Triumph in Gold
The Gold Museum (El Museo del Oro) is without doubt the ‘must-see’ museum in Bogota, showcasing a fabulous array of pre-Columbian face masks, figurines, jewellery and body adornments, as well as some pottery, wood and textile objects to put the display in historical context. The displays are in arranged in rooms by geographical district and it is not just the stunning craftwork which draws the eye, but the clear explanation of the various ancient indigenous cultures, beliefs and mysticism which captures the imagination.
There are over 6000 pieces on display (out of a collection of 55,000), most of which have label descriptions in English and Spanish. The most famous piece is the Musica Raft (Balsa Musica) which has its own display room at the end of the exhibition. This extraordinarily detailed piece depicts the ceremony of El Dorado where the Musica Chief went to the centre of Lake Guatavita covered in gold dust and jumped into the lake, also making offerings of gold which sunk to the bottom. This story encouraged successive colonists to make determined efforts to drain the lake by blasting a gap in the crater rim, but none were successful.
Another famous piece is the Quimbaya Poporo which is a receptacle to hold small amounts of lime whilst chewing coca leaves that were sacred to indigenous peoples. Indeed, if you look carefully, many of the face masks have bulging cheeks to depict the chewing of coca leaves. The addition of lime whilst chewing was part of the ancient ceremony, and poporos were invested with sacred and mystical powers, still not fully understood.
It is probably the masks of the Calima culture and the hybrid animal depictions (such as jaguar/frog) which form a lasting picture in the mind, being both familiar yet strangely mystical at the same time. Photography is permitted (without flash) and it is very easy to while away several hours in this museum.