South of Ricaurte Province

Date of Submission: 27/09/2012
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(viii)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Colombia to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Department of Boyacá
Ref.: 5771

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


N5 45 15.08 W73 26 10.95 (municipality of Arcabuco)

N5 45 7.70 W 73 32 57.45 (municipality of Gachantivá)

N5 35 0.76 W 73 32 36.07" (municipality of Sáchica)

N5 42 48.10 W 73 36 7.93 (municipality of Santa Sofía)

N5 37 13.84 W 73 37 13.59 (municipality of Sutamarchán)

N5 34 45.70 W 73 38 50.02 (municipality of Tinjacá)

N5 38 1.74 W 73 31 24.85 (municipality of Villa de Leyva)

The southern area of the Province of Ricaurte is located in the western part of the Department of Boyacá at approximately seventy kilometers of Tunja, its capital. It is made up by the municipalities of Arcabuco, Gachantivá, Sáchica, Santa Sofía, Sutamarchán, Tinjacá and Villa de Leyva, including the municipality of Chíquiza, attached to the Centro Province, in whose political jurisdiction the Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary is located.

The presence of two types of ecosystems is evident in this zone of the Province of Boyacá; i.e. the Andean forest and the paramo in the eastern and northern areas while in the south and west part, there are dry areas where the vegetation is different, shaping contrasts of great beauty and showing the extensive environmental wealth of the region.

These special environmental conditions made this a privileged area to observe astronomical events and it was used as such by the Pre-Hispanic indigenous groups. Furthermore, said conditions were a determining factor for the foundation of towns by the Spaniards, who considered this part of the territory as an area similar to their country of origin. The majority of these towns still exist and they have evolved from a land of Indians to municipalities predominantly agricultural that have began developing tourism as an important economy asset, Villa de Leyva being the town in the region which attracts more visitors each year.

Among the natural and cultural resources present in the area, we have:

Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary

The Sanctuary belongs to the Administrative Unit of the National Natural Parks System. It is located between 2400 and 3800 meters above sea level and it stands out due to its being one of the few spaces in the eastern mountain range that have not been intervened by man. It covers an area of 6750 hectares and it contains paramo and Andean forest ecosystems which are threatened to disappear in the country today. These ecosystems are the water source for the towns in the region.

The Flora and Fauna Sanctuary also contains nine lagoons, Iguaque being the most important one. According to the Muisca mithology, Bachué and her son Lambayeque, parents of human race emerged from the lagoon and return to it as snakes after having engendered several children. Rock art is also found in the same area placed on the rocks by the first inhabitants of the region.

Paleontological Resources

During the Cretaceous period, which took place between 65 and 145 million years ago, this area was occupied by a sea which withdrew with the movement of the tectonic plates. The emergence of the Andes Mountain Range was a determining factor to configure this part of the territory, characterized by the imposing presence of a mountainous edge that dominates an extensive valley with some undulations and in which the different towns are located.

The primitive sea was full of marine life, whose presence has been evident through the discovery of numerous fossils of plants, mollusks and carnivores among others, the Kronosaurus being the most representative example. It is one of the few found in the world today with an estimated age of 110 million years. It was found in 1977 by farmers of Villa de Leyva, becoming an important element of the local population´s identity. The museum in which it is exhibited was built on top of the Kronosaurus´remains, along with a diverse sample of this type of natural resources. In the same area, there is a museum managed by the National University, which exhibits similar specimens and contributes with its research work to rebuilding the geological and paleontological history of this region.

Pre-Hispanic Archaeological Resources

The first evidence of human presence in the area records hunting and collection activities which evolved into agricultural, pottery and textile making societies organized in chiefdoms upon the arrival of the Spaniards.

One of the most important testimonies of Pre-Hispanic indigenous presence in this area is the Astronomical Observatory, which is made up by two rows of more than 2.200 years old 55 stone columns, each one of them looking to east west direction towards the lake of Iguaque. They were used to follow the movement of the sun throughout the year and serve therefore to establish solstices and equinox dates and with these planting and harvesting seasons. Around the double row of columns, one finds a total of 30 carved stone columns which are associated with fertility rituals. Another important testimony found so far, is represented in the rock art. One sample is located in the town of Sáchica while the other is found in the Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary.

Founding Traces

Upon arrival of the Spaniards, as of the second half of the 16th century, the indigenous population was distributed in urban centers projected using a model in which the main square would stand out as the main point of reunion and for the market, in addition to the catholic doctrine church as the evangelism site of the community, while Villa de Leyva, the main town of the region was destined to house the Spaniards and was of such importance it even had its own aguardiente (local alcoholic drink) factory. Some of these initial foundations have disappeared or have been moved from their original location preserving their ruins as testimony (as is the case of Gachantivá), while the majority still exist and preserve in their names the footprint of their former chiefdoms. Sáchica stands out among the old Indian settlements as it is the only one in the country that still preserves the both the catholic doctrine church and the atrial cross.

The historical center of Villa de Leyva was declared National Site of Cultural Interest and it is characterized by its well preserve urban features due to the presence of a good number of buildings from the Colonial period both of civil and religious nature, which are still well preserved and were built in stone and earth as well as by its main square, which was historically used as the supply center of the region and it is deemed today the largest of the country.

Productive Units and Architecture of the Colonial Period

The entire region of Villa de Leyva and its neighboring towns served as an agricultural supply center for the inner territory thanks to the existence of extensive areas of wheat crops whose seeds were brought in by the Spaniards and to the presence of mills built as of the end of the 16th century, and of which some remains are still standing near the main water courses. These agricultural product remained extensively in the area until the end of the 17th century, when overexploited land ceased productivity. The religious orders arrived along with the conquerors and were rapidly established. They divided the territory whose buildings made up by both catholic doctrine churches as well as male and female convents that appeared at the beginning of the 17th century, are still preserved.

The environmental conditions of this part of the Province, which are similar to the southern part of Europe, contributed to the planting of olive groves and vineyards currently in production. These are distinctive elements very much appreciated by the residents of a region with agricultural vocation.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The southern part of the Ricaurte Province, located in Boyacá, is a relatively small area where a wide diversity of natural and cultural resources are found, making it a particularly rich and complex area from the heritage standpoint, with a great development potential. It holds natural elements such as the Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary (SFF),  fossils that belong to the Cretaceous period (approximately 65 million years ago), Pre-Hispanic archaeological remains, colonial productive units, foundation traces and some buildings of the colonial period, which are elements highly valued by the residents of the area but threatened due to uncontrolled tourism and agricultural activity.

Criterion (ii): This region shows cultural and mixed race exchange processes represented in the doctrine temples that still stand and in the different towns, the majority of which were initially called “Indian villages”, and of which we still find their layouts and some architectural examples of the colonial period, especially in the case of Villa de Leyva, Sáchica and Gachantivá Viejo.

Criterion (iii): There are remains of an astronomical observatory in the area associated to the Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, built and use during the Pre-Hispanic period. In general, the entire region holds a wide archaeological research potential which may shade light in the future on the cultural practices of the first inhabitants of the Province. Samples of rock art whose meaning is still unknown, are equally preserved.

Criterion (viii): The paleontological remains found in the area up to this day reveal the existence of abundant marine life and the vegetation inherent to the Cretaceous period in this part of the continent, which appear to be different from the samples found in the eastern part of the province. This region is located on the eastern mountain range, a mountainous system relatively young which is still in formation and that may be a source of information on the planet´s geological processes.

Criterion (x): The Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary holds ecosystems inherent to the paramo, which serve as water supply to the region and which are currently threatened. Colombia is one of the few countries in the world where such type of ecosystem is found. Moreover, it is one of the few regions of the eastern mountain range that has not been intervened by human hands and which has had historically a strong symbolic importance for the region´s indigenous groups.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Paramo, Andean forests and dry areas´ ecosystems that made up a landscape of striking contrast and beauty coexist in the southern part oif the Ricaurte Province. This is one of the zones where the paramo, a unique ecosystem of which Colombia is one of the few exponents worldwide, has not yet been destroyed by human hands. It is the water production factory of the region. It equally contains a large reservoir of marine fauna fossils with unique specimens whose study can significantly expand the data bank on the topic but that has been seriously reduced in the past years due to illegal trade.

This region holds cultural resources that date back from the Pre-Hispanic Period up to the colonial period mainly. They are testimony of the initial occupation period of the territory and of the contact established between the indigenous people and the Spaniards; the latter imposed a settlement and population model altering the initial settlement pattern and it left footprints represented in urban traces and buildings both of civil and religious nature which still stand today. In spite of the Spanish domination scheme, cultural indigenous elements remain in the current population represented in some samples of ceramics, textiles and gastronomy, among others.

Currently, the Iguaque Flora and Fauna Sanctuary is attached to the Administrative Unit of the Natural National Parks System, and as such it is protected by the Colombian legislation. Equally protected by the legislation are the fossils (despite the illegal trafficking), the Pre-Hispanic archaeological sites, the historical center of Villa de Leyva and some specific buildings in the other towns that make up the region.

Comparison with other similar properties

Willandra Lakes Region, Australia

Many archaeological remains have been found at this site with ages ranging from 45.000 and 60.00 years as fossils inherent to lakes and dunes of the Pleistocene, as well fossils of gigantic marsupials in a good conservation status; these animals most likely became extinct due to human intervention. This is an exceptional site to research human evolution.