Have you ever took the time to appreciate the street art while travelling? On a recent Colombia tour, we did just that.
In another installment from a wonderful trip to Colombia, we join Dale from The Maritime Explorer as he describes the street art encountered on his travels through Bogota.
We hope in sharing his blog written from a recent departure, you enjoy this piece as much as we do.
This is my fourth post on a recent trip to the wonderful country of Colombia with Adventures Abroad. You can find the first two describing our activities on the first day on this website. Day two began with an ascent by funicular up to Monserrate, the sacred mountain that overlooks Bogota where we enjoyed fantastic views of the city. After returning to the funicular station or local guide Catalina Rincón led us on foot to the oldest and most interesting district of Bogota, La Candelaria. One of the main attractions for me in signing up for Colombia was to see the world famous street art in Bogota and Medellin. I am about to get my first look as we head into La Candelaria. Please come along and enjoy the amazing talent of these Colombian magicians.
Quinta de Bolivar Museum
Just below the funicular station there is a large walled off estate which was the residence of Simon Bolivar following the successful end of the war for independence from Spain. Today it houses the Quinta De Bolivar Museum and unfortunately all we have time for is a picture at the entrance. In preparing for this trip Alison and I listened to the audible book Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana and it really opened our minds to the magnitude of this man’s accomplishments. The war for independence from Spain by the South American colonies was a far bloodier affair than the American Revolution. In comparison to the effort that Spain put in to keep modern day Colombia, Venezuala, Ecuador and Peru, it’s almost like the Brits hardly even tried against their American colonists. Bolivar is a monumental figure in Latin America and I expect to see a lot more of him in our upcoming travels.
Below the Bolivar Museum there is a very pleasant well treed area that is home to several universities and the remains of the San Francisco River which has been channeled through a series of gentle declines. At first this had me thinking that if ever a river was tamed, this was it, but then I read about the State Of The San Francisco before the restoration and I parked my reservations.
Not long after passing the university area we came across the first large scale work of street art, but first a little rant about graffiti.
Graffiti vs. Street Art
Now I know that different people have different ideas about what is or is not graffiti and the term ‘graffiti artist’ is often applied to people who are actually real artists. For me however, this is graffiti and I hate it. I really hate it. It makes me sick to see subway cars, rail cars, pull down storefronts like this one and almost any other surface that will hold spray paint defaced by this kind of shit.
On the other hand, I have a great appreciation for true street art, which in the case of La Candelaria, is an absolutely integral part of the neighbourhood. So what’s the difference between graffiti and street art – at least according to my standards? With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways.
- Graffiti vandals do their dirty work under cover of darkness and slink away like rats into the sewers. Street artists perform their work in daylight and in full view of any who want to watch them.
- Graffiti vandals don’t leave anything that will identify who they are (except perhaps to other graffiti vandals). Street artists sign their work and often leave contact information.
- Graffiti vandals don’t get anything for their efforts other than the perverse satisfaction of ruining someone else’s property. Street artists are commissioned and paid for their work which can enhance the value of a business and attract customers.
- Graffiti vandals have nothing to say. Tell me from looking at the above picture if it evokes anything in you other than disgust? Street artists do tell stories, usually related to the neighbourhood in which they are created and their works can be powerful calls for political change, recognition of past wrongs or sometimes just wonderful whimsy. The bottom line is they make you feel something, the hallmark of all good art.
- Graffiti vandals are criminals. Defacing property with spray paint like in the above picture is a crime in Colombia. Great street artists are venerated for their work and are respected members of the community, although I do say that with a grain of salt knowing that the artistic temperament leads to some serious whack jobs.
- Most obvious of all – graffiti vandals have no talent and street artists do. If every idiot who could buy a can of spray paint was somehow deigned to have artistic ability then I too could be the next Michelangelo, at least in my twisted mind’s eye. The next time some moron tries to tell me that the people who indiscriminately spray paint other people’s property are just expressing themselves, I will ask them for their address and tell them I’ll be over sometime during the night to express myself on their walls. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to have my artistry adorn their place.
OK, that’s the rant. Now let’s go look at some La Candelaria street art.
This angry looking dude is a good example of how a good street artist can really create perspective. It’s even more obvious when you see the entire mural.
Notice how the dragon’s tail winds its way onto the building next door. This is an amazing piece to see live as it were. No photo can do it justice.
Here’s another example of combining the work of art into the surroundings which you would only notice if someone, like Catalina, points it out to you.
This is a cat mural that covers two sides of brick building with the large black cat face at the juncture of the two walls. Despite the fact that the walls are receding on both sides, when you look at it straight one, it looks flat. Here’s the real kicker. Look at the right eye. From this angle, part of the eye is actually painted on the lamp post in front of it and part of the face coincides with the light pole beside the lamp post. This is brilliant stuff.
Just for fun, see how many famous cats you can identify in this mural? Here’s the part you can’t see in the photo above. Prize of the day if you can spot my all time favourite cat, named for a famous English philosopher.
Moving on, we come to a a number of examples the street art is being used as essentially a business promotion, such as this one for Hibiscus Restaurante. Just from one look you know they have fish, chicken, fresh fruits and dessert.
Another example of La Candelaria street art is this somewhat Daliesque series arms and legs that also has elements of baroque trompe l’oeiloften used on the ceilings of churches to represent angels or saints seemingly floating on air. Look at the lower right set of legs and think Tintoretto or Tiepolo. This is interesting stuff.
Next we have a mural that depicts the hallucinations of the artist while in a drug induced trance, probably caused by coca leaves. Pre-Colombian shamans used drugs, particularly coca, to create visions that, were, well – pretty far out, which is why lot’s of people do the same thing today. The figure on the right is almost certainly the moon goddess Chia, about which more later. The things on the left I’m not so sure about. The point is that the artist wanted to recreate, first in his mind, and then on this wall, what his predecessors might have envisaged before the Spanish arrived. I also chose this mural because it was one of the few pieces of street art I saw that had been vandalized by ‘taggers’. It brings home pretty clearly who is the artist and who is the vandal.
We now arrived at the foot of Callejon del Embudo, allegedly the oldest street in La Candelaria and thus Bogota. It is also called Funnel Alley because it does, in a way, resemble a funnel the way it drains its way out of El Chorro de Quevedo, where Bogota was founded and winds down into the older city proper. It is too narrow for cars and is definitely the #1 place to see street art in Bogota. Despite this, it was not particularly crowded during our visit, a few students and one other obviously tourist couple were all I observed. Everybody but one in this photo belonged to our Adventures Abroad group. You can see the high rise buildings of Bogota in the background.
Pre-Colombian Religious Beliefs
The area around Bogota was populated by a people known as the Muisca who were master gold workers. They had two major deities, Sue or Zue, the sun god and Chia, the moon goddess.
On the walls of Funnel Alley is this representation of Sue which is a more primitive and in some ways evocative form of street art.
Also here is Catalina pointing out the features of another pre-Columbian figure on the same wall (note that it too has been vandalized.
So what’s up with these type of images? I’m no expert, but I’ll hazard a possible explanation which has everything to do with the difference between how the modern day Colombian differs markedly from the modern day North American. When the Spanish came to Colombia and pretty well everywhere else in the new world a number of things consistently happened. First the majority of the native population died from diseases they could not resist – we did that too in North America. Second, those that survived were enslaved or warred upon until they were almost all gone – we did that too. When the indigenous people couldn’t supply the man power necessary to work the mines, fields, you name it, slaves were imported from Africa – we did that too.
But here’s where the two paths diverged. In Colombia and most of Latin America, the Europeans procreated with the indigenous population creating an entirely new race of mestizos. According to Country Studies U.S., a division of the research department of the Library of Congress and thus I think, reputable, about 50% of Colombians are mestizos, 25% white, 20% mulattoe or zambo (black-indigenous mix) 4% black and a tiny 1% pure indigenous. Compare that to my country Canada – of a population of over 35 million people less than 500,000 are identified as a mix of aboriginal and European blood while just over 1.4 million are identified as indigenous.
In Canada it is well nigh impossible for the vast majority of people to be able to understand or identify with the tragedy that was the destruction of native cultures and in particular, religion that was all but inevitable, given the mores of the day, once the Europeans arrived in the New World. In Canada there is a definite us and them. In Colombia, it’s much different. The blood of the oppressed runs in a large majority of the population and when the Catholic Church deliberately set out to destroy and demonize the Muisca religion, it was attacking the ancestry and belief system of many of the people of Colombia today. The ancestors of the persecutors and the persecuted are common to most Colombians. There is no us and them. That is why I think that images of Sue, Chia are other pre-Columbian deities and practices are so prevalent in the art of La Candelaria. These were not the gods and religion of a small minority, but the majority. How do you deal with the fact that the religion you profess to follow today literally destroyed the religion your ancestors professed to follow in the past? It’s something I never really thought about until I came to Colombia and was confronted by the street art and what it stands for.
This image of a elder indigenous woman is extremely moving when viewed in the context of “What have you done to me, my people and my religion?”, when the “You” is the Colombian people themselves.
This is another image, I think along the same lines.
Maybe I’m out to lunch on this or getting too serious so there’s lots more whimsy as well, like this juggler in El Chorro de Quevedo which is our final destination in this post.
This is the place where Bogota was founded by Gonzalo Jiménez De Quesada in 1538 although, as was usually the case if it was a good location, there was already a native settlement in the area, this one called Bacarta which was eventually corrupted into Bogota. So while the natives lost their land they did get to keep the name.
Here is the second church built in the plaza after the first burnt down.
That’s my post on the street art of La Candelaria and what I think is behind a lot of it. This church above just about says it all. If nothing else I hope I have convinced you there’s a difference between vandalism and street art.
Next our group visits the great Museo de Oro or Gold Museum in Bogota and one other place that shall remain unnamed. I hope you’ll join us.
Many thanks again to Dale of the Maritime Explorer for sharing his travels with us. We can’t wait to see where he goes next.
If you’ve never been to Egypt, it is a destination unlike any other. History and hospitality go hand in hand. In 2017 we were pleased to welcome Dale from The Maritime Explorer along for another one of our fantastic journies to Egypt. Kindly, Dale has shared his experience with us and this time is taking us to Luxor. Below is Dale’s experience, as originally told by him on his website.
This will be my final post on the fantastic trip Alison and I took to Egypt last February with Canadian tour company Adventures Abroad. You can find another dozen on this website. The west bank of the Nile across from the city of Luxor contains perhaps the most important collection of monuments, temples and tombs in all of ancient Egypt. In a previous post I described our first crossing of the Nile to visit the legendary Valley Of The Kings and the most famous tomb in history – King Tutankhamun or King Tut. Today we are returning to visit a number of other important west Nile sites including the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Memnon, the Valley of the Queens and several others. Won’t you join us?
The Colossi of Memnon
After an early morning crossing of the Nile, we are met by our bus and head for the Valley of the Queens, but there will be several stops along the way. Our first stop is at one of the most famous monuments of ancient Egypt, the Colossi Of Memnon. These are two massive solitary statues of Amenhotep III, one of the greatest of all Egyptian kings, father of the heretic Akhenaten and grandfather of Tutankhamun. So why aren’t these statues referred to as the Colossi of Amenhotep? Good question. Memnon is a figure from the Iliad, a legendary Ethiopian king who came to fight with the Trojans and was ultimately slain by the even greater warrior Achilles. Early Greek tourists, and I do mean early, like around the year 300, had no clue about Amenhotep who by then had been dead for 1600 years. They did know about Memnon who was from Africa so they attributed the statues to him and the name stuck.
For centuries the statues were also famous because they ‘sang’. Early travellers reported hearing strange whistling noises coming from one of the statues after it was damaged by an earthquake. This lead to the statues becoming a place of pilgrimage until the Roman emperor Septimus Severus thoughtfully had the damaged statue repaired and it never sang again. Ever since I was a boy first reading about ancient Egypt I have wanted to see these statues and here we are.
As you can see they are in a pretty bad state of repair and kind of forlorn out here by themselves. That’s too bad because when they were built they stood at the entrance to a mortuary temple complex larger than Karnak including a huge man made lake. Now it’s pretty well all gone with only the two solitary guardians, sentinels of nothing. While Shelley’s poem Ozymandias was written about a giant fallen statue of Ramses II, which we saw in Memphis, the closing line could equally apply to the Colossi of Memnon – Round the decay of that colossal wreck , boundless and bare the lone and level sands stretch far away.
However, not all of the mortuary complex of Amenhotep III is lost as we discover a few miles down the road. Our Egyptian guide Ahmed Mohsin Hashem is also an Egyptologist who does regular field work in the summers when he is not guiding. He points out a team from an American university that is working at the mortuary complex. This provides valuable employment to Egyptians and a great summer job for budding archaeologists.
The Temple of Madinat Habu
One of the things that Ahmed is very good at is getting our group to places that are off the beaten tourist path, but very much worth seeing. He got us through a military check point at Dahshur and right up to the base of the beautiful Red Pyramid with the Bent Pyramid in the background. This morning he is taking us to the Temple Of Madinat Habu which he assures us will be virtually deserted and he’s absolutely correct. This is the mortuary complex of Ramses III another of the great Egyptian kings who successfully staved off three invasion attempts by outsiders during his extensive reign.
This aerial photograph shows just how extensive and well preserved the complex is. So why don’t most tour groups visit this place? I think the best answer is temple fatigue. The Luxor area has the temples of Karnak, Luxor and Hatshepsut not to mention the Valley of the Kings and Queens. In my experience, travellers with Adventures Abroad are usually quite knowledgable about the destinations they are visiting and have an appetite for visiting the lesser known attractions that is not diminished by long days and less than ideal road and restroom conditions. It also helps to have the enthusiasm and knowledge of Ahmed and our Canadian tour leader Martin Charlton as driving forces.
This the entrance pylon to the temple. Compared to the madness outside the Temple of Edfu this is tranquility.
One of the reasons Ahmed wanted us to visit this complex was because it is so well preserved and that is evident immediately upon passing into the inner courtyard. Note the rarely used square pillars in addition to the usual cylindrical shape.
This is Ramses III and one of his wives.
In areas where the light has not shone directly on the walls the painting is still vivid. This is Isis and Thoth.
This is a painted ceiling, still fresh after over 3,000 years.
Ahmed pointed out some features unique to buildings erected by Ramses III. These are deeply incised hieroglyphs that are only found during his reign.
I mentioned that Ramses III was involved in successfully repelling numerous invasions and at Madinat Habu he wanted to make sure everybody knew about it. One of the ways of letting him know just how many of the enemy had been slain was to cut off the hands of the defeated. Here the figure on the right is standing before a stack of severed hands.
Ramses got to thinking about this hands business and realized that he could easily be duped about the numbers of enemies killed if both hands were severed and each pawned off as coming from a separate person. Hmm. What male body part could be cut off instead to avoid any doubt as to the number killed. You guessed it. This is a representation of a man, knife in hand, standing before what would be a huge number of severed penises. Gives me the willies just looking at it.
The Worker’s Village
Our next stop is also not on the usual tourist itinerary and offers a rare look into how the vast majority of ancient Egyptians lived out their lives in complete obscurity compared to the monuments left by the 1% or less. Somebody had to build these monuments and they had to have a place to come from and return to after every day’s labour. This is the Deir-El-Medina or worker’s village that is located about midway between the Madinat Habu and the Temple of Hatshepsut. It is where the artisans who worked on the temples and tombs lived there lives and miraculously it is reasonably well preserved.
Can you imagine the heat of the summer beating down on this barren and shadeless landscape?
This was the community well from which all who lived here had to draw their water. Not quite as easy as just turning on a tap.
The worker’s village lasted for a period of four hundred years and is unique in Egyptology as the only site of its type ever discovered and like Madinat Habu, it sees few visitors.
The Temple of Hathor
On the same site of the worker’s village, but not exactly contemporary with it is the Ptolemaic Temple Of Hathor which from the exterior looks kind of ordinary and uninviting. However, it would be a big mistake not to go in because it contains some very rare depictions of ancient Egyptian beliefs.
The idea of judgment after death is an almost universal religious belief and one that the Egyptians held for thousands of years – still do for that matter. This is a scene from the Book of the Dead depicting the final judgment of a dead person’s worthiness to be resurrected to a second life or be eaten by the devourer of the dead Ammit and extinguished from existence for all time. The dead person’s heart is placed on a scale, in this depiction held up by Horus. On the other side the cat goddess Ma’at places a feather. If the heart outweighed the feather then it was bye bye heart and soul, if not the person was worthy of a second life. Heavy stuff.
Another rare depiction in ancient Egyptian art is this one of the god Min who is usually portrayed with a very obvious boner and a flail – the first male dominatrix? Not surprisingly he was the god of fertility.
Valley of the Queens
Just a half kilometre away from Deir El-Medina in a narrow valley lies the entrance to the Valley of the Queens. Valley Of The Queens is a bit of a misnomer, because it is not exclusively women who are buried here, but it does contain the tombs of many of the most famous queens of ancient Egypt. It receives only a fraction of the visits than the much more famous Valley of the Kings which is too bad for those who don’t get here because it has very well preserved tombs including the one that many people think is the finest in Egypt.
Unlike the Valley of the Kings, visitors are allowed to take cameras inside the valley and can take photos of the exterior entrances.
As you can see the place is not exactly overrun with tourists. The square grilled boxes mark the opening to some of the ninety tombs that have been discovered here so far.
Other tombs that are cut directly into the valley walls are sealed off by wooden doors.
Like the Valley of the Kings a few tombs are open to the public each day. On our visit today it is that of Queen Titi (not to be confused with Nefertiti) which is not that inspiring. The other two are both princes and one has this fine painting of two Amuns facing east and west.
However, the real reason to visit the Valley of the Queens in my opinion is to see the recently reopened tomb of Queen Nefertari, favourite wife of Ramses II. Closed for a restoration that took over twelve years, the tomb is considered the ultimately beautiful tomb in Egypt. There is only one catch – it costs $50 USD to see it and you can only stay for ten minutes. Only a few others in our group opted to make this $5 a minute expenditure, but for Alison and I it was a no brainer.
This is the modest looking entrance and I was obliged to leave my camera with Ahmed.
Was it worth it? Every damn cent.
Here are pictures from a CD that Ahmed made available to us for a modest price, compiled by his friend Mohammed Fathy.
This is the entrance passage and the first thing you notice is that the walls are white. This is a style unique to this tomb and makes the paintings stand out like no other. Also notice the ceiling painted blue with stars.
Once you are inside the colour is breathtaking and unlike viewing say the Mona Lisa, you are not jostled or thronged by others. The only limitation is that darn ten minutes and once inside, for a little baksheesh, they would let you stay longer. However, I don’t promote breaking the rules and we dutifully exited on schedule.
Here is more of what you’ll see on one of the most memorable ten minutes of your life.
There are lots more, but it’s time to visit what might be the most interesting site on the west bank, the Temple of Hatshepsut.
The Temple of Hatshepsut
Hatshepsut is one the most colourful and controversial figures in ancient Egypt. She was the most successful woman to rule as king of Egypt, having transcended from a regent for Thutmose III to in effect a co-ruler until she died. Reigning as a king and depicting herself as a man she constructed one of the most beautiful and famous temples in all of the ancient world. It was constructed as a mortuary where she could be worshipped after her death. Her actual tomb is in the Valley of the Kings. It is also the site of the most infamous terrorist attack on foreign tourists ever.
Ahmed has deliberately delayed our visit to the Temple of Hatshepsut until close to the end of the day to avoid the crowds that inevitably deluge the place. That strategy seems to have worked as the place is relatively quiet although nowhere near as much as most of the other places we’ve visited today.
The construction is a radical departure from the other temples we have visited in Egypt. There are three distinct levels which are reached via a gigantic staircase. From a distance it look like it is built right into the cliff face, but that is an illusion as there is a very large open space between the facade and the cliff. However, the chapels of Hathor and Anubis inside the inner temple do extend into the cliff.
Here’s Alison doing her best Hatshepsut imitation.
The most striking feature of the Temple of Hatshepsut for me was the colonnade of statues on the second level. Note that she is depicted as a man, fake beard and all. Traces of original paint remain on some of them.
The restoration work inside is ongoing under the auspices of the Polish Academy of Sciences and there’s nothing overwhelming about the interior. The Temple of Hatshepsut is really mostly about its grand exterior which really has to be seen to be appreciated. It is truly one of a kind.
Looking down from the second level Ahmed points out the area where 70 people were massacred in a terrorist attack on November 18, 1997. One thing I appreciated about Ahmed was that he did not try to downplay or dismiss events that did not put Egypt in the best light. Since the attack security has been tightened to the point that future attacks of this magnitude are highly unlikely, but then again the purveyors of terror always seem to come up with new ways to make life miserable for the rest of us.
I don’t want to end this post on a down note so I will end by pointing out the cliffs which you can see from the temple where the actual mummies of over fifty Egyptian kings, including Ramses II, were discovered in a cave in 1881. They had been secreted from their tombs by priests concerned that they would be desecrated by tomb robbers and remained hidden for another 3,500 years.
We’ve packed an awful lot into this day and as noted this will be my last post on Egypt until I return when the new Egyptian Museum opens in Giza. I hope you have enjoyed them.