Bogota’s Gold Museum has recently been renovated. The interior has become a modern building and the modern building is a curious thing.
The way space and light are managed in modern buildings sometimes tends to emphasize not the objects inside the building as much as it emphasizes the building itself. The modernity of the interior of the Gold Museum notwithstanding, the place is elegant, and unobtrusive when it comes to the objects which it houses.
The setting for this rare and valuable collection is impressive. There is space, there is a careful use of light and darkness, there are places to rest, short cuts for those whose attention span is not commensurate with the collection, and there is a clever layout and ingenuity to the function of the building. One of the best things about modern museums, I think, is the use of strategic lighting and the use of darkness for atmosphere. Besides, with objects of gold matters of light and darkness become crucial. The designers have not disappointed in this case.
The Spanish conquest filled the coffers of Spain with of the wealth of the Americas, besides leaving a trail of treasure strewn on the shipping lanes of the ocean floor. To think of the wealth removed and yet to see so much remains in the Gold Museum in Bogota is staggering. In fact, there is so much gold on display at the museum that were the collection not arranged climactically to take you from an introduction to the metallurgy, through articles of daily life and decoration, onto the vault where the most splendid pieces are and from there into the hushed and dark room where the single, solitary, legendary golden raft of El Dorado floats in the heart of darkness itself, as if it were navigating the interstellar void, a ceremonial starship . . . well, if they didn’t have it arranged properly, you might be tempted to start thinking: yet another pile of gold.
And it is guarded correspondingly. You’re seldom out of view of the guards (and you’re not allowed to chew gum there, by the way), never out of the view of cameras, and if you need something to gawk at, take a look at the doors at the entrance of the vault where the best of the collection is displayed. I’m not sure why they decided to put the vault on the third floor, but there it rests, impregnable. And there is always what one suspects is pretty much bullet-proof glass between you and the display, of course.
I have suggested something of the arrangement of the museum. You can learn quite a bit about the metal-working techniques of the people who worked the gold, silver, bronze and even a little platinum. You also learn, in the explanations, about their cultures. The artifacts they produced, of course, tell a little more about the people. And if you are thirsty for speculation you can read the anthropological interpretations—of which I am a little dubious. One day some archaeologist is going to come upon the ancient city of 21st century Bogota and finding all the cocas (a coca is a device for morons: it consists of a stick to which is attached a sort of cap that fits on the top of the stick. The cap dangles from a string and the purpose of the device is for the user to flip the cap up so that it lands on the stick, settling there, and this is repeated endlessly) will probably conclude it was part of some important fertility ritual. I doubt, whatever the religion and beliefs of the ancient cultures whose artifacts are on display in the gold museum, that they really believed and practiced all the things science unerringly deduces from their extant remains. I think some things have been taken a bit too seriously.
But when its all in gold!
Well, go and draw your own conclusions. That is one of the strengths of the collection and of its arrangement.
You will also see one of the ubiquitous Chibcha mummies there, an eerie stone statue, and many intriguing suggestions about the forgotten culture and beliefs of the people inhabiting the three ridges and corresponding valleys of the northern reaches of the Andes. After this you will no longer wonder why the Conquistadors were so consumed with the legend of El Dorado. Had you arrived when
they did, you would have believed that somewhere in the vicinity it all came to a climax of fabulous wealth and splendor.The price is a mere 2,800 pesos; the place is conveniently located near to a Transmilenio station bearing its name and within walking distance of the Candelaria, Colombia’s center of government, and the main concentration of historical buildings and museums in Bogota. It is that way for a reason: not to be missed.