The Tayrona people lived between sea level and an altitude of approximately 2,000 meters, mainly in the area of Santa Marta and near some rivers of the Sierra Nevada.
The Tayrona took advantage of the benefits of the Sierra Nevada and the sea. But they did it too with the limitations the mountains have. Over time, they used both things (benefits and restrictions) to develop into one of the most advanced pre-Columbian civilizations in our country.
The Tayrona house
The Tayrona built their houses using wood or bahareque (wood and mud). They built huts with thatched and palm roofs, generally conical in shape, and which from their workmanship we can deduce they were excellent carpenters.
Housing and construction
The great population centers and the lithic architecture are the most outstanding characteristics of the Tayrona culture, since no other reached such a development in terms of material achievements in Colombia.
Tayrona houses were on artificial terraces that they reached by paths or stone stairs. They constructed circular-shaped terraces that were a feature of its lithic architecture (made of stones). These terraces had different levels of complexity. For example, those found in places somewhat far from the centre of the village, where it was relatively unfavourable for building, were more simple. The most elaborated ones could be found in villages more densely inhabited. Nonetheless, the structural characteristics of the Lost City terraces and other similar sites like Ciudad Antigua differs from others in the perfection of its work and are only frequent in the biggest settlements.
Stone based architecture
Tayrona people used stone to shape retaining walls, bridge and road crossings and to form stairs, bridges and canals. Stone in blocks of various types was the key to building the retaining walls with which terraces were constructed.
Polished slabs were used to pave squares. Probably, the rocks, carved and sometimes inscribed, were also used to indicate important sites (such as the so-called “map stone” in Teyuna). They evoke the use of the stones among the current peoples of the sierra, with which they point out the sites of astronomical observation, those of meditation and “divination” or those that visually connect the places of daily life with the peaks and ridges that form the sacred landmarks of the territory.
What we can learn today
The way in which we are occupying the Sierra Nevada today shows a lack of respect for the environment, today we have forest cutting, burning, erosion, garbage and drought. Maybe it is time to learn something from the people that have inhabited this region for so many centuries.