The Effort to Save Colombia’s Underground Mountaintop Tombs:
Scientists and conservators are finally able to return to what was once an Andean war zone.
Tierradentro is a cluster of 162 burial chambers hewn from the peaks of four parallel mountains near the Andean town of Inza. They span a few miles of mountainous terrain, with the tomb entrances at the peaks.
These burials were created between 600 and 900 CE, before Spanish colonization, as “homes for the dead” of the ancient society’s elite class. Some are the size of a closet. Others are large, with multiple rooms. And every single burial chamber has beautiful, unique paintings.
La Pola, as Policarpa (or maybe Apolonia) Salavarrieta is a national hero in Colombia, and graces their 10,000 pesos note. The fifth of nine children, Salavarrieta was orphaned by smallpox at age 6 and grew up in the Spanish colony of New Granada (what is today Colombia and Panama). She grew up just as her nation was being born.
La Pola became involved with the patriot movement thanks to her family’s involvement in her hometown of Guadas; there is evidence of her activities starting when she was about 15, in 1810. La Pola only escalated her anti-royalist activities once she moved to present-day Bogotá with her brother.
In the capital city, La Pola and her brother worked as “servants” at Andrea Ricaurte’s home, the center of intelligence gathering and resistance in the capital. Because her revolutionary sympathies were unknown in Bogotá she could move freely through the city and its social groups. Offering her services as a seamstress to the wives and daughters of royalists and officers, she overheard conversations, collected maps and intelligence on their plans and activities, identified who the major royalists were, and found out who were suspected of being revolutionaries. She also worked to recruit badly-needed soldiers for the revolutionary cause and smuggled them out of the city.
Eventually she came under suspicion. But there was not sufficient evidence to arrest her. In 1817, though, her luck ran out. La Pola’s lover, Alejo Sabaraín, and others were caught making their way to the plains to join the rebels. And worse, they were found with signed evidence of La Pola’s counterintelligence efforts on them. She was arrested and sentenced to death by firing squad.
La Pola is famous for staying up the whole night before her execution, cursing the Spaniards and predicting their defeat in the revolution. On the scaffold, she is reported to have shouted “I have more than enough courage to suffer this death and a thousand more! Do not forget my example!” She died just 22 years old.
Pedro Lopez is a Colombian serial killer. He was sentenced in 1980 in Ecuador for killing 110 girls, but who claims to have raped and killed more than 300 girls across Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and potentially other countries. That would make him the second most prolific known serial killer in history.
He was released in 1994, rearrested an hour later as an illegal immigrant and handed over to Colombian authorities, who charged him with a 20-year-old murder. Lopez was released by Colombia in 1998 on $50 bail and some conditions. He absconded. At present, Lopez is wanted in connection to a 2002 murder, and his whereabouts are unknown.
The infamous mugshot of a smiling Pablo Escobar taken in Colombia 1977
A fisherman in Santa Marta, Colombia, 1945
In 1901 Colombia minted special coins for use in leper colonies. Following the first leprosy congress in Berlin in 1897, the nation minted coins in five values for use in three colonies. The point was to keep leprosy from being spread, by preventing money touched by lepers from getting circulated throughout the population.
The Philippines followed suit in 1913, followed by Japan and Malaysia. The United States produced special coins for a colony in the Panama Canal Zone. The coins were produced to protect healthy people, but in 1938 Gordon Alexander Ryrie, director of Malaysia’s Sungei Buloh Settlement, proved that the disease can’t spread by such casual contact. His colony burned the notes it had printed.
Beautiful life of Colombia in 1979 through an Italian travel photographer’s lens.
Drug Kingpin and… Animal Lover?
Pablo Escobar had a over-the-top estate at Puerto Triunfo. He built a private zoo, complete with hippos, giraffes, and elephants, among other animals. Hippos still roam the grounds.