Tierradentro – the land within – as the Spaniards called the region, which is difficult to access, today describes both the province of the same name and one of the most important archaeological areas in the country.
It includes one of the largest necropolises of pre-Columbian America. Although the underground cave tombs typical of Tierradentro are also found in western Mexico and other regions of northern South America, no other place in the world has such a high frequency like the area around the village of San Andrés de Pisimbalá.
These are shaft graves carved out of volcanic stone with lateral burial chambers (hypogeums), which were mainly used for secondary burials, i.e. the bones of people who died earlier were finally buried here in corresponding bone urns.
Tierradentro’s tombs are elaborately designed: They reach a depth of up to 9 metres. Spiral staircases lead down a shaft which serves as an access to the burial chamber. Walls, ceilings and column surfaces are decorated with complex geometric and figurative paintings. The dominant colours are red, black and white, but orange, grey, purple and yellow are also represented. In 1995 the site was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
Beyond their aesthetic value, the tombs of Tierradentro and the archaeological finds they contain provide information about the society that they once built: it must have been an economic form that produced surpluses, so that part of the population could specialize in the construction of hypogea and the production of coveted trade goods. The latter were then exchanged for luxury goods made of gold and shells by neighbouring peoples.
The subterranean tombs also corresponded to the houses of the living – even if not in their material, but in their basic form and room layout. This symbolic symmetry between the two worlds suggests that the transition from life to death was seen as a continuum. Finally, the effort and positioning of the bones in the burial chambers indicate the existence of a hierarchical social and political structure based on a chieftain that also held sacerdotal functions.
Within the Parque Arqueológico de Tierradentro, the tombs are divided into five zones that can be combined into two day walks: Alto del Aguacate, Alto de San Andrés, Loma de Segovia, Alto del Duende and El Tablón. In Tablón, various stone sculptures can be seen, similar in form and technique to those of San Agustín.
Loma de Segovía is considered to be the most attractive site in the archaeological area, as it is the most accessible, has the largest number of accessible graves, the best state of preservation and the widest range of design.
In the Alto del Aguacate sector, there are more than 70 graves arranged side by side on a flat artificial hill. From here you can enjoy spectacular views, weather permitting.
A special feature of Tierradentro are also twelve colonial mission chapels from the 16th century, which were once built by the Jesuits. Two of them, San Andrés de Pisimbalá and Santa Rosa, have been restored.
An architecture prize was awarded to the new building of the library and the “Casa del Pueblo” of San Pedro de Guanacas (municipality of Inzá) erected from the locally occurring giant bamboo (guadua).
Finally, two interesting museums are part of the Parque Arqueológico de Tierradentro, an archaeological one and an ethnological one which is dedicated to the Nasa culture.