The Lost City: Culture, Heritage and Utopia in the Colombian Caribbean with Dr. Santiago Giraldo - Context Travel

The Lost City: Culture, Heritage and Utopia in the Colombian Caribbean with Dr. Santiago Giraldo


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The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia is one of the world's most biodiverse and complex mountain ecosystems on the planet, yet it remains mysterious, unknown, and unexplored to most Europeans and North Americans. We will explore the Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) and the mountain's long and fabled history.

In the 16th century the Spanish Empire tried and failed, to conquer and assimilate the peoples living in the slopes and valleys of one of the highest coastal mountains in the world; the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Known collectively as the Tairona, since at least 200 AD they built hundreds of towns from sea level and into the upper reaches of the mountain, intensively and extensively transforming its landscape into what one Spanish friar called "paradise on earth". Fabled warriors, craftsmen, and goldsmiths, they resisted all attempts by the Spanish to settle their territories by force, only to be decimated by epidemic cycles until their societies collapsed sometime around the early 17th century. The few who survived fled as far away as they could from the centers of Colonial power and reconstituted themselves into new indigenous societies, who still inhabit the upper parts of the mountain.

Thus their story remained untold and shrouded in mystery until the 19th century when a number of explorers began finding vestiges and remains of their stone-paved roads and massive staircases beneath the dense tropical forest. As the mountain began to be colonized anew, beautifully crafted gold figurines were found in Tairona tombs, gaining the attention of experts in different parts of the world and entering museum collections under the myth of "El Dorado". Long a blank spot on the map, the mountain itself became an object of intense study, and its endemic fauna and an incredible array of birds began to be documented and recorded. Anthropologists also began researching the surviving indigenous peoples, known as the Wiwa, Kogui, Arhuaco, and Kankuamo. Its empty spaces attracted subsequent attempts at colonization, a perfect place to escape to, far away from the reaches of state and government wherein settlers of all sorts and types could reinvent themselves following Utopian dreams.

This conversation introduces the long and fascinating history of a place and peoples that remained shrouded in mystery and speculation for hundreds of years. We will critically discuss how this "blankness and impenetrability" have held, and continue to hold a grip on the imagination, leading up to the discovery of the Lost City in 1976.

Led by anthropologist and archaeologist Santiago Giraldo, an expert on the Tairona and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, this conversation explores the central role played by the mystery in the exploration of the ancient past and landscapes such as those of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, including how it relates to the creation of Utopian dreams and spaces.

Santiago Giraldo is the Director of the Colombia Heritage Program, centering on developing a Master Management Plan for Teyuna-Ciudad Perdida Archaeological Park in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains of Colombia for the Global Heritage Fund. His responsibilities also include directing site mapping and conservation assessment, as well as supporting GHF activities and projects in Peru and Guatemala. During the past ten years, his work has centered on research and preservation efforts in Pueblito archaeological sites in Tayrona National Park and in Teyuna-Ciudad Perdida Archaeological Park. He is also the author of the Guidebook to Ciudad Perdida Archaeological Park. Santiago holds an MA in Social Sciences and a PhD in Anthropology, both from the University of Chicago.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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