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Cultural Landscape of the Lower Basin of the Chicamocha River

Date de soumission : 27/09/2012
Critères: (ii)(iv)(vii)(viii)
Catégorie : Mixte
Soumis par :
Permanent Delagation of Colombia to UNESCO
État, province ou région :
Santander Department
Ref.: 5757

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The Cultural Landscape of the Lower Basin of the Chicamocha River is the product of the overlap on an exceptional natural landscape of different times of occupation and movement of population, currently evidenced by the presence of a wide variety of cultural resources.

The lower basin of the Chicamocha river and its area of ​​influence is a portion of the territory of the river canyon which can be regarded as a natural landscape unit, because of its natural characteristics that make it a more or less homogeneous area. Highlights in this location are its altitudes between 400 and 1300 m, in the Tropical and premontane floors, i. e. in the tropical latitudinal region and with the environmental humidity typical of zones of dry forest and arid forest. The landscape nominated hereupon corresponds to an area which, in addition to having homogeneous natural features, stands today as a cultural landscape unit because of its common past and present. Different eras have left their mark on the territory, and the sum of all of them has resulted in a current observation of a cultural landscape with all of its characteristic elements.

Archaeological findings from pre-Hispanic times have shown the presence, in the lower basin of the Chicamocha river, of the Guane ethnic group from the eighth or ninth century B. C. Since then, human occupation of the site has been constant to this day.

The presence of the Guane ethnic population left evidence of their occupation which is yet to be thoroughly studied, but which still survives in the place. It is worth mentioning that the many sites which still need to be explored include burial caves and pictographs. There also remain in the local toponymy names of indigenous chiefdoms which existed at the time of arrival of the renowned Spanish chronicler Juan de Castellanos. Said places would later be referenced as parcels in archival documents, which are now towns and villages of municipalities such as Barichara and Villanueva. Moreover, ancestral practices persist such as consumption of so-called "hormigas culonas" (Big Rump Edible Ants) also referred to by chroniclers at the time of their arrival, as well as the development of fine ceramics (with the same technique used by the Indians) and exquisite fabrics.

The colonial era was perhaps the most important moment for the territory of the lower basin of the Chicamocha river, since it was the time when commercial traffic was at its peak. The discovery of alluvial gold in the Río del Oro (Gold River) and the subsequent foundation of the nearby municipality of San Juan de Girón, made necessary communication with the town of Velez, which led to the paved path and network paths which are still preserved, as well as the foundation of the towns of San Gil and Socorro. These towns had initially appeared as mere villages surrounding overnight stop places, resting sites or river crossing points. All the populations appeared thus in the area. Curití appeared initially in a strategic place of the path where the help of boatmen was needed to cross the river; likewise do Móncora and Chanchón subsequently appear.

This cultural landscape is composed of the following cultural resources:

Pre-Hispanic Archaeological Sites

The lower basin of the Chicamocha river is a particularly rich area in archaeological sites belonging to the Guane; an ethnic group which inhabited the territory in pre-Hispanic times. Scholars have presented the probability that there were hunters, fishers and gatherers in early times in the Santander upland, though there is no evidence due to the lack of research in this regard. Data provided by the archaeological excavation site in Palogordo, Villanueva, allowed to point out the absolute earliest date of Guane occupation as being the eighth or ninth century A. D. From that date, this ethnic group lived there (as has been demonstrated in findings from other research) uninterruptedly until the sixteenth century when the Spanish conquest occurred. The studies allow to conclude that there existed two complexes with similarities but with particular characteristics and geographical locations and different times, the Early Guane and the Late Guane.

The early Guane complex is located in the Bucaramanga and Los Santos plateaus, as well as in the surroundings of the southeastern moors; the habitation sites explored are located on alluvial terraces north and south of the lower basin of the Chicamocha river. The Late Guane Complex, in turn, starts in the thirteenth century and ends in colonial times. It is located in the Suárez River Valley, the plateau of Barichara, high Chicamocha, the Socorro and Oiba regions and the Serranía de los Cobardes. Some ceramic pieces of this complex appear outside of this territory in Serranía de los Cobardes and Boyacá, suggesting ceramic trade with other indigenous groups.

It is also important to note that the current situation of the pre-Hispanic archaeological heritage of the region is at risk, as ceramics, textiles and other items of archaeological sites are plundered by treasure hunters in order to market them in the black market, which hampers the progress for future research given the loss of the evidence that there may exist. However, it is assumed that there still are many unexplored places because of the difficulty to access burial sites, as many of them are located in the rocky walls of the Chicamocha canyon.

Road Network

The isolation of this region occurred from the second half of the twentieth century with the emergence of new roads. This has enabled the permanence of old dirt roads and their impact on local traffic of the people, given the need to maintain mobility the territory. For this reason, it is now possible to identify the existence of the colonial road network in the region. Amongst the many roads, the following are worth mentioning: La Cabrera – Barichara, Barichara – Guane, Villanueva – Jordán, Jordán – Hacienda El Guásimo (Aratoca), Jordán – Mesa de Subecito (San Gil) and Jordán – Los Santos. The stretch of dirt road Subecito - Jordan Sube - Los Santos, is an old road that currently connects the Subecito site on the southern slopes of the Chicamocha canyon with the municipalities of Jordán Sube and Los Santos, in the northeastern are of the Santander department. This stretch of road makes part of the former Kingdom Road, or Sogamoso Road. This road ran from Santafe, the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada up to the Sogamoso River, passing through major towns such as Tunja, Velez, Socorro and San Gil, and down the Chicamocha canyon to the Paso Real de la Cabuya de Sube, over the river, to continue its ascent winding along the north side of the canyon, down to Jériras plateau. Subsequently, the road continued to Giron, and finally reached the port at the Sogamoso river.

The existence of this road before the arrival of the Spaniards is difficult to pinpoint. However, a trail connecting both sides of the Chicamocha canyon is likely to have existed, according to evidence from the archaeological findings which indicate the occupation of the Guane ethnic group on either side of the canyon, as well as data provided by Elegies of Illustrious Men of the Indies, a major documentary source of the colonial period. Another element that might indicate the pre - existence of the route is the known fact that the Spaniards, due to their ignorance of the territory, would settle therein using the existing structures occupying the territory, which would allow to think that the current path of stone simply an improvement of pre-Hispanic indigenous route.

The origin of the layout of the road in colonial times is also unknown; it is however possible to associate it with the foundation of Girón (1638), which suggests that the route through the Chicamocha canyon dates back to the early seventeenth century and was associated to the need for communication between the town of Velez and the newly founded town of Girón. The date on which the path was paved with stone is also unknown; however, given its technical characteristics and according to data from historical records, it was a path of great importance during colonial times and even maintained its importance during the Republic until the mid-twentieth century, when in 1948 the bridge in the Pescadero site was inaugurated, which displaced Sube in importance as the only place of passage over the Chicamocha River, which has consolidated over time. Currently, the road remains in good conditions in general and remains a vital route for residents of Jordan Sube.

The Passage over the Chicamocha River at Sube

The first written information found on the Passage over the Chicamocha River at Sube dates back to as early as 1755. However, it is assumed that the passage exists since pre-Hispanic times, and that its use became frequent during the colony - probably since the foundation of Girón-, which would signal the existence of the route which still exists since the early seventeenth century.

The existing bridge in Jordan Sube dates from 1904. There is documentary evidence of the existence of other infrastructure to cross the river in the days before the construction the aforementioned bridge.

The Muleteering Trade

Muleteering was, from the sixteenth century until the mid-twentieth century, a critical activity for trade, to the extent that a large percentage of goods was transported by land, or through a combination of land and river transportation.

Thus, much of the business was underpinned by knowledge on the part of the muleteer of his activity, which likewise involved a deep understanding of territory management and mule trains and goods. Muleteering maintained its importance in the lower basin of the Chicamocha river until 1948, when the Bridge of Pescadero was opened, and this finally consolidated the use of vehicles in the transportation of passengers and goods, lagging behind the trade of muleteering. Currently, muleteering is practiced by some people in the area, although not as frequently as in the past. However, the Jordan Sube - Los Santos road is still a scenario of transport for small mule trains accompanied by their arriero (muleteer) transporting tobacco or food, given the difficulties in access by car to Jordan Sube.

The muleteering trade is kept alive in the collective memory, which retains the craftsmanship and the remembrance of a prosperous region in relation to the trade facilitated by muleteering, as well as the times of yore when owning mule trains meant great economic capital.

The Trade of Cultivating Tobacco

The landscape of the lower basin of the Chicamocha river is impregnated with tobacco. No matter which way one goes, and without going too far, an area is discovered to be closely linked with the cultivation and drying of the leaves of tobacco. The crops, with their organized layout and bright green color, are everywhere, as well as huts for leaf drying, and the houses where farmers locate themselves under the eaves in order to unfold the leaves and assemble the bundles, pressing them with the old wood presses. Tobacco is the largest product for trade in the region, both in the past and nowadays.

The tradition of growing and drying tobacco leaves apparently dates back to pre-Hispanic times when the Guane ethnic population, said to have known the benefits of the tobacco leaf, would prepare a slurry mixture which would relieve pain. This mixture is also said to have been used in Guane ritual ceremonies. During colonial times, the quality of the tobacco in the region meant the opportunity to market it in different parts of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, among which we can include mainly the gold mines of Antioquia. Similarly, as the Republic started, when the Germans lived in Santander, tobacco was exported to Europe where it was welcomed because of its quality.

Today, the lower basin of the Chicamocha river remains an important producer of tobacco leaves; quality improvement is continuously sought in order to sell it, not so much anymore to cigarette manufacturers as tobacco mix, but for artisanal handmade tobacco exporting manufacturers to use it as raw material, which generates more income to farmers.

The architecture of the site

The architecture of the site has, amongst its most prominent elements, domestic formal expression, built using mud as raw material in the technique of rammed earth. Similarly, there are examples of housing built on land in the adobe technique. It is also worth noting especially what one might call the industrial architecture of the region, related to the production of tobacco and represented in the huts for the drying of the leaf.

Houses built on raw earth and huts can be seen along a tour of any of the roads of this landscape, and although they are modest samples of vernacular architecture, they are key factors as they confer a special character to this area for being elements which could be considered atypical in other places.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

This cultural landscape is the result of the combination of natural and cultural factors over time, whose mixture has resulted in a place of remarkable natural features wherein one can observe traces of the passage of time and occupation from pre-Hispanic times by different human populations which have transformed the country and led to the scenario we see today.

Man's relationship with the geographical environment of the Chicamocha canyon manifests itself in time in two ways; first, by taking on this geographical feature as an abyss to cross, an obstacle to overcome; thus, for thousands of years, humans have moved through the canyon. The second form of relationship has been the occupation of its banks or high parts in small towns which have existed since pre-Hispanic times, and which have been replaced by townships founded during the colonial period; such towns are still extant. These two forms of relationship of human populations with this area of high complexity in topography and climate have generated a landscape unit of similar characteristics which we may call the Cultural Landscape of the Lower Basin Of The Chicamocha River.

Criterion (ii): The roads built during the colony took advantage of the previous existence of Indian trails and remained in force until the first half of the twentieth century, when the appearance of roads caused the trails to become obsolete. However, these roads are still used today - although less frequently- by the inhabitants of the region. These, along with earth architecture represented in homes and muleteering inns, and tobacco cultivations and drying huts, become traces of past eras and cultural exchange between Spaniards and Indians who remain in the territory.

Criterion (iv): The network of roads and bridges which still exists, as well as evidence of the existence of other options to cross the river such as El Sitio de la Cabuya, in the municipality of Jordan Sube, located in the lower basin of the Chicamocha river, are a set of technological developments which indicate the degree of evolution of this kind in pre-Hispanic, colonial and republican times. They are, likewise, the result of man's attempt to overcome natural barriers of the complex hydrography and topography of the Chicamocha canyon in order to maintain mobility in the territory and thereby trade.

Criterion (vii): The lower basin of the Chicamocha river makes part of the Chicamocha Canyon, a deep valley with a length of 244 km that reaches 800 m depth, and the Chicamocha runs at its bottom. The size, topography and geological complexity of this geographical feature make it a place of exceptional landscape beauty. The lower basin is especially renowned for being the section where the canyon reaches its maximum depth, generating special visual beauty.

Criterion (viii): The Chicamocha Canyon was formed 4,600 million years ago. Currently, its appearance is a result of various factors such as tectonic activity and the action of multiple meteorizing agents which have led to fracturing and the formation of slope deposits. The Chicamocha River and its tributaries have shaped the relief through deep valleys carved by the action of the deposit material as it is removed and transported.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The isolation that the territory has experienced since the second half of the twentieth century, when a new road appeared and led to the massification of the use of cars in the region and diverted the main route of trade, has caused all natural and cultural values to be preserved up to this day. However, conservation and preservation of these values ​​depends on creating an awareness of their importance, with in-depth understanding of these at the basis, a situation that will be achieved as research progresses in this area, with a potentially interesting research of the planet's geological history and the pre-Hispanic period of occupation of this part of the continent.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

Quebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina

Cultural Heritage site included in the World Heritage List under criteria ii, iv and v. This site lies along a major cultural route, the Inca Trail, which follows the course of the Rio Grande and its spectacular valley, from its birth in the cold desert plateau of the High Andean lands to its confluence with the Rio Leone, about 150 kilometers further south. There are traces in the valley of its use as a major trade route dating from as far back as 10,000 years ago, as well as the activities of groups of prehistoric hunter - gatherers. There are also remnants of the Inca Empire (centuries XV and XVI) and of the fight of the Republicans for the independence of Argentina (XIX and XX).

Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley (Andorra)

Site of Natural and Cultural Heritage included in the World Heritage List under criterion v. The cultural landscape of the Madriu-Perafita-Claror valley is a highly representative microcosm of the way people have harvested the resources of the highlands of the Pyrenees mountains over millennia. The spectacular landscapes of craggy cliffs and glaciers with open pastures and steep wooded valleys covers an area of ​​4247 hectares, or 9% of the territory of Andorra. These landscapes are not only evidence of climate change on the planet, but also of the economic vicissitudes and social systems of its inhabitants, as well as the sustainability of grazing and the strength of the mountain culture. The site, which is the only place in Andorra without roads, also has various human habitats (notably summer settlements of shepherds) as well as terraced fields, stone tracks and traces of iron foundry work.

Pyrénées - Mont Perdu (France - Spain)

Site of Natural and Cultural Heritage included in the World Heritage List under criteria iii, iv, v, vii and viii. Located on both sides of the border between France and Spain, this unique mountain landscape is the central limestone massif of Mont Perdu, which culminates at 3352 meters high. The site, which extends over an area of ​​30,639 hectares, has classic geological formations: two canyons, the largest and deepest canyons in Europe, situated on the southern Spanish side, and three great glacial cirques on the northern French slopes, which are steeper. In addition, Mont Perdu is a grazing area where one can see a rural way of life once widespread in the mountainous regions of Europe. This lifestyle has preserved intact only in this place of the Pyrenees during the entire twentieth century. Its landscape of villages, farms, fields, high pastures and mountain roads is an invaluable testimony of the past of the European society.

The Cultural Landscape of the Lower Basin of the Chicamocha River resembles the afore – mentioned sites as for the conservation of traditional lifestyles and the overlapping of different historical layers in the middle of difficult environmental conditions, though it excels in the majesty of the landscape thanks to its unique topographical conformation; now the Chicamocha Canyon is considered the second in depth worldwide, after the Grand Canyon in the United States of America.