Deep within the jungles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia lies one of the most fascinating and enigmatic treasures of Latin America: the Lost City, also known as Ciudad Teyuna or Buritaca-200. This stunning archaeological site reveals the secrets of the ancient Tayrona indigenous civilization, and here are 7 surprising facts you may not know about it.
1. Significant Names
The Lost City is known by several names, but the most significant one is its ancestral name: Teyuna, which means “Origin of the Peoples of the Earth.” This name reflects the belief of the ancient tribes, the Koguis and Wiwas, that the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta was the “Heart of the World.”
2. Construction Era
The Lost City was built approximately 1,300 years ago, around 800 A.D., making it 650 years older than the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu. The Tayronas began placing the first stones of this impressive archaeological site, now known as the heart of the Colombian Caribbean, during that time. Recent research suggests that nearby settlements existed as early as the 6th century.
3. Abandoned by the Tayrona Indigenous People
It is estimated that the Lost City was abandoned by the Tayronas around 1650, coinciding with the arrival of the Spanish in the region. The indigenous people moved to northern areas to avoid contact with the invaders. At its height, the city may have been home to approximately 1,800 inhabitants who, fortunately, were not reached by the conquistadors due to the challenging geographic and climatic conditions that still hinder access today.
4. Accidental Discovery
The Lost City was discovered almost by accident in 1973 by “guaqueros,” individuals who plunder graves in search of treasures. While exploring ancient nearby settlements, they stumbled upon a 1,200-step stone staircase covered in moss, dirt, and roots. It wasn’t until 1976 that the Colombian government became aware of its existence through rumors of gold and quartz treasures.
5. Discovery Expedition:
In 1976, an expedition consisting of three archaeologists, an architect, and two guaqueros who acted as guides embarked on an extremely arduous journey lasting almost 12 days to reach the heart of this archaeological site. There, they gathered enough evidence to present to then-Colombian President Alfonso López Michelsen, who approved the budget for the site’s restoration. The site was then given the name “Buritaca 200” (199 archaeological sites had been recorded that year).
6. Restoration of Teyuna
The restoration of the Lost City required the collaboration of over 50 professionals from various disciplines, as well as soldiers from the Córdoba Battalion and more than 100 workers, mostly former guaqueros. Together, they managed to clear this jungle citadel, rebuild ancient drainage canals, and restore damaged buildings with the same stones that had fallen. These restoration works took place between 1976 and 1986, and the park was opened to the public in 1981.
7. UNESCO Declaration
In 1979, the Lost City was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, in recognition of its historical and cultural significance. Since then, it has attracted thousands of visitors from around the world annually, although many Colombians are still unaware of its existence.
The Lost City is a place filled with beauty, magic, and charm, but it is also a testament to the history and culture of Colombia that transcends the boundaries of time. Its accidental discovery and restoration are examples of the importance of preserving our cultural and natural heritage for future generations.