovered, it was found that Marco Polo’s description was exact. Khan’s palace was two times bigger than the White House and was surrounded by a massive park. Ramps of horses and even the dragons were found in every part of the park. There were yellow-colored statues on top of the pillars, and the palace matched Polo’s description perfectly.

By the 1990s when the first archaeological investigations of the site began, the walls and temples had been reduced to grassy mounds. Since then, however, the site has been extensively excavated and over 1,000 buildings have been unearthed. In 2012 Xanadu, or more correctly Shàngdū, was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

3 – City of Helike

Atlantis is a fictional island that is believed to have sunk under the water. Just like the Atlantis, the city of Helike is said to have met with a similar fate. According to the myths, the Helike city locals outcasted the Ionian tribe who were worshippers of the sea god which enraged Poseidon, one of the Twelve Olympians in ancient Greek religion. Poseidon then destroyed the entire city of Helike by pulling it under the water. Helike was destroyed in 373 BC, and for many decades it was thought to be a parable until it was found.

In the late 1980s, two archaeologists decided to track down the city. They worked for a decade and finally discovered the city which was buried. Studies revealed that the mythic city was not destroyed by Poseidon but by an earthquake that liquefied the ground. The whole town collapsed into an inland lagoon following an enormous tremor.

4 – Mystifying Palace of Sigiriya

King Kasyapa, the second king of the Mauryan dynasty, ruled Sri Lanka from 473 to 495 CE. Around the fifth century AD, he built a palace on top of a rock which was around 200 meters (650 feet) tall. It was considered as one of the most incredible castles in the world as per the legends.

To get into the palace, one had to take a large staircase that went through the mouth of a huge lion statue. Kasyapa did not live in the palace for long. As soon as the construction of the palace was completed, Kasyapa’s brother Mogallana staged a war. The army deserted Kasyapa as they feared for their lives and the soldiers’ wives ended their lives by leaping from the side of the boulder.

Mogallana and his army conquered Sigiriya and left behind a monument. For some time, the palace served as an outpost and later was converted into a Buddhist monastery. Soon, it was forgotten to time. The palace was found by a group of European archaeologists. A large lion guarded the staircase, and one indeed had to walk through its mouth to reach the inside of the palace.

Just as its mention in the legends, the palace had a gleaming white parapet that worked as a mirror for the king to stare at his reflection while walking through the castle. UNESCO declared this palace as the eighth wonder of the world and today it is a popular tourist destination.

5 – Great Zimbabwe, the Medieval Castle Of Africa

In early 16th century, Portuguese explorers reported about the existence of a legendary castle in Africa. The natives informed the explorers about a stone fortress that overlooked the trees in a land called as Symbaoe, which is today known as Zimbabwe. The residents were clueless about who had built it.

One of the explorers wrote, “When, and by whom, these edifices were raised, as the people of the land are ignorant of the art of writing, there is no record, but they say they are the work of the devil, for in comparison with their power and knowledge it does not seem possible to them that they should be the work of man.”

For many years, the Europeans thought Symbaoe was just a myth. However, in the 19th century, the explorers found the castle. In Zimbabwe, a huge castle with stone walls which were over 11 meters (36 feet) tall. The castle was built in 900 AD by an African civilization.

Inside the castle, there were relics from all over the world which the civilization people must have gathered after trading with other countries. The explorers found Persian pottery, Arab coins and even antiques that belonged to the Chinese Ming dynasty. The fortress proves that the trade routes were well connected all the way to China.

6 – The Drowned Egyptian City, Heracleion

Heracleion which is also known as Thonis was an ancient Egyptian city located near the Canopic Mouth of the Nile. Almost every Greek myth finds a mention of this town. It is the city where Heracles, a divine hero in Greek mythology and the son of Zeus and Alcmene initiated his steps into Africa.

Heracleion is the city where Paris of Troy and his stolen bride Helen hid from Menelaus, the king of Sparta before the dreaded Trojan War. According to the legend, around 2,200 years ago, the city of Heracleion was hit by an earthquake or a tsunami which drowned it completely.

Divers who were swimming off the coast of Egypt stumbled upon the ruins in early 2000. The divers found a strange rock under the water and on bringing it up, they realized that it was a fragment of an ancient statue. The divers dove back into the sea to find more of the ruins. Soon, they found statues, jewels and the drowned ruins of an ancient Egyptian temple.

Most of the part of the city was still intact under the sea. The divers also found large steles that warned the visitors about the Egyptian tax laws in hieroglyphics or symbols. Many statues of ancient Egyptian gods were found in their original form with fish swimming around them.

The entire lost city was pulled from the depths of the sea and brought back to life.

7 – La Ciudad Perdida: The Lost Colombian City

Around 1300 years ago, ancient people called the Tairona built a magnificent city along the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain sides. The city was built following the command of their god, who wanted them to live close to the stars. Tairona people lived there for almost 700 to 800 years until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

The Spanish conquistadors brought with them diseases that spread to the Tairona which wiped them out completely. Following this, the city was left barren, and the civilization was forgotten for centuries. In the 1970s, the city was discovered once again by a group of bandits who were making their way through the jungle.

The thieves stumbled upon the town by chance and found an ancient city full of jade figures and gold jewelry. The bandits took with them whatever they could and sold the rest on the black market when they came to the attention of the archaeologists. Soon, the lost city was found after being hidden in the jungle for almost 500 years.

8 – Leptis Magna, the City in Sand

Leptis Magna, a large Roman city in Libya which was a major trading hub for the Roman empire was buried in a sandstorm. Roman emperor Septimus Severus was born in this town, and he turned the city into an enormous one. When Rome started to fall, Leptis Magna fell with it.

The Raiders and Arab invaders robbed the city and left it in ruins. It was completely forgotten and was buried under the drifting sands. The city spent almost 1200 years under the sand dunes until the 19th century when a group of archaeologists found it.

The city was found in perfect condition under the sand. The archaeologists did not just find a few broken pots, but they could unearth and walk through an entire ancient Roman city. The city still had an amphitheater, a basilica, a circus and baths, all well-preserved by the sand. A mere look at the city gives us an idea of how it would have been when the city was in its prime.

9 – The Viking Land Of Plenty

In 1073 AD, Adam of Bremen, a German cleric sailed across the Atlantic ocean and found a distant land where everything grew in abundance. He informed this to the Danish king Sven Estridsson and called the area as Vinland because vines grew there on their own accord.

Besides the German cleric, there were other Vikings who had been passing it down and claimed of having fought the natives who lived there, whom they called the Skraelingar. They said the Skraelingar dressed in white clothes and lived in caves and holes. When the Vikings attacked the Vinland, the natives carried long poles and charged back screaming out loud war cries.

Vinland was considered as a Viking myth for many years even after the Spanish reached America. In the 1960s, it was found out that the Vikings were telling the truth. Archaeologists finally found the remains of the Viking settlement at the L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada in the 11th century.

10 – City of the Monkey God, La Ciudad Blanca

In his quest for gold, Hernan Cortes heard rumors that there was a city of great wealth hiding in the jungles of Honduras. It was called the White City by some and the City of the Monkey God by others, and it was promised to hold an incredible fortune.

Although Cortes never found the city, the legend continued. Charles Lindbergh, an American aviator, military officer, author, inventor, explorer, and environmental activist claimed of having seen the city while flying over the country. Many others spread rumors of having found the city, but the city remained a mystery.

A group of archaeologists followed the path described by some people and to their surprise, they found a city in the jungle of Honduras. At the site, they found a pyramid in a rain forest which is believed to have been built by a culture that disappeared almost 1000 years ago. Inside the pyramid, there were stone sculptures and impressive architecture.

The castle indicated signs of incredible wealth and power. While some people doubt if this was the place that Cortes wrote about, it is certainly a lost civilization of individuals who lived in the jungle and whose existence had been forgotten till now.

Ciudad Perdida: Lost City in Colombian Highlands holds Mysteries of Ancient Civilization - History

Explore fascinating cultures
via photo-lectures.

Lectures usually include projected color slides and actual artifacts.

  • Ethiopia - Legends of Crusaders, Icons and Frankincense, The Source of the Nile
  • The Islands of NusaTengara (Remote Indonesia) - Artisans in Paradise
  • Burma - Exploring the Land of the White Elephant, Theravada Buddhism
  • Myanma - Sacred temples and Caves of the Imagination
  • Hunzaland and the N.W. Frontier - The Rugged Route to Shangrila, Indus Valley, the influence of Alexander the Great, Secrets of Longevity
  • Ecuador and Peru - Colonial and Indigenous Cultures, special trip to Macchu Pichu
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  • Mexico - Pyramids, Aztec, Maya, Zapotec, and Folk Artisans
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  • Arizona & New Mexico - Spirit Places, Anasazi Ruins in the Natural Landscape
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  • Turkey - Mount Ararat and the mysteries of Cappodocia
  • Sicily - Mosaic Legends of the Mediterranean
  • Peru - Searching for the Real Treasure of the Incas
  • Andalusia - Flowering of Christian, Muslim and Jewish Spain

Art/Anthropology presentations and workshops:

  • A Comparison of Pyramid cultures in Mexico and Egypt
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  • The Significance of Dwellings and Vessels
  • Mountains: Inspirations and Destinations
  • The Entrance to Heaven and Hell
  • The Dragon that lives beside the Tree of Life
  • The Symbolism of Plants and Animals
  • Cultural Perspectives on Death
  • Images of Women/Images of Men
  • Celebration, Ceremony, Dance and Rites of Passage
  • Comparative Religion - Buddhism and Hinduism
  • Angkor: The Throne of Heaven
  • Monsters and Fantastic Creatures
  • The Power of Landscape
  • Costumes - Indigenous Color and Classical Style
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  • Water and Coastal Cultures
  • Goddesses Past and Present
  • Turn of the Last Millenium(1000 CE)

You can discuss booking a slide presentation or workshop for your school or organization by letter, phone or email.

Mr. Levenson has given presentations at colleges, public libraries, museums, wellness centers, elementary and high schools, private homes, and retirement communities. Bio

" Dudley Levenson offered a thought-provoking and insightful survey of women depicted in art, East and West. I found myself transported across time
and cultures. And yet, the array of images also served to communicate a
deeper sense of what has not changed--women's enduring presence throughout
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music therapist,

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" The Village at Laurel Lake's residents all love the presentations given by Dudley Levenson of Inspired Planet. His lectures are very interesting and the travel pictures are beautiful. After a presentation the residents often comment that they feel like they just got back from vacation. The Inspired Planet Explorations are an asset to the activities program.
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A dventurer, photographer and collector, Dudley Levenson, has years of experience
traveling around the world with great slides, artifacts and stories to share.

Ethiopia- Crossroads of Myth
Photo-Presentation with adventurer and art historian Dudley Levenson

Imagine a story that includes Crusader knights, the Queen of Sheba and the Lion of Judah, with tribes as fierce as baboons living on the edge of a gorgeous mountain valley. The quest for the Ark of the Covenant, the elusive source of the Nile, the origin of African Jews--- all lead us to a land at the end of the known earth. This is where the earliest human bones were found. We are sad to find the poorest people on the planet here. Yet Ethiopia is rich with music, art, history and religion. We will travel to Crusader holy sites, visit native markets and view rare illuminated manuscripts. Then we ask how it is possible for a people and culture to survive after centuries of degradation. This photo journey through Ethiopia is a testament to the enduring human spirit.

Angkor Wat- The Throne of Heaven

Our explorer photographer braved Khmer Rouge infested jungle to investigate the mystery of Angkor. Temples of gold and advanced irrigation systems were praised by Marco Polo and other early travelers to Cambodia. What is now the poorest country in Southeast Asia was once the richest. The ancient Khmer Kingdom flourished for six hundred years generating art and ideas from a vast temple complex that archeologists have been slowly piecing together. Here kings became gods, serpents became princesses, Hinduism melded with Buddhism. The magnificent overgrown ruins inspire our imagination and ask the big question: Why do civilizations rise and fall?

Bali III&ndash Art and Ritual in 2 parts

This year our photographer/ adventurer, Dudley Levenson returned to Bali for 3 months of work and exploration. He brought back colorful images, handcrafted artifacts and many stories about the people and customs of this small tropical island with big reputation. We take a whirlwind tour around the volcanic landscape, sample Balinese cuisine, meet local characters and witness a full moon purification ceremony at a riverside temple. Examine extraordinary masks made by some of the finest wood carvers in the world, listen to lovely fusion music and then quake with fear at unique monsters called oogah oogah. You will visit a Balinese home for a special blessing and see the amazing bamboo structures of the new environmental green school. Finally we are invited to a spectacular temple ceremony with costumes and dancing in which Balinese dramatize the balance of good and evil in the world.

The Legend and Reality of Shangri-La

High in the Karakoram Mountains, in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan, south of China and east of Afghanistan, Hunzaland is a remote Shangrila with diverse cultural influences from the ancient crossroads of Central Asia. The Aryan race, Alexander and his classical Greek forces, Kushan Kings, Tibetans and the Aga Khan were all here leaving their cultural mark. Yet the magnificent valleys have been geographically protected from the rest of the world for centuries. Life in Hunza is rugged, but according to legend the people had extraordinary life spans, upwards of 140 years. Our explorer was there to find out the reality of the legends. What we find is a changing environment and culture that makes us think about how we live in the world.

Jerusalem- Quest for the Holy Land

How can sacred ground, be the most hotly contested place on the planet? Jerusalem is of mythic importance to Christians, Muslims and Jews. But the story is told differently according to Roman, Judaic, Mohammedan, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox point of view. We visit contemporary Jerusalem, the markets, the museums, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives. We discuss what has more sovereignty- the Temple Mount or Dome of the Rock?
Like pilgrims we hope to find inspiration and peace in this divided land.

The Golden Devices of the Momas

The lure of El Dorado, a city of gold, with golden king and lake of gold drove the fierce Spanish conquest in South America during the 16th century. Pizarro concentrated his forces in Peru among the splendors of the Inca. Cortes pillaged the Aztecs in Mexico. They never found Ciudad Perdido, the Lost City of the Momas in the highlands of Colombia with its trove of pre-Colombian treasure. Even now, the government holds the largest horde of old gold in South America, without acknowledging its spiritual power. Our expedition takes us into the verdant wilds of Colombian highlands and tropics where we meet monsters, sweet senoritas and ultimately Tayrona Indians whose shaman Momas are the keepers of ancient medicine wisdom.

Himalayan Quest plus special added attraction Nepali Wedding

This spring inveterate traveler, Dudley Levenson, was invited back to Katmandu for the wedding of the eldest son of the Kadka clan, fellow traders on the oriental Silk Road. It turned out to be not just a joyous affair, but a cultural immersion replete with Nepalese rituals, costumes and drama.
After trekking Annapurna and searching for healer/shamans in remote regions of Nepal, where to go but up&hellip to the top of the world! We join our world traveler on a journey to the region of Langtang 27,000 ft which runs along the Tibetan border. This is a quest to collect holy water at the sacred lake of the god, Shiva. Along the way we see beautiful terraced farmland, meet native people and witness some spectacular sunrises. Because of the high altitude, Spartan conditions and dangers facing the elements, this trek is an initiatory experience. Life presents challenges, and if we&rsquore fortunate, inspiring locations.

Exploring the Neolithic Mind
Inspired Planet joined archeologists, anthropologists, geomancers, historians, sound physicists and visionary artists for an international conference on the island of Malta called Metageum. During Dudley Levenson&rsquos 2 presentations he connected shamanism from the latest stone age digs in China to Pre- Colombian cosmology and the psychedelic art of Mexican Indians. The cross-disciplinary ideas were sparking across the room and from ancient times, igniting our collective synapses from the fiery edge of human evolution.

The Golden Devices
of Pre Colombian

Shamans presents our explorations into the mysterious world of ancient medicine wisdom in the wilds of Colombia. Gold artifacts from the Momas are more than treasure, they are empowered gifts from the gods.

Peru-Searching for the Real Treasure of the Incas
In Pre-Columbian times the Inca Empire stretched from Boliva, along the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Coast to Ecuador and the Amazon. Where did these high-achievers come from and what was their motivation? We explore the mythic origin of the Inca and we will visit their mysterious ceremonial site of Machu Picchu.
Beyond that we discover the natural beauty of Peru, especially places off the beaten path. Our discussion reveals the spiritual values that exalted the Inca and consider some reasons their civilization fell to the Conquistadors.

Andalusia-The Flowering of Christian, Muslim and Jewish Spain
A thousand years ago what we call Spain was the most advanced region of Europe. Under the Moorish occupation, science and the arts, architecture and agriculture, gastronomy and philosophy flourished. The Arab, Christian and Jewish communities each had an important role to play. Today we might well pay attention to the successful blending of different cultures, an antidote to strife in our world. The Golden Age of Andalusia is perhaps the greatest example of cross-cultural fertilization we have to build upon. In this photo-presentation we explore the history, celebrations and landscapes that make Andalusia a great destination.

Travel to tropical Java, the cultural center of Indonesia, with artist explorer, Dudley Levenson. Java is the most populous island on earth with 150 million people and the capital of the world&rsquos largest Muslim nation. Straddling the equator with a huge range of active volcanoes makes this the hottest place on the globe and one of the most dangerous. We visit the scenes of recent earthquakes and survey a thousand years of colorful history including classical Hindu and Buddhist civilizations. Indonesia is an experiment in multi-culturalism and democracy.

Sicily- Mosaic Legends
of the Mediterranean

The Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and Normans left their marks on the island of Sicily in their quests for empire and high culture. Each epoch brought new art and mythology to the cultural evolution. The islands greatest minds gathered in the storied mosaics of Amarina and Monreal. We will explore Palermo, the interior as well as remote sites on the Mediterranean coast. Our discussion touches on philosophical battles and heavenly salvation.

Burma - Caves of the Imagination
The Land of the White Elephant has a long history of wealthy kingdoms, colorful mountain tribes and a century of British Raj. Burma(now called Myanmar) remains a mysterious land, insulated from the modern world, seemingly controlled by a military regime in an exotic corner of Asia bordered by India, Thailand and China. We will visit the ruins of one of the world&rsquos great temple cities and look into the faces of Burmese people. Our discussion touches on the plight and promise of Myanmar, but our focus returns to the peaceful practice of Buddhism.

The Fusion of Desert and Mediterranean Cultures
Legends told of treasure buried in the rock-hewn palaces of Jordan, but 18th century explorers and archeologists found evidence of something far richer. For five hundred years a civilization flourished along the trade route between Greece, Rome, Arabia, Babylon and the Holy Land. Who were these people, what was their relationship to the classical world, why did they vanish? We discover beautiful ruins hidden in the rocks and contemplate the rise and fall of civilizations.

Images of Women from Classic, Tribal and Emerging Cultures

Take a look at young beauties and seasoned wise women living in the Himalayas, the Amazon and Mediterranean. Our exploration is a survey of art history as well as a whirlwind trip to Bali, Ethiopia, Mexico, Tibet and Italy. We compare art from ancient to modern to fusion cultures. This is a chance to spark the imagination, open the heart and consider who we are. What emerges is an understanding of our evolutionary timeline, the empowerment of embracing the full spectrum of female archetypes

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Understanding Teyuna

After climbing the 1,200 stone steps to reach the Lost City, Celso gathered us around a patch of green outlined by a circle of stones, in which he offered some coca leaves. We noticed, too, that he let his hair down, and its flow and length recalled the river of wisdom he described to us earlier.

Climbing through the jungle up to the Lost City.

In a moment of silence under the canopy, Celso explained that this was a sacred spot, one where we should let go of our impurities, our negative thoughts and emotions. We stood quietly to do just this, to cleanse ourselves and to prepare, as others had done for centuries, to visit the upper chambers of this sacred place.

Celso also told us the story of the great city Teyuna that has been passed on to him through the shamans. It is believed that Tewimaco, the god that built Teyuna, also built Machu Picchu and the Mayan cities in Mexico and Guatemala. At the Lost City site, there stands a carved stone that archeologists believe is a map of Teyuna, but that the indigenous believe is a map of all of the known sacred places in the northern part of South America, whose chiseled starbursts indicate a network of connected civilizations &ndash places like Teyuna, Tierradentro, and Machu Picchu.

The engraved stone with many interpretations and meanings.

When the Spanish colonists arrived, the Tayrona people began to see them as they went down to the coast to collect their seashells for the poporo. They didn&rsquot have a good feeling about them (history would prove them right). Legend says that they abandoned Teyuna at the end of the 16th century in order to prevent the Spanish from discovering it. Today, the story is told that the Tayrona people departed for another planet or other world. (Note: There are documented battles between the Spanish and Tayrona in other locations. Archaeologists believe that the Tayrona scattered into the mountains to escape from them, while many also succumbed to diseases brought by the Spanish.)

For centuries, Teyuna&rsquos stone steps, 192 terraces, and gold lay under the tropical forest that had re-grown to envelop it. The indigenous believe that their shamans knew it existed and continued to visit it for holy ceremonies right up until its &ldquodiscovery&rdquo in 1972 by local farmers.

Going up to the upper &ndash and more sacred &ndash terraces of the Lost City.

Unfortunately, the first group that arrived were tomb raiders looking for gold. After which, the hunt grew violent with tomb thieves killing each other until in one of them opted to inform the government in 1976. This allowed the site to be protected so archeologists could research and uncover its remains. Although the Lost City has been open to trekkers since 1981, it&rsquos only in the last ten years that the area has been deemed safe, after guerrilla and narco-trafficking groups had been driven from the area.

Some of the terraces lower down the hill, taken over more by jungle.

The site remains a sacred place for the local people, with four of the terraces representing the four indigenous groups today. There are two terraces further up on top of these, one a ceremonial area for men and the other women. For several weeks in September each year, the Lost City is closed to outsiders so that the shamans and indigenous communities may undertake their spiritual ceremonies and offerings. It is believed that these ceremonies are needed to keep equilibrium, not only in their communities and the nature around them, but also in the world at large.

It may come as little surprise, but there was something palpable at Teyuna something we could feel that transcended the beautiful photos of the rainforest climb, the canopy and the Lost City terraces. Perhaps it&rsquos the connection we felt, something cultivated over the centuries by local people who allowed themselves to be imbued with a purpose, the purpose of the bonding with nature and through time, to bring peace and balance to themselves and others.

Overlooking the upper chambers of Teyuna, the Lost City.

Maybe there&rsquos something we can all take away from this, whether or not we choose to carry ourselves 1,200 steps up to the Lost City.

This is what Celso brought to life for us.

Getting There

Want to find the Lost City yourself? G Adventures runs a number of departures encompassing a wide range of departure dates. We&rsquore thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours &mdash check out our small group trips here.

The Effort to Save Colombia’s Underground Mountaintop Tombs

Tierradentro National Archaeological Park


Deep in Colombia’s Cauca Department, once a war zone, Clemencia Vernaza is cloaked in darkness in an underground chamber. The art conservator is squinting through her glasses at some of the details etched and painted into the ancient volcanic rock in front of her. She pivots her flashlight up, like a child telling a scary story around a campfire, and the beam falls on a giant, monolithic face.

“Look at these black marks just around the eyes,” she murmurs, her fingers hovering over the deep black streaks painted along the brow of the sculpted face. They’re shrouded in darkness, but the walls all around her are painted with vivid red, black, gray, and white geometric patterns.

The chamber is a tomb, one of many that speckle the southwestern Colombian mountain ranges and make up the Parque Arqueológico Nacional de Tierradentro. Until very recently, the mountains and the intricate ruins they conceal were sealed from the world by the bloody war that raged around them.

In addition to geometric and figurative paintings, the tombs feature relief sculptures.

Tierradentro is a cluster of 162 burial chambers—called hypogea—hewn from the peaks of four cordilleras near the Andean town of Inza. They span a few miles of mountainous terrain, with the tomb entrances at the peaks. Small sets of stairs carved into volcanic stone descend into the tombs, some no larger than a closet and others with multiple rooms. They were created between 600 and 900, before Spanish colonization, as “homes for the dead” of the ancient society’s elite class, researchers say. Each site was adorned with vivid paintings, unique to the person buried there. Some bear monolithic carvings etched into floor-to-ceiling pillars, some are speckled with pieces of pottery. Small, rectangular holes had been carved into the volcanic stone as final resting places, though the remains appear to have been removed long ago. It’s almost as if the Valley of the Kings had been dropped into in among Andean peaks. There’s nothing like them in the Western Hemisphere.

The ruins that make up Tierradentro, meaning “inside earth,” are the largest and most elaborate concentration of pre-Columbian underground tombs in the Americas and were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Between Tierradentro and the more than 500 megalithic statues with human and animal features in neighboring San Agustín, the zone is the continent’s largest collection of prehistoric sculpture—and that includes Chile’s Easter Island. While a set of the ruins at Tierrodentro is open to visitors, many of the chambers are in dire condition.

Vegetation surrounds the entrances to tombs on top of El Alto del Aguacate, the most remote of the four mountain ranges that make up Tierradentro. The more remote tombs have fallen into greater disrepair.

The local Nasa indigenous people, also known as the Páez, have known of the tombs for ages, and the invading Spaniards also took note of them, but there was little study of them until in 1936, with a set of archaeological excursions that included Colombian archaeologist Gregorio Hernández de Alba. Over the decades some minimal research has been conducted, and in 1945, Colombia named Tierradentro a national archaeological park (and a national monument in 1993).

The ancient civilization is believed to be connected to the Nasa, but the mystery of the hypogeum and the society that made them continues to perplex researchers. “Tierradentro, it’s unique,” Vernaza says as she sits at the mouth of one tomb, looking out at the ranges in the distance, “But Tierradentro, we don’t know much about it. We have to do a lot of research and try to give it the attention it deserves because we don’t know exactly what there is, who created it, how they made it.”

Stairs wind down into Tierradentro’s underground burial chambers.

Other historic UNESCO sites in Colombia, such as San Agustín or the Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City in the northern jungles, are well-known both within and outside of Colombia. Tierradentro, on the other hand, is more or less an unknown.

That’s because the tombs are in the heart of what was once Colombia’s red zone.

During the country’s more than half-century armed conflict, the region of Cauca was the site of a prolonged, bloody battle between fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the Colombian military and right-wing paramilitary gangs. The windy, cliff-riddled road from the western city of Popayán to Tierradentro became famous for kidnappings and ambushes. The ruins themselves were practically off-limits to the outside world.

Anthropologist Fernando Montejo climbs through the lush forest to reach some of Tierradentro’s ruins.

Oscar Parra grew up in the now-quaint riverside village of Inza, nestled among the cordilleras that hold the tombs, and has worked at the park for 40 years. As a child, he played near the hypogea, and after school helped a small cluster of scientists working in the park carry their materials down from the peaks for a few coins. But he describes his childhood as defined by a deep psychological terror, the stifling fear of becoming a target of either side of the conflict.

“If the guerrillas are here and you’re nearby, the army is going to attack you and think you’re a guerrilla,” Parra recalls, as he sits atop a peak where he once played, “so you wouldn’t know in what moment you could be killed.”

A 2016 pact between the government and FARC has created a tentative peace. Today there are only a few traces of the peril the area once represented—the total lack of development and a faded black “FARC” spray-painted on the back of a road sign.

This easing of tensions has opened the region to the world for the first time, allowing adventurous travelers to explore and researchers such as Vernaza and anthropologist Fernando Montejo to begin to unearth Tierradentro’s secrets—and work to save them.

It has long been believed that there are more undiscovered hypogea waiting to be found. The decorations and carvings in already-excavated sites indicate that the cultures that created Tierradentro and San Agustín were closely related. Research, Montejo says, could begin to put the ancient puzzle back together.

“It’s possible that there are more hypogea,” says Montejo, coordinator of the Anthropological Heritage Group of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH). “But what’s certain is that there are archaeological sites in almost all of the regions. That’s why it’s important to research them: Because where there are hypogea, there are also important contexts to understanding the past of these populations.”

Montejo, Vernaza, and four other researchers, from institutions in Colombia, Mexico, and Switzerland trek into the mountains of Cauca, toward a set of ruins tucked in the far reaches of one of the peaks. The town below, nestled next to a winding river looks like a toy village from here. They swing open a door marking the entrance of one chamber, and climb down a large set of stone stairs into a network of dimly lit chambers, the largest of which is around 20 feet deep and 40 feet wide.

Researchers Fernando Montejo and Manuel Espinosa take samples of red paint from a Tierradentro tomb.

Vernaza and two others turn their flashlights to the walls of the tomb, setting the elaborate line paintings, carved surfaces, pillars and dusty pots on the ground aglow. Other researchers take pictures and carefully collect samples from the paintings and surrounding soil that might provide more information. The geometric zig-zags and thickly painted lines running the length of the chamber. Though abstract, the patterns are distinctive to each person in each tomb. The methods were revolutionary for that age, says researcher Manuel Espinosa, who examines the pigments, made with local clay and plant material, with a quarter-sized eyepiece. “Their knowledge was very deep and they were highly specialized,” he says. “This type of mural painting is not repeated in any other part of the world.”

In addition to study and documentation, the researchers have another concern: the ultimate fate of Tierradentro.

The ruins face rapid deterioration due to environmental factors such as erosion, the growth of vegetation, insects, and earthquakes. Human disturbances such as vandalism and the search for artifacts to loot have already irreparably damaged many of the sites. “They’ve been deteriorated,” Montejo says. “In some cases, they’ve been lost.” Chronic underfunding by the Colombian government, Montejo adds, makes matters worse.

A small handful of the hypogea closest to the village below are more or less intact, while other, ruins are in dire condition, with cracks winding across the walls like spider webs, chunks of carved rock in piles of rubble on the ground, and painted surfaces hanging precariously off the ceilings. Vernaza and others have focused on four of the tombs—within a 30-minute trek of the village—to save whatever they can.

Conservation tools arranged in one of the most deteriorated Tierradentro tombs.

Bottles, syringes, jars, and stools rest in an organized mess in a corner of the chamber. Using the soil around them, Vernaza has tried to develop a natural glue to reattach some of the more deteriorated parts of the painting. She leans in and injects this clay-glue with a measured hand, as she explains that she’s had to mix a variety of different solutions to get it just right.

“This here has fallen, there has fallen, here has fallen, too,” she says, gingerly touching the ravaged volcanic rock section she was working on.

The highest of Tierradentro’s four peaks, El Alto de Aguacate, lies in Nasa indigenous land and is home to 62 of the tombs. There, much farther from Inza, land conflicts between the government and the Nasa have left many of the hypogea “practically abandoned,” says Elias Sevilla, an anthropologist at Universidad del Valle in Cali.

An ancient civilization in Cauca, Colombia, constructed a decorated these underground tombs.

Ten years ago, Sevilla scaled that mountain, up a steep incline through banana and lemon trees for more than an hour. The scenery was breathtaking, he says, but the state of decay of the tombs was horrifying: ravaged by the elements, moss growth, and graffiti. Only faint traces of the once vibrant paintings remain there, Sevilla says. “These tombs that are open are endangered,” he says. “And if you don’t protect them, they’re going to deteriorate.” And with them, the chance to learn more about Colombia’s origins.

Archaeologists and conservators believe the newfound peace—and a small but growing number of visitors—will be key to studying and saving the park. But for now triage is the best they can do.

Vernaza peers up at her work. The cracks she’s filled with clay-glue criss-cross with the black and red strokes of the original artists.

“It’s marvelous,” she says, “But it honestly needs urgent attention.”

Cultural Aspects of the Tairona and their Modern Descendants

The Tairona were war-like people that lived mostly in small villages in houses or huts that were circular with simple, pitched roofs that gave that a conical like shape in the mountains and along the coast and traded with one another. The clothing they wore was meant to draw attention with patterned cloth, brightly colored feathers, and jewelry made from semi-precious stones such as carnelian, as well as gifts from the sea, like mother-of-pearl. They were also skilled in gold metalworking and are noted for their delicate, detailed, and beautiful designs.

Gold, to the Tairona, was considered sacred with its source the blood of the Great Mother. Tairona metalworking often reflects the Tairona belief in the soul's ability to transform into other forms and was a symbol of power, including the power of the animal depicted. The animals most often portrayed were predatory animals, such as crocodiles and birds of prey.

Because the Tairona were strong believers in transformation, they also adopted their clothing and accessory styles to mirror animals that were considered to be of great importance. We know this because of the artifacts found in some of the burial sites of high-status individuals. For example, the bat was considered to be a particularly powerful animal and a popular style choice, therefore nose rings, which have been found in burials, served the purpose of flaring out a person's nostrils to resemble that of bats.

The Tairona did not have a written language, so there are no written records in their own words to describe their beliefs or customs. They appear to have divided up labor by gender and were allowed to have divorced. They also lacked domestic animals and wheels which meant that the cultivation of crops must have been quite labor-intensive. In addition to small villages, they also built sophisticated cities, one of which, Teyuna (Ciudad Perdida), clung to the lush green sides of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range.

Gold pendant displaying the incredibly detailed workmanship of the Tairona people

The modern-day descendants of the Tairona are the indigenous tribes called the Koguis, Wiwas, Ahuacos, and Kankuamos, who continue to live in their rugged jungle home in the mid-highlands of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. These tribes refer to themselves as older brothers and those from the outside world as younger brothers. The tribes were already aware of the existence of Teyuna (Ciudad Perdida) before the looters and the archaeologists came. It had not been lost to them just buried in the jungle growth.

The site, which was founded circa 800 CE, has revealed over 200 mud and stone structures, speculated to have been platforms for houses and other buildings. It has borne witness that the Tairona, despite not having the technology acquired by other cultures, were quite advanced. The city had terraces for rotating crop cultivation and an irrigation/drainage system to carry water, as well as a complex system of stone-paved paths and steps.

The Tairona culture continues to survive in its tribal descendants, especially its spiritual tenets, including the concept of aluna and the importance of balancing the spiritual and physical worlds. The Kogui are singled out as the closest to their Tairona roots. They were never conquered by the Spaniard's and they continue to live as their ancestors did.

Monument Depicting the Tairona People

South America Mayan ruins

They are sacred and mystical, they sparkle the imagination of civilizations long gone. In touch with the elements of the sky and the earth the Ruins of South America will touch your soul in many ways. It is time to get out your hiking backpack and experience the 6 Must See Ruins of South America for yourself. Some are easy to reach, others will demand some effort on your part.

1. Machu Picchu (Peru)

Machu Picchu, The Lost city of the Incas, is a mystical, sacred place. Touched by the clouds, the ruins are one of the most enigmatic and beautiful ancient ruins in the world.

Rediscovered on July 24, 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu (meaning 'Old Peak' in Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas) was thought to be a sanctuary for the preparation of priestesses and brides for the Inca nobility.

The dramatic setting in a remote area of the Peruvian Andes enhances the shroud of mystery even more. The ruins lie near the city Cuzco in Southeastern Peru. An absolute wonder of human heritage, Machu Picchu will touch your heart and soul in many ways. Highly recommended!

2. Kuelap (Peru)

The pre-inca ruin Kuelap lies in Northwestern Peru and the road to get there is as adventurous as exploring the sacred ruins themselves. The fortress has outer walls reaching 14 meters (46 feet) high and is overgrown with vegetation enhancing its sacred function even more.

Kuelap is the only ruin with circle shapes in Peru and was strategically built to hold off attacks (the back side ends on a cliff, an abyss hundreds of meters deep).

I walked in the ruins alone on a moonlit night. It was all quiet, a mysterious play of light and shadow surrounded me, the mood beautiful and inviting. I visited some breathtaking ruins all around the world but I have never felt like on that night again. In touch with the elements of the universe.

3. Tiwanaku (Bolivia)

The site of Tiwanaku, also spelled Tiahuanacu, lies near the city of La Paz, Bolivia. It is very different to other ruins found in South America.

The site is characterized by large stones, weighing up to 100 tons, and cutting, squaring, dressing, and notching exceeding even the Inca in artisanship. What fascinates me are the many faces that seem to come out of the walls.

At its maximum extent, the city covered approximately 6 sq km (2, 316 sq miles), and had as many as 40, 000 inhabitants.

Tiwanaku collapsed around 1100 CE and the city was abandoned adding itself to the list of wonderful mysteries in South America.

4. Chan-Chan (Peru)

The Chimu Kingdom built Chan Chan, in and around the city of Trujillo in Northern Peru, as its capital some 15 centuries ago.

The planning of this huge city, the largest in pre-Columbian America, reflects a strict political and social strategy, marked by the city's division into nine 'citadels' or 'palaces' forming autonomous units.

Some ruins lie in the center of a busy neighborhood of Trujillo (quite bizarre). Others, such as Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna, require public transport to be reached.

5. Lost City (Colombia)

The Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) can be reached after a 3 day adventurous hike from the city of Santa Marta in Colombia.

It was discovered in 1976 when an airplane spotted it through the vegetation of the jungle that had taken the city. It exists of an entangled net of tiled roads, terraces and small circular plazas supported by walls on the sharper mountains.

Although The Lost City can't match some of the other treasures found in South America the hike to the city is just awesome. The path takes you through coca plantations (and yes, people got kidnapped a few years ago so inform yourself before going) and through lowland jungle. After 3 days you reach the 1, 200! stairs that take you into the city.

6. San Agustín (Colombia)

There are some 35 statues to be found in San Agustín's Archaeological Park in Southern Colombia (yes, I hear you, that's not a ruin, it is just too beautiful to ignore). San Augustin is actually a collection of ceremonial and burial sites scattered over an area of 645 sq km (250 sq miles).

The size of these magnificent guardians of stone, which depict humans and animals, vary from twenty centimeters (8 inches) to seven meters (23 feet). In the area of San Agustin there are four hundred statues evoking a wonderful mystical mood.

The statues are very beatifully carved and emit a power that touches on many levels. Fascinating indeed.

9 Ancient Cities

We&rsquove heard of ancient cities such as Pompeii, Sparta, or Machu Picchu, but the world is littered with ancient cities with incredible histories that few people know about. These &ldquolost cities&rdquo are sometimes discovered by accident, or their remains are left where greatness once stood, as testimony to a once glorious past.

Don't be confused with modern-day Memphis, located in Tennessee, U.S.A. Ancient Memphis was the capital of Egypt, founded back in 3100 BCE. The story tells that Memphis was founded when the Egyptian king Menes rerouted the Nile into a series of dikes to water crops. Ancient sources refer to the city as the "Fortress of the White Walls," thanks to the whitewashed city walls. The city predates the pyramids of Giza by 600 years. Its decline is ascribed to the rise of Alexandria.

2. Great Zimbabwe

In the native language, Shona, "Zimbabwe" is the joining of the words dzimba ("houses") and mabwea ("stones"). It refers to the many ruins of stone buildings strewn across the country. Stone houses are not the first things that come to mind when one thinks of ancient Africa, but in Zimbabwe, it appears that great stone cities were constructed sometime between the 10th and 13th centuries. The greatest of these cities is known as Great Zimbabwe, which is said to have peaked at 18,000 residents. The fall of the Zimbabwean cities is directly linked to the arrival of the Portuguese, who decimated the local population.

Located in what is modern-day Syria, Palmyra was a wealthy city, which birthed the construction of grand monuments and buildings. The first mention of Palmyra is dated to 2000 B.C.E., and some claim that it is the biblical city of Tadmor, built by King Solomon. The ancient city found its demise following the invasion of the Roman Empire, and the ruins remained unattended until 1932. Since then, many archeologists traveled to the ruins to learn more about Palmyra's grand past. On May 2015, the city was taken over by ISIS &ndash an extremist, militant group of Islamists, who proceeded to destroy many of the ancient monuments and artifacts.

4. Ciudad Perdida

Founded in 800 CE by the Tairona people, this city predates Machu Picchu by 650 years. The city is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Colombia and features man-made terraces, intricate roads, and circular plazas. The city's name, in Spanish, directly translates to "Lost City," is quite apt considering that it was only discovered in 1972.

5. Skara Brae

The settlement of Skara Brae is the ancient hope of Neolithic period Scots. It is located on the largest of the Scottish Orkney Islands and was occupied between 3180 and 2500 BCE. The reason for its destruction is said to be the result of extreme cooling of the area, and the settlement remained buried for thousands of years. An especially violent storm in 1850 exposed the stone dwellings, which predate the building of the pyramids, as well as Stonehenge.

Sanchi is one of India's oldest structures, the 'Great Supta' &ndash a stone dome that was built in the 3rd century B.C.E., but the entire site was built over the course of a millennium. The location is no mere coincidence &ndash the Supta was built to house and protect relics from Buddha himself. With the decline of Buddhism in India, Sanchi was eventually abandoned sometime in the 9th century, but in 1818 it was rediscovered by a British officer &ndash General Taylor.

Ani is first mentioned in Armenian chronicles during the 5 th century CE, described as a mighty fortress built atop a hill. By the 9 th century, Ani became the capital of Armenia. During medieval times, Ani was a devout Christian city and was nicknamed &ldquoCity of 1,001 Churches&rdquo. The city was a hub of trade routes, which is why it flourished until the 1200's, where its population peaked at 200,000. Sadly, the area was devastated by an earthquake, followed by the invasion of the Mongols, all of which led to the decline of this once glorious city.

Calamkul was a Mayan city that was home for one of the Mayan superpowers of the time. Its origins are in the Preclassic period of the Southern American cultures (1000 BCE &ndash 250 CE), but its true rise to power was around the 7 th century CE. The city fell victim to the Classic Maya Collapse &ndash a period of time where the Mayan civilization lost its former glory and eventually crumbled. An interesting note was Calamkul&rsquos religious beliefs, which placed emphasis on female bloodlines and often preferred the rule of both a king and a queen.

9. Mesa Verde

Located in present-day Colorado, it was the home of a Native American people called the "Pueblos." The Pueblos built their homes along the cliffs and thrived in the area for many centuries. The Pueblos of Mesa Verde suddenly disappeared in the 1300's, with no known explanation. They left behind hundreds of dwellings, where each house was typically inhabited by approximately 100 people in almost as many rooms, carved deep into the cliffs

Kogi by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff

following is an extract of the original. go here for full text

ETHNONYMS: Arouaques-Kaggaba, Cágaba, Cogi, Cogui, Kágaba, Káuguia, Köggaba, Pebo


Identification. The self-name “Kogi” means “jaguar”—the Kogi trace their origin to mythical jaguar beings. The term “Kágaba” means “people,” whereas “Pebo” means “friend.”
Location. The Kogi live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in northern Colombia, inhabiting mainly the northern slopes of the valleys of the Palomino, San Miguel, and Garavito rivers, with a few settlements on the eastern and western slopes. They practice agricultural transhumance on these slopes, which range from about 500 to about 2,500 meters in elevation.

Demography. Exact demographic figures are unavailable in 1988 the Kogi population was estimated at about 4,000.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Kogi language, together with those of their immediate neighbors, the Ika and Sanha, belongs to a subgroup of the Chibchan Family.

History and Cultural Relations

The Kogi claim to be the descendants of the ancient Tairona Indians who, in prehistoric and early historic times, inhabited parts of the northern and western flanks of the Sierra Nevada and who had created a society that, at the time of the Spanish Conquest, was more advanced than most of the chiefdoms of interior Colombia. Some archaeological and mythological evidence seems to support this claim. In the early sixteenth century the narrow coastal strip lying to the north and northwest of the Sierra Nevada was inhabited by warlike tribes that offered fierce resistance to the Spanish invaders. Even after the founding of the town of Santa Marta in 1526 and the establishment of an uneasy peace, local rebellions occurred frequent. Only during the violent Spanish campaign of 1599-1600 were the Indians finally subdued. Their fields and villages were burned and sacked, chieftains and priests were executed, and those who survived, now decimated by force of arms and spreading diseases, fled into the mountains. During the seventeenth century these scattered remnants of different ethnicities reorganized in the more inaccessible valleys and began to form three or four groups, each with its own, but related, language. During the same century, the name “Tairona” was introduced by Spanish chroniclers as that of the ancient Indians of the Santa Marta region, the archaeological remains of whom are known to this day under this designation. It is to these semimythical and archaeological Tairona that the Kogi refer in their traditions.
Although the Kogi had been exposed to sporadic missionary influences since early Conquest times, the first permanent mission stations were founded only during the eighteenth century. Many Kogi became nominal Catholics but otherwise continued to resist changes in their religious and cosmological beliefs. During the last centuries, however, the Kogi have adopted many old-world food plants together with iron tools, some cattle, domestic fowl, and trousers for men, a selection carefully controlled by the native priesthood. In Colombia, Kogi culture is related to that of the ancient Muica of the Bogotá highlands and to that of the present-day Tunebo Indians. The possibility of ancient Mesoamerican influences in Kogi culture cannot be dismissed.


Kogi villages, consisting of five to more than fifty circular, single-family houses, are not permanently inhabited but are social and ritual centers where people gather only at certain times of the year or for short overnight stays while on the way to their fields. People spend most of their time in scattered homesteads spread over the mountain flanks at different altitudes. A family might own up to five or more houses, each one located in a small field clinging to a slope or nestling in a narrow bottomland area. All houses have one door, are windowless, and have a dirt floor the diameter of an average house is 3 meters. The walls are traditionally made of plaited, flattened canes or, more recently, of wattle and daub. In the cold highlands the walls of some houses are built up of rough stones. The conical roofs of all houses are thatched with mountain grass.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, some native groups of the Sierra Nevada constructed terraces for agricultural purposes, with retaining walls of boulders and stones, the remains of which can still be seen in many parts of present-day Kogi territory. At that time the staple food was maize, but when, during the following centuries, creole peasants pushed the Indians higher up into the mountains, the Kogi had to readapt maize cultivation declined and was largely replaced by plantains, squashes, and tree crops. Game has become very scarce people collect some beetles and river crabs and occasionally hunt birds or small rodents.

Industrial Arts. Kogi material culture is extremely simple. The men weave coarse cotton cloth for the entire family, but spinning may be done by both sexes. The women weave cotton or agave fibers into small carrying bags for personal articles basket weaving is almost unknown. Household items such as benches, string hammocks, open-net bags, cooking vessels, gourd water jugs, gourd spoons, and wooden mortars are of coarse manufacture.

Trade. Trade relations have been going on for centuries. The Kogi manufacture primitive sugarcane presses and exchange or sell bricks of raw sugar to the Colombian lowland peasants who, in turn, provide the Indians with bush knives, cast-iron vessels, salt, sun-dried fish, steel needles, and similar items. In recent times some Kogi families have been growing coffee for sale in the lowlands. Wage labor is practically unknown.

Division of Labor. Both men and women work in the fields, help in house construction, and spin cotton thread. In other activities, however, a marked division along sex lines is observed. Weaving is a strictly male activity, and so are pottery making and coca planting. Carrying water, cooking, and laundering are female tasks, whereas the men procure firewood, clean the village premises, build bridges, and maintain the mountain trails, the fences, and the roof thatch. Most ritual activities are carried out by men, and women are forbidden to enter the temple or other ceremonial enclosures.

Land Tenure. All cultivated lands are privately owned. Hunting and gathering territories are communal property, but occasionally some wild-growing fruit trees have individual owners. Several years ago the Colombian government established a large Indian territory in the Sierra Nevada and began to buy up many small farms owned by encroaching creole settlers and returning them to the Indians. Lately, the Indians have been laying claim to many archaeological sites, which they consider to be a sacred heritage from Tairona times, and problems are arising between tradition-minded tribal authorities and government agencies in charge of prehistoric monuments.


Kin Groups and Descent. The basic structural principle is parallel descent, by which a son follows his father’s lineage and a daughter follows her mother’s. Some of these lineages lay claim to lordly or priestly status some claim to be direct descendants of the Tairona, whereas others admit to being of mixed origin or trace their lineages to historical or mythical groups that were not related to the Tairona. Among men, membership in a certain lineage is a matter of pride women sometimes ignore the names and attributes of their lineages. Intermarriage with Hispanic or Black elements is nonexistent, but rape and concubinage, probably going back to Conquest and colonial times, cannot be ignored in the present genetic constitution of the Kogi.

Kinship Terminology. Traditional terminology seems to follow the Hawaiian system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Patriand matrilines are ranked and named each descent group has a mythical ancestor and place of origin and is associated with a certain “male” or “female” animal species. The traditional ideal was a marriage between the male predator and the female prey. During the last three or four generations, these marriage rules have been largely ignored, although most active priests continue to insist upon them. Polygyny is uncommon but, in view of the frequent scarcity of convenient, young, marriageable women, a young man might marry a woman considerably older than himself and later on marry a young girl the first wife stays on as a “cook.”

Domestic Unit. Nuclear families are the rule. In Kogi homesteads, husband and wife traditionally occupy separate huts, but in the village the men will pass the night in the temple dancing, chanting, or discussing village affairs.
Inheritance. Fields, houses, and domestic animals are passed from father to son and from mother to daughter. Tairona heirlooms, lime containers, and other ritual objects are male property bone needles, cooking vessels, or necklaces of Tairona beads are female property.

Socialization. Child training is very strict, much emphasis being put upon obedience, collaboration, food sharing, respect for elders, self-control, and silence. Aggressiveness is severely punished, as is any manifestation of infantile sexuality. Physical or verbal contact with the father is uncommon during infancy.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Hierarchical structures are very important in mythical thought and in the daily appreciation of social and natural phenomena. Esoteric knowledge carries great prestige. Earthly possessions are of no importance, the Kogi value system being antimaterialistic and, at the same time, exalting the moral and ethical qualities of their religious and intellectual elite. The entire sociopolitical orientation is based upon their concepts of occupying the “center” of the world, of being the “elder brothers” of all humankind, and of leading an exemplary life. These cultural truths are constantly being extolled as the leading principles of Kogi society, family life, and individual behavior.

Political Organization. Remnants of the Spanish colonial cabildo (village council) system are combined with the authority of native priests. Civil and religious authority have been closely linked since early colonial times and, possibly, before that. Some priestly lineages claim to be the overlords of certain regions and are respected as such. Most family and village affairs are taken before the local comisario or priest, but some cases are taken before the Colombian authorities in one of the neighboring lowland towns.

Social Control. Kogi society condemns all manifestations of aggressiveness: murder, arson, rape, and vandalism are almost unknown. Petty thefts do occur and drunken fistfights are fairly frequent. The Kogi are a quarrelsome people they like to indulge in long-winded discussions of personal or community misgivings. A major control system is provided by the native institution of public confession, which covers a wide range of offenses mainly relating to sexual matters or interpersonal hostilities. Punishments consist of beatings, short-term hard-labor tasks, or religious penitence. The main threat for misbehavior is supernatural punishment by illness.

Conflict. Kogi traditions speak of many conflict situations in the past, some of them going back to the Spanish Conquest, whereas others refer to past intertribal warfare. There has been no tribal revolt against established authority since 1600, and the Kogi pride themselves on their peaceable attitudes in the face of outside pressures or occasional interpersonal tensions. Local nativistic movements, mainly in the 1940s, were of little consequence, and, at present, sporadic revivalistic movements have only a few followers. The concepts of opposition and alliance constitute recurrent themes in Kogi cosmology, myth, and philosophy however, in spite of apparent dualistic classifications and categories, the concept of “balance” is predominant.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The creation myth describes the process of embryogenesis in a cosmic womb, paralleled by the unfolding of individual consciousness and the first structuring of the universe. The creator-goddess is the Mother, a self-existent and initially self-fecundating Magna Mater. Next to the Mother are her sons, who are the Lords of the Universe together with their divine sister-spouses, they are in charge of all aspects of nature and of people’s behavior. The Mother also created Sun and Moon, to establish a precise cosmic clockwork order. There also exist a large number of male or female spirit beings, rain and thunder beings, animal spirits, and others. The three basic dimensions of divine creation are: a nine-layered universe, a nine-tiered temple, and a nine-month-phased human womb. Religious activities refer mainly to fertility and to the need to achieve balance between the opposing forces and tendencies in nature and human minds.

Religious Practitioners. Kogi priests must undergo a long and very exacting training period, during which they must develop a strong and dominant personality of high ethical standards together with a broad understanding of political and ecological issues. Priestly activities are centered upon temples that, apart from being sun-watching stations, symbolize the womb of the Mother.

Ceremonies. The annual ritual cycle is marked by the four solstitial and equinoctial ceremonies, dates that coincide with the onset of the rainy or dry season. Masked dances or minor ceremonies are celebrated to honor a host of spirit beings throughout the year. Local priests are in charge of all rituals of the individual’s life cycle. Private ritual actions are very frequent, consisting of offerings to the Mother or to the ancestors, public confessions, dietary or sexual restrictions, solitary pilgrimages to sacred sites, and the learning of dances, songs, and traditions. During some of the major ceremonies, priests wear ancient Tairona ornaments such as carved masks, ritual objects of polished and carved stone or wood, and pectorals or wristlets of gold or tumbaga (tombac).

Arts. Singing and dancing are the principal Kogi artistic expressions and are highly formalized. Rhetoric, the recital of cosmogonic myths accompanied by prescribed stances and gestures, is an important art form. Applied decorative arts are nonexistent except for some colored stripes on clothes or carrying bags, the function of which is lineage identification.

Medicine. Minor Kogi priests, who have a lower, shamanic status as healers, have a good knowledge of herbal medicine. Many diseases, however, are attributed to malevolent spirit beings, vindictive ancestors, or social dysfunctions in these cases the priests, elders, or family members prescribe adequate offerings or confession.

Death and Afterlife. At death the soul-stuff returns to the Mother’s womb because life is but a brief period between two intrauterine states. Earthly annihilation is followed by the soul’s wandering to the Land of Death, where it is accused, judged, and punished. The soul then proceeds, over one of the many trails assigned to it, to its final destiny.
Preuss, K. T. (1926). Forschungsreise zu den Kágaba: Beobachtungen, Textaufnahmen und sprachliche Studien bei einem Indianerstamme in Kolumbien, Südamerika. Vienna: Anthropos.
Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo (1985). Los Kogi: Una tribu de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Bogotá: Procultura.
Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo (1987). “The Great Mother and the Kogi Universe: A Concise Overview.” Journal of Latin American Lore 13:73-113.

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