After the Colombian National Museum and the Botero Museum, your Guide stopped by the Museo del Oro only because it was by an arepa shop I wanted to eat at. I thought the museum sounded gimmicky. I was very pleasantly surprised. Bogota’s Museum of Gold is worth a lengthy stop. It is well curated and documented. You’ll pick up so much knowledge you’ll be using at other museums throughout the Andes.
The Museo del Oro will help you understand the region's spiritual practices
For starters, gold wasn’t celebrated or used in the Andes for its monetary value. Gold was special because of its metallurgical properties: It glittered like the sun and the stars and the moon. It came from the realm of the spirits and served as a medium for communication to the to those spirits.
Elements heavier than iron, like gold and silver, are only created in neutron star collisions and supernovae. So gold actually is a connection to incredible forces way beyond anything we can see on our planet.
Many of the items in the museum are animal figurines or representations that shamans used in ceremonies. There’s a large display of what look like gold batarangs from a Batman comic book. They are bats, and they were to help the shaman in a trance see through the its as it flew around at night or into holes in the earth. Similar gold avatars for snakes, jaguars, and condors helped the bearer inhabit the animal or take on the animal’s powers.
These are tunjos: gold votives crafted by the Muisca people, dating from the 1300s, likely representing hunters or warriors, or both. They would’ve been used in ceremonies with sacred plants, such as coca, to connect with the spirit realm and bring good fortune with the hunt (whatever they were hunting).
While you’re in Colombia, grab a bottle of Club Colombia beer (the negra or the rojo are the best) and take a look at the design on the bottleneck. That’s a Muisca tunjo.
There's a lot at the Museum of Gold that isn't gold
Bogota’s Museo del Oro is really about the iconography and culture of spiritual practices in the Andes. The curation of the museum uses gold as a (golden) thread through which you can see similarities in differences amongst regions and indigenous nations. But the museum doesn’t limit itself to gold. It’s just as skillful with displaying and describing ceremonial pottery and carvings
This type of vessel is known as a double spout and bridge. The first photo is a ceremonial drinking jug crafted around 2000 years ago, by the Calima culture, in the valley around present day Cali, Colombia. You can find it at the Museum of Gold. As you visit museums down the Pacific coast of South America, you’ll see adaptations of that double spout style of vessel throughout cultures in the region. The second photo is a vessel from the Nazca, which you can see at Cusco’s Museum of Pre-Colombian Art. It would’ve been created around the same time or a bit later than the Calima vessel.
Double spout and bridge vessels are often found in gravesites. They may have had a ceremonial function. The double spouts could reflect beliefs around symmetry between this life and the afterlife. You’ll see that symmetry repeatedly in regional pottery, carvings, and architecture associated with the dead.
Personally, this Guide wants to bring back double spout jugs. So much easier to pour drinks around the table!
These are figurines carved from stone that have been found in lakes, rivers, caves, and fields. They were thrown into the natural elements as a ceremonial offering to help with a good harvest or preventing floods or droughts. We’ll need a lot more of these as climate change worsens. What’s extra intriguing about these is that you could just stumble across one while you’re out hiking.
Where is the Museo del Oro?
Address: Cra. 6 #15-88, Bogotá
Website: Museo del Oro Website
Tickets: Free on Sunday. $4000 COP Tuesday to Saturday. CLOSED on Mondays.
The Museo del Oro is located in the downtown area of Bogota: La Candelaria. I stayed at Hotel Casa Deco and it was easy to walk there.
A notable omission is the impact gold mining has in the present on decimating indigenous lands
The Museum of Gold gives you an excellent overview of the past from the perspective of indigenous spiritual practices and goldsmithing skill. It doesn’t bridge to the present day struggles of indigenous communities in the Andes with transnational gold mining corporations and their environmental impact.
In Ecuador, Alex Lucitante and Alexandra Narváez won this year’s Latin American Goldman Environmental Prize for leading a campaign to protect the lands of the indigenous Cofán nation. They got the Ecuadorian courts to cancel 52 illegally granted goldmining concessions, saving 32,000 hectares of rainforest.
To see what illegal gold mining does to the Amazon rainforest, check out these satellite photos taken over the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Gold mining has left a wasteland of clear-cut rainforest replaced by mercury and cyanide pools. Click here for the Google Maps view of the gold mining devastation in the Amazon.
This Guide is not a fan of carrying stuff around. So if I add a piece of technology to my three bags, it needs to
If you’re researching the best neighborhoods in Medellin for digital nomads, it might seem like it’s just about choosing between Laureles or Poblado. This Guide