Paeces Chapels of Tierradentro

World Monuments Watch
Páez Municipality, near Belalcazar, Cauca Department, Colombia

2012 World Monuments Watch

The Paeces Chapels of Tierradentro dot the foothills of Colombia’s central mountain range within the buffer zone of the Tierradentro National Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the Spanish arrived in the region in the sixteenth century, the chapels were built to introduce Christianity to the Paeces people. Their construction combined colonial design with local craftsmanship and materials, including adobe, timber, and stone. Of the nine chapels recognized as national heritage, three have been demolished and the remaining six were deteriorating and damaged by the time they were included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch. Earthquakes and landslides have threatened the structural stability of the buildings, while the loss of knowledge of traditional techniques as well as the chapels’ remote location have made them difficult to maintain.

Despite these challenges, the surviving structures remain an important part of the daily and religious life of the Paeces people. They were included on the Watch in order to encourage implementation of the emergency stabilization, structural reinforcement and seismic retrofitting that are necessary to preserve their integrity and ensure their continued use by local communities. Revitalization of traditional construction and maintenance practices through training initiatives could ensure the survival of the chapels and provide benefits to the local populations. Sustainable tourism initiatives could likewise increase local and national awareness of the chapels’ historic significance, reinforce their cultural value, and provide opportunities for economic growth in the region.

Watch Day

In December 2012, children between the ages of 4 and 11 participated in Watch Day art workshops at a local school in the Páez Municipality. The children drew and painted the Paeces Chapels and took turns expressing what the religious structures meant to them and their communities.

Since the Watch

In March 2013, the chapel of San Andrés de Pisimbalá was burned in an arson fire, which destroyed the roof. According to reports, the chapel has been damaged by fire and flooding in the past. Meanwhile, restoration projects funded by the Ministry of Culture of Colombia were completed at four other chapels in March 2016. Upon their reopening, the Ministry of Culture announced its intention to reconstruct the chapel of San Andrés de Pisimbalá the following year.

Last updated: February 2017.

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