Places to visit in Colombia...
Top 7 Wonders NOT to be missed
Santuario de Las Lajas
If looking for places to visit in Colombia, search no more, what follows is the list of the top seven wonders voted by Colombian nationals.
In fact, back in 2007 leading newspaper El Tiempo launched a national survey to select and vote the country's top attractions - man-made structures as opposed to wonders of nature - in terms of its historic, architectonic and/or engineering value.
Out of the initial list of 225 sites of interest, the list was narrowed down to 21 finalists, to which Colombians set to vote for two weeks in order to select the top seven country attractions.
Unfortunately, Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino (the hacienda where Simón Bolívar died in 1830) plus the hydraulic works of the Zenú culture in the region known as Depresión Momposina didn't make it just for a small margin of votes.
So here we go, let's review the top places to visit in Colombia...
1.- Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá:
The importance of the town of Zipaquirá (Cundinamarca Department, 45 km North of Bogota) is twofold, home to the salt cathedral and the nearby El Abra archaeological excavation, one of the first human settlements in the Americas, dating back to the Pleistocene.
The cathedral itself, inaugurated in 1995 and built 200 feet under the old underground church (1954) is considered more of a museum than a Roman Catholic religious temple, and regarded as one of the finest examples of Colombian architecture.
At its very beginning it was only a sanctuary carved by the miners, a place for prayers before getting to work, but the halite mines were already exploited by the pre-Columbian Muisca culture since 5th century BC.
2.- Santuario de Las Lajas:
The imposing basílica (Roman Catholic) church known as Las Lajas Sanctuary looks like an European castle that has missed the continent. With Gothic Revival style, the present church was built between 1916 and 1949 on the same location of the original shrine (mid XVIII century), later expanded in 1802.
Built inside the canyon of the Guáitara river (Ipiales, Nariño Department, close to the border with Ecuador), it rises 100 m high from the bottom of the canyon and is connected with a 50 m tall bridge to the opposite side of the canyon.
Apparently, the inspiration for the church's creation was a miraculous event marked by the apparition of Virgin Mary in 1754, when two Amerindian women were caught in a very hard storm and sought refuge between the gigantic lajas. Laja is the name of a sedimentary rock found in the region.
3.- Parque Arqueológico de San Agustín:
San Agustín Archaeological Park (Department of Huila: Municipalities of San Agustín and San José de Isnos) is the legacy of a pre-Columbian North Andean culture that flourished from the 1st to the 8th century.
Covering an area of 116 Ha, it's made up of three different facilities: San Agustin, Alto de los Idolos and Alto de las Piedras, being a small part of a vast archaeological region.
It was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1995, and defined as the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America.
These gigantic statues carved in stone, including the sarcophagi and the tombs, represent the religious and magical beliefs of an ancient civilization that disappeared sometime between 1300 and 1400 AD.
Some of the most famous statues are "The Double Self", "El Obispo" (the bishop) and "La Fuente de Lavapatas", a fountain considered to be their most grandiose work of sculpture, evidencing knowledge on hydraulics and the high level of engineering achieved by them.
4.- Arquitectura Militar de Cartagena de Indias:
Originally home to the Monsú culture and later to the Carib, Cartagena city was born as Cartagena del Poniente in June 1, 1533 founded by Pedro de Heredia.
Under Spanish rule -that lasted for 275 years- it became one of the three main ports in the West Indies, notorious for the infamous slave trade and the wealth of gold and silver shipped out to Spain via Havana.
The city grew rapidly, first due to the gold plundered from the Monsú tombs and later by becoming the storehouse for the gold and silver from the mines of New Granada and Peru, which made it a tempting target to all sorts of buccaneers on the Caribbean sea. Read more about Cartagena history and fortifications...
5.- Ciudad Perdida:
Also known as Buritaca, Teyuna or Ciudad Perdida (Lost City) is one of the country's most ancient archaeological sites, dating back to 800 BC. It's believed to be 650 years older than the Lost City of the Incas (Machu Picchu), in the Cuzco region of Peru.
Sitting at an altitude of 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) on a ridge overlooking the Buritaca river valley, Ciudad Perdida is a complex of houses, plazas, ceremonial areas, staircases, canals and other constructions that can only be accessed by climbing 1,200 stone stairs leading to over 150 stone terraces that conform the Lost City's present state. Read more...
6.- Parque Arqueológico de Tierradentro:
Tierradentro Archaeological Park is located in the Municipality of Inza, Department of Cauca, some 100km away from its capital, Popayán. The park comprises several zones of pre-Columbian hypogea (underground tombs): Alto del Aguacate, Loma de San Andres, Alto de Segovia , Alto de Duende and El Tablón.
Notorious for its painted burial chambers, little is known about the civilization that created them but the date is estimated around 700 AC. Some burial chambers are 12 meters wide, decorated with motifs that demonstrate the interior of the houses from that time, revealing the social complexity and cultural wealth of a society developed in the northern Andes way before the arrival of Spanish conquistadores.
Tierradentro Archaeological Park was inscribed by UNESCO in the World Heritage List in 1995.
7.- Teatro Colón:
The Colón Theater in Bogota is Colombia's National Theatre, declared National Monument in 1975. It was built on the same location of the former Coliseo Ramírez by Don Tomás Ramírez and Don Dionisio de Villar, in 1772.
Named after Cristóbal Colón (Columbus), opened its doors on October 12th,1892 to commemorate the fourth centenary of the discovery of America. It covers an area of 2,400 square meters and has a seating capacity of 908 chairs.
Teatro Colón was built in Neoclassical style by Italian architect Pietro Cantini and is considered to be a masterpiece of Colombian architecture. It's one of the most important in South America together with Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.