National Geographic : 1970 Aug
destruction. But smiles, mini-skirts, and the sheen of prosperity dispelled my outdated memories. Old buildings had been scrubbed for Pope Paul's visit in 1968, and new con struction sparkled. Dusty provincial stores had yielded to smart shops. I found Sue at her favorite haunt, the Gold Museum, looking at a magnificent exhibit of pre-Columbian art. She had talked curator Luis Barriga into letting her handle an emer ald as big as her fist (page 249). "This 1,796-carat gem used to be kept in a cigar box," said Dr. Barriga. The current receptacle is a luxurious bank vault that visi tors enter in darkness. Softly a glow begins to illuminate displays of the best of some 13,000 gold artifacts that escaped being melted down by Spanish conquerors. Bank Has Many Interests The Gold Museum was built by the Banco de la Republica, surely the world's strangest bank. The bank not only is the repository for the nation's currency, but it also engages in cultural and philanthropic activities that amazed us. "The bank buys period art, prints books as well as money, and has helped restore his toric sites," explained Dr. Barriga. "Its Luis Angel Arango Library houses an art gallery and concert hall. Until this year, it managed the nation's salt resources, and thus was cus todian of the enormous Salt Cathedral, a tem ple established in an underground salt mine at Zipaquird, near Bogota. Its projects in clude six hundred water wells for nomads in the desert of the Guajira Peninsula" (map, opposite). He showed us a cast gold figure of a ruler with his entourage on a ceremonial raft (page 248). "This treasure-we acquired it last year - suggests that the local Chibcha legend of El Dorado wasn't simply a tale concocted to delude the conquistadors. The Chibchas dusted their king with gold and rowed him out on Lake Guatavita, near Bogota. Then he submerged himself and rinsed off the gold, while his subjects threw in offerings of gold objects and emeralds as sacrifices to the god of the lake." The new Gold Museum, Banco de la Re p6blica, and 38-story Avianca Building flank Parque Santander, a monument to Colombia's first republican statesman and jurist. Francis co de Paula Santander helped organize Sim6n Bolivar's successful 1819-1822 campaign to free Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador from 240 Pre-Columbian stone idol glowers in a park at San Agustin, southwestern Colombia. Mighty mountain spine bisects a land of lofty plateaus, river-veined jungles, and warm shorelines. The Trans-Andean oil pipeline, a major engineering feat, crosses the mountains near the border with Ecuador. Colombia END OF COFFEE, oil, emeralds, and gold, South America's fourth largest country - after Brazil, Argentina, and Peru-touches the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Amazon Basin. Wracked for a decade by banditry and undeclared alition government in 1958 and enjoyed a dozen years of freedom from political strife. Economic growth of 6 percent a year encouraged foreign invest ments. The coalition, however, narrowly es caped defeat in the elections last April 19. AREA: 439,735 sq. mi. POPULATION: 21,100,000. LANGUAGE: Spanish. RELIGION: Roman Catho lic. ECONOMY: Agricultural. Exports coffee, oil, cotton, sugar, bananas. MAJOR CITIES: Bogota (pop. 2,500,000), capital; Medellin, manufactur ing; Cali, trade center.