Ciudad Bolivar in the narrowness of the Orinoco River

Date of Submission: 10/03/2003
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Ministerial Commission for the postulation of Ciudad Bolivar to World Cultural Heritage
Coordinates: Ciudad Bolívar in the narrowness of the Orinoco River is found between the Heres municipality of Bolívar State (in its North end) and the Independencia municipality of Anzoátegui State (in its South end)
Ref.: 1804

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Ciudad Bolívar in the narrowness of the Orinoco River constitutes a cultural landscape located in the shores of the third mightiest river of the world, the Orinoco, and in the Imataca Complex, a rocky platform of 3,400 million years of age, which makes it the oldest geological formation in the planet. From a geographical point of view, unique characteristics are found in the small context of the river basin, like the great granite outcrops, located in both margins of the channel, associated to human settlings and a long history of transformations, as much in the site that occupies Ciudad Bolívar, as in the other border where the neighboring population of Soledad is located. In addition, this zone also shows intrusions of Mesa Formation in Guayana’s territory, a geological formation characteristic of the Venezuelan Central and Eastern “Llanos” or Lowlands, which dates from the Pleistocene (around 1 million to 10,000 years ago), constituting edaphologycal evidence of a particular time in the natural history of the country in which great part of its Eastern territory was comprised in an extensive delta zone, much greater than the one present at the Orinoco nowadays . Therefore It would be possible to say that the area submitted under UNESCO consideration constitutes a kind of connection or link between two great geologic provinces important for regional and world natural history, the one, oldest one in the planet, the other, recent but of interest to illustrate important events in the conformation process of this important South American fluvial current. These imposing geological formation enters the river causing the singular narrowness of the channel, named “Angostura”, that only gets to reach 800 meters in the period of greater rainfall or “aguas altas”, in comparison with other sites where the river obtains a wide average up to 6 kilometers. Also the depth is particular in the site, which at times of maximum volume it can reach to the 100 meters, a condition that includes the Orinoco in a select list formed by the Yang-tse, Congo and Amazon rivers, all surpassing this mark . Those conditions -arisen rocks, narrowness, great depth- explain the origin of the turbulences formed in the environs and the existence of the site known as “Piedra del Medio” or “Piedra de Enmedio” (Middle Stone), right on the middle of the river current, and used since immemorial times by the former settlers like a empirical natural hydrometer. This rock and the turbulences of the great river basin have also favored the sprouting of oral traditions among the racially mixed population, specially between the fishermen, referred to the existence of a mysterious monster in the depths, the “Serpiente de las Cuatro Cabezas” (Seven heads serpent), that devours the boats . From an environmental point of view, this space constitutes a natural reservoir that shelters a remarkable ecosystem with great variety of species of plants, birds, reptiles -including the turtle “arrau” (Podocnemis espansa) in serious risk of extinction- and aquatic mammals, emphasizing sirenians like the almost extinct “manatí” and cetaceans like the “tonina” or “boto” and the “delfín negro” or “delfín de río” (black dolphin or river dolphin), frequently found in the Orinoco river basin and its affluents. As to the flora present in the environs of Ciudad Bolívar, the specialized cartography identifies them as typical species belonging to the Life Zone of the Tropical Dry Forest , gallery forests and the bushy savannas or “chaparrales”, with typical saxicole vegetation in rocky outcrops . The predominant species of the flood area of the river and the lagoons are the “muela de gallina” (Pithecellobium tortum), “arestin” (Sweet pellita), “chaparro de agua” (cinerea Cupania and Davilla kunthii), caramacate”” (Trichilia sp.), “guatero” (Gustavia augusta), “bora” (Eichhornia crassipes), “mata palo” (Ficus ssp.), “juncos” (Eleocharis ssp.) and “corocillos” (Cyperus ssp.). In the “Llanos” or low lands, where the level of the waters coming of the subsoil reaches the surface, the following species are found: “guayabita de agua” (maribense Psidium), “guamo rebalsero” (Zygia cataractae), “palo de agua” (tenuiflora Ruprechtia), “hueso de pescado” (subdinidiata Albizzia), “ariso” (Alchornea castaneifolia), “guayabo melero” (Combretum frangulifolium) and “candelero” (Cordia cololocca), as well as a typical vegetation of “morichales”, such as “moriche” (fleuxosa Mauritia), “”mata palo (velutina Fias), “juncos” (Cipones rotunols) and “corocillos”, among others. The flora of this landscape was described in the XIX century by Karl Ferdinand Appun (1871) in the following terms: … along the river there are tree-lined avenues of “almendrón” (…) and enormous “ceibas” (…). Often are disordered streets interrupted by enormous black rocks (…) Bushes of cactus, agaves and “fourcroyas” cover great places in that suburb (…) the environs of Ciudad Bolívar are mountainous and have completely the character of the lowlands (…) They have been named “morichales” derived from the palm “moriche” (…) that grows frequently in that region and is planted preferably as adornment near the houses. In addition to this lowland palm, the “palmera de cobija” is found quite often (…) . These zones of life lodge a varied fauna of birds; among these are remarkable the “garzas” (certain herons) and “corocoras” (Ardeidae and Thereskiornithidae), “gabanes” (American Mycteria), “alcaravanes” (Vanellus chilensis), “ermitaño rufo” (Phaetornis ruber), “picogordo verde” (Caryothrautes canadensiis), and the “viudita ribereña” (Knipolegus orenocencis). A condition to emphasize within this cultural landscape, constitutes its quality as a reservoir for the conservation of the aquatic mammals mentioned before. It is the case of the “tonina” or “boto” (Inia geoffrensis), whose riverside habitat and tendency for the small channels or lagoons located close to areas with turbulences , explains the fact that it is frequently observed within the area proposed for this declaration, specially in the South band . Another important species is the almost extinct “manatí” (Trichechus manatus), reported in the locality of Carapa, in the North band of the area to declare . This specie shows certain differences with the variety found in the Amazon river. The town of Soledad, included within the proposed polygonal, capital of the municipality where Carapa is located, has been included in proposals for his surveillance . It is necessary to indicate that lagoons like those located to the east of Ciudad Bolívar, also within the polygonal, are identified in the historical sources like one of the most preferred habitat of this animal , and they are appropriate for the development of the vegetation this animal consumes: “bora” or “jacinto acuatico” (Eichhornia crassipes), “repollito de agua” (Pistia stratiotes), “locha” (umbellata Hidrocotille), “cambomba acuática” (Nelumbium speciosum), etc ., thus would be appropriate for the study of possible repopulation plans. Finally, it is worth the trouble to consider the “delfín negro” or “delfín de río” (Sotalia fluviatilis), a frequent specie in rivers and estuaries of our country, of which reports from Ciudad Bolívar and the Delta of the Orinoco also exist . This specie should also enjoy a special protection. A map with the distribution of these last species confirms that the areas of the river next to Ciudad Bolívar are one of the points of frequent movement for this species, in association with the “tonina” . This natural landscape has undergone cultural transformations, possible since before the Christian age until the present day, as an example there are the pre-hispanic settlings, certain symbolic representations associates to them, the successive city-planning handlings, or its transformation to an important place for communications and commercial activity, among others. This has allowed a conformation of a cultural landscape of exceptional values, in which the beauty, perceivable by the spectator from both margins of the river, is only one of the many characteristics. As for the establishment pattern of Ciudad Bolívar in the narrowness of the Orinoco, judging by the historical descriptions of the missionaries and the civilian or military authorities involved in the foundation processes of colonial establishments, at the time of their arrival to the Orinoco river basin a significant number indigenous villages were located on both margins of the river and in the environs of the granite outcrops, influenced at first by the necessity to shelter from the periodic floods, but perhaps also for symbolic reasons, derived from their religious ideology. In colonial and republican times, these elevations were taken advantage of like sentry posts or fortifications, and the preexisting villages constituted initial settling base for the colonization process. Then the Europeans transplanted their own criteria of establishment in some of these local centers. Both the old cartography and the stories and descriptions of Orinoco chroniclers of the XVIII century, like Padre Jose Gumilla or Padre Felipe Salvador Gilíj, allude to colonial establishments of pre-Hispanic origin with that pattern. Towns that, unlike Ciudad Bolívar and their surroundings, could not conserve until the present the Hispanic-colonial impression in the typology of their houses or their urban layout, either because of discontinuities in the settling process, or because of episodes involving massive destructions of the buildings during the XIX century wars: Santo Tome de Guayana, prior to Angostura (next to an elevation, equipped with a fortification), Nueva Cantabria de Cabruta (immediate to the Cerro de Cabruta), Caicara del Orinoco (next to the Cerro El Guamo, which is fortified), La Encaramada (Cerro la Encaramada), La Urbana (Cerro la Urbana), San Regi's (Cerro Barraguán), Carichana and Marimarota (also in the environs of a granite elevation) or San Juan Nepomuceno del Raudal (disappeared settling predecessor of Puerto Ayacucho). Archaeological investigations carried out by the Central University of Venezuela suggest that this practice, specially important among the ethnic groups of Caribbean affiliation, goes back to the pre-Hispanic period, and it is related to the mythical importance of these mountains as well as their use for shamanic and funeral practices. This is coherent with the testimony of the old chroniclers. For example, Padre Ramon Bueno who in 1800, anticipating modern archaeologists, emphasized that the establishment pattern of even allowed to know where there were old villages of the Aguaricoto, a Caribbean ethnic group west of Ciudad Bolívar, settled near the granite hill of Barraguan: … they no longer exist. Only the news of them having been (…) Their settling is known by the crowd bones and of stones used to grind corn, contained by these hills inside the stones . Funeral practice that Bueno also it attributed to the Mapoyos (Wánai or Mópwe), another Caribbean ethnic group, who, by the way, nowadays still continues valuing the granite outcrops like sacred sites: Those who die in the woods are buried, being plebian; but, those being “saludador” or captain, their corpse is placed, well rolled with wood rinds, in the concavity of a stone, and consumed the meat, place the naked bones in the highest stone, making for such effect very long stairs.... Like the Otomaco, this ethnic group still considered at the end of century XVIII, that their genesis had begun in one of those rocky bulks: The Indians of the Mapoya nation call to the such stone in that he ends, and that serves like as capital the peak as Barraguan, Uruana;and they say that that one is the root of all the people of its nation;and for that reason they please much that they call uruanayes to them,// and ensartan that root with one long chain of chimeras and mistakes . In the case of the Marimarota establishment, as soon happened in the narrowness of Ciudad Bolívar, the spanish settlers valued not only the granite elevations that eased the sight over the river, but also the narrowness that reached the channel of the Orinoco, perfect to reach the possible Dutch invaders or karí’ña warriors, with the artillery of the time: In this same side of the South where we are, following up the Orinoco, we found another more singular rock (…). It has more than six miles of circuit, and everything is just one piece, without any addition; it is also crowned with wild woods; it has one difficult and only ascent, and has to be done barefoot, on the Eastern ridge. From its summit to the extensive flat (that the river offers as a balcony) we measured a perpendicular height of one hundred twenty-six “brazadas”; the flat is forty steps wide, and lengths more than eighty. It stands fourteen “varas” (0.84 mts.) away from the water; In this balcony or flat that offers the shapeless rock the missionaries formed a force with three batteries, quarters and houses for a small part of the Salivas Indians, that have been added to this force. This was more directed by the urgent needs than by the art, and was hand made by the “Padres misionarios”, soldiers and Indians, against the continuous invasions of the Caribbean Barbarians, in the year of 1736, with such a success, that since they saw it no armament of them dared to arrive; and even if they arrive, it would stand totally invincible, because it does not have any access but to go one by one, and using feet and hands not to fall, nor can it be assaulted from any other side. The river, crashes with this tremendous rocky crag, called in that lenguage Marumaruta; the Spaniards, who cannot pronounce the word well, call it Marimarota; and pressed the river with other rocks and reefs across, the great channel of Orinoco stands only a gun shot away with such hasty current and eddy that makes it a vary hazardous passage to navigators. Hopefully there would be other such narrowness next to the sea, to stop the Caribbean from reaching the coast! . Such prophetic opinion, influenced the location of Angostura, called today Ciudad Bolívar. Nevertheless, unlike this last region, the Marimarota and other localities founded near the granite elevations lost socio-political importance, being soon abandoned, or very much affected by the urban growth or the armed conflicts. Only Ciudad Bolívar and their narrowness maintains certain recollection to which it could have been in its origins, two centuries ago. Although -unlike what happens with the Mapoyos- there are no conclusive evidences of a linking between the granite outcrops of Ciudad Bolívar and its narrowness and the pre-Hispanic sacred sites, there is certainly evidence about the symbolic appropriation of the place, already colonized by the Spaniards, and its integration to mythology and ceremonial practices of at least two Caribbean ethnic groups: the Ye’kuana and Kari’ña. In the case of the Yekuana, the “watunna” or oral history sung by shamans - a remarkable manifestation of intangible heritage- includes tales about how Wanadi, their creating God, visited Angostura (ankosturaña, in their language) and interacted with certain people (iaranavi), related to the Spaniards (fañuru), who unlike those (deceived by Odo´sha, deity of evil), did maintain good relationships with these natives . It also tells about how this town was soon knocked down by conflicts where a known white leader like Añaku (ye´kuana name given to Simón Bolívar) would play an important role. Those conflicts would later continue, before Ankosturaña became Boliwaña, Ciudad Bolívar . It is interesting to point out that the pattern of the Cross (in ye´kuana, wanadi-möhta), present in the rock engravings of the Candelaria site, constitute one of the symbols of the God Wanadi . Although it could be older than the local Caribbeans presence -for example of Arawak origin, as suggested by certain archaeological findings made by the Institute of the Cultural Heritage - it is not impossible that this pattern somehow influenced the Yekuana, when they incorporated the town and region in their mythology. On the other hand, the descending “mestizos” of the kari´ña ethnic group - inhabitants of the region considered in this proposal, in the days of the arrival of the Europeans- mention the city of Angostura in the lyrics of maremare, a dance of religious connotations practiced during patronal festivals and funeral ceremonies. Some variants of the songs mention the places where a personage -apparently mythical or from a most remote time- would have died. This personage is named Maremare or Mali Mali. The alluded sites are located in the Orinoco river basin or the Venezuelan east zone, that is to say, mainly within the area of influence of the Kari´ña : Maremare se murió en el camino de Angostura. Yo no lo vide morir Pero le ví la sepultura (Maremare died in the way of Angostura. I did not saw him die But saw his grave) Mali Mali se muliendo en el Paso de Angostura yo no lo viendo muliendo pero viendo sepultura (Mali Mali is dying in the Passage of Angostura I am not seeing him dying but I am seeing the grave) Maremare se murió en el paso de Angostura; yo no lo vide morí pero ví la sepultura (Maremare died in the passage of Angostura; I did not saw him die But saw his grave) Equally, since there are not only associations between this personage and the region of Ciudad Bolívar among the Ye´kuana, but also with the Liberator Simón Bolívar and other personages of the Independence war, these personages continue in the memory of the kari´ña communities of the Orinoco South band . The importance of Ciudad Bolívar and the narrowness of the Orinoco River in terms of the indigenous presence are not limited to the symbolic appropriations. It is extended to the genesis of local human settling. As mentioned before, this probably influenced the first European establishments, but its pre-Hispanic presence is also important as an ancient precedent to the nexuses of communication and cultural interchange between this place and other points of South America and the Caribbean. The last is demonstrated in the typological characteristics of the ceramics found in El Degredo Island, registered within the polygonal proposal, as for certain petroglyph located in the Candelaria site, relating them to indigenous deposits from other zones of the country as well as from the small Antilles (Grenada, Saint John, etc.) and of the Greater Antilles (for example, Dominican Republic). It would be possible to say that Ciudad Bolívar and the narrowness of the Orinoco could also contribute with evidence on the antecedents of the pre-Hispanic settling of the Antilles, by agricultural and pottery-making communities coming from South America, and more specifically from the river basin of the Orinoco. In the urban assembly of Ciudad Bolívar (well-known as Angostura until 1846) excels the Historical Area, build on the year 1764, with the construction of military fortifications in both shores of the Orinoco, and the first civil constructions in the South band of the river. This populated nucleus is characterized by a colonial design of orthogonal reticular type, located over significantly adverse topography for urban projects of this kind. There are diverse architectonic styles in Ciudad Bolívar (English, English and French Antilleans, or modern among others), representative of the different occupational stages from the city, as well as the ethnic and demographic components involved in the process. Thanks to its geographic peculiarities, the city was an important “Plaza” (military base) during the Latin American independence process. In this city, the founding fathers had an outstanding military performance, united with combatants from foreign legions, some of them veterans of the Napoleonic wars. By its condition of main town of a region with excellent cattle production, it became a production and distribution center for foods, raw materials particularly valuable and other resources, essential in the success and continuity of the war campaigns of a significant part of the Andean region of the American continent. Under these circumstances, documents of extraordinary importance for the political thought of the time were devised and spread in Ciudad Bolívar. The restoration of the “Congreso de Angostura” (Congress of Angostura), allowed to extrapolate the consolidated concept of Republic to the foreign countries. This Second Constituent Congress (“Segundo Congreso Constituyente”) had as a central issue on the conformation of a national congress among provinces formerly under colonial control, and the preparation of a Constitution by electoral means, which would democratically govern the destiny of the new republic, formed by Venezuela, Nueva Granada (Colombia) and Ecuador, anticipating the modern dreams of a community of nations. In addition, a new legislation began, referred to ample subjects such as the quality and the ethics of the public administration, the share of national goods, the missions, the Judicial Power, the Moral Power, the Executive authority, the kidnappings, the contraband, the distraction of earth, the allocation of pays, slavery, military judgments, the auctions, the admiralty or the general solicitor of the Republic . The documents associated to the Congress constituted the fundamental ideological base for the expansion of the referred Bolivarian Ideal about the freedom and integration between the old Hispanic colonies of South America. Some constructions of colonial origin and Iberian conception are associated to the memory of these facts of the Venezuelan and South American independence. The original designs of these buildings were adapted functionally to the tropical climate. It is the case of the hacienda known as San Isidro, recognized as the place where Simón Bolívar lived and conceived the internationally important Discurso de Angostura (Speech of Angostura). Other examples are the building known as House of the Congress of Angostura (“Casa del Congreso de Angostura”) -seat of the second Republican Congress of Venezuela and important place for the Bolivarian ideal-, and the House of the Correo del Orinoco (“Casa del Correo del Orinoco”), seat of the newspaper from which it takes its name, conceived by Simón Bolívar, as a mean to expand of the emancipation ideals, in Venezuela and the rest of America. During XIX century and beginnings of XX century, the geographic situation of Ciudad Bolívar granted a strategic and unique condition to it in terms of harbor activity. But the port was not only important for the commerce, but also as a center for connection and communication between the Orinoquia and the region of the “Llanos”, for the settlers and visitors alike, some of these with world-wide reputation. Many of the printings and references of this cultural landscape and from the Guayana subcontinent existing at the present time were made by explorers and naturalists like Alexander von Humboldt (1799-1800), Aimé Bonplandt (1799-1800), Pale Rosti (1857), Jules Crevaux (1880-1881), Jean Chaffagnon (1884-1890), Auguste Morisot (1884-1890) or Enrique Stanko Vraz (1892-1893), among others, who arrived at the region through this port, or used the city like as a temporary resting place. For these expeditionary, Ciudad Bolívar and its river became deserving of adjectives like "imposing", "huge", "majestic", "suggestive", "beautiful", or "original", among others. These appreciations have followed one another in time, being this environmental assembly object of diverse artistic and literary expressions, standing out the ones produced by an author of great reputation like Julio Verne (author of the Magnificent Orinoco, among other works), as well as the more recent by Irish singer Enya (interpreter of the song Orinoco Flow). In synthesis, for its inhabitants, travelers, and for those who only have had remote references of the city, this landscape has a special attractive. For the famous Baron Humboldt, during XIX century, the boats of Angostura could maintain a more advantageous commerce with the Antillean islands, the United States and Europe, than the one maintained by seaports of the Venezuela like La Guaira (Vargas Stateat the present) and Puerto Cabello (Carabobo State), taking advantage of the trade winds and the currents, which propelled the boats at excellent speed to the mouth of the Orinoco River, and through these to the Atlantic Ocean. The exceptional nature of Ciudad Bolívar as fluvial port brought as consequence a high level of economic prosperity during this period, reflected not only in the architecture of the commercial houses and galleries of the Orinoco stroll of foreign typological characteristics, like the Antilleans, evident in the use of zinc roofs, the columns and “romanillas”, as well as the balconies and ironworks of fused iron. It is also manifested in the archaeological findings (refined ceramics, porcelains, and glasses), that give testimony of the quantitative and qualitative character of the commercialized goods in the city during this time. Although the harbor activity decreased in comparison with the past, it is necessary to emphasize that the new Italian, French and German immigrants, united with the Spaniards, natives and blacks population, played an important role, of in the ethnic conformation of the city during the commercial height, still present nowadays, for example in the last names and the mosaic of physical types of the actual inhabitants. The elements that conform this cultural landscape have been the object of symbolic appropriations by the different inhabitants of the territory, since immemorial times and until the present, expressed in different ways: in the engravings drawn up on rocks, made on pre-Hispanic times; in the oral traditions of the ye’kuana indigenous groups who still speak about the relationship between their ancestors and the European settlers in Angostura; in the song of the kari’ña groups, who illustrate the passage of their people through the territories of Angostura; in the relationship between the geomorphology of the region and certain traditions such as the fishing, navigation, or the celebration of the “sapoara” fish festival. The historical area of Ciudad Bolívar lives on within the urban context of a modern city, in which many of their architectonic, social and cultural elements are an example of the relationship between nature and culture. It also contains a remarkable and valuable heritage. That is the case of the “Puente de Angostura” (Bridge of Angostura), located on the granite outcrops of the Imataca Complex, and considered one of the greatest modern bridges of the world, as well as the greater suspended bridge of South America . Also, the “Museo de Arte Moderno Jesús Soto” (Museum of Modern Art Jesus Soto), created as a tribute to Ciudad Bolivar’s most famous local artist, Master of the kinetic art. The museum constitutes an emblematic reference because of its collections of contemporary art, one of the most important in Latin America; Its Building was constructed by the important Venezuelan architect Carlos Raul Villanueva, whose other work, the “Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas” (University City of Caracas), received the World Cultural Heritage nomination by UNESCO in the year 2000, for being a place integrating both architecture and art.