Venezuela

An introduction to artificial cavities in Venezuela during the colonial period.


Centro de exploraciones espeleol&oacutegicas de la Universidad Sim&oacuten Bol&iacutevar


by Ricardo Silva
Caracas 9/27/1993

Venezuela is a vast and virtially unexplored country north of South America some 1.000.000 km2. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in his third trip, around 500 years ago.
At that time it was inhabited by several Indian tribes. Most of the Indian tribes lived in organised communities, that often were at war. They left no long-lasting constructions comparable to those of the Aztecs or Incas even though they lived in close relation woth caves.
Venezuela was not a very rich province in mining aspects, but gold pebbles carries by the inhabitants,, and the legend from a city of gold named "El Dorado" pushed landowners and governors in search of gold. On the other hand Venezuelan's geographical location was the key to all of the provinces in America. That made it necessary to protect the territory fromm invasions by pirates. To this end, Spain, built a well organised defense system consisting of fortifications and castles. Construction of tunnels for easy accessl wells for a good water supply, and trenches for the protections of soldiers. Contribute some very important historical artificial cavieties.

Mining
The first mining attempts that were made in Venezuela were developed in the mountains close to the towns of El Tocuyo, Coro and Barquisimeto. Gold ornaments and gold powder, wore by the coastal villagers supported the existence of gold mines nearby. In 1551 the "Real Mina de Oro de San Felipe de Buria" was established. This led to the foundation of the city of "Nueva Segovia de Barquisimeto". These mines were soon abandoned (Humboldt 1816). Nearby, close to the town of "San Felipe El Fuetre". "Aroa" copper mines were established, they were the mayor mining activity in Venezuela, up to the beginning of this century when they were abandoned.
Later on, around 1560, new mines were dug in the area of Caracas and the nearby town of Los Teques. The Spanish conqueror Francisco Jajardo recalls the existence of gold pebbles in the hands if Indians in the area and Pedro Martyr emphasizes that gold and pearls were used by some tribes as a mean of trade (Humboldt 1816). Towards the end of the XVI century several mines had been begun and abandoned all around the area.
Towards the XVII century some other mines were dug in the area of Caracas, the new mines of Baruta, the mines of quebrada de Tipe and Quebrada de Tacoa (both small rivers that go down towards La Guaira) and in the Avila mountain, facing towards La Guaira.
Many eforts were made during the end of the XVII century by governor Don José Avalo to discover important mining sites, he even brought some mining engineers from Mexico to exploit the mining potential of Venezuela; but he was not able to accomplish much.
Nowadays Venezuela is a mining country and the "Black Gold" has turned out to be its biggest source of income. Some other minerals are also exploited in big quantities. Iron, Bauxite, Coal and even Gold are exploited in big quantities, but almost all of the mines are open cast. Deep mining is barely used today in our country, only near the city of Barcelona, where deep mining is used in order to exploit coal.
Aroa mines are of historical importance. Around the XVI century there was information about the existence of gold in the rivers Yaracuy, Santa Cruz and Aroa. During the year 1605 the precise location of the mines was exactly known. They are located in a small valley, lateral to the aroa river, next to what is called La Quebrada de Las Minas. In 1632 gold was first mined following some gold veins, that lead to the discovery of some extensive copper deposits. Towards the end of the century, sopper was exploited with the name "Cobre Caracas", and the mines became property of Simon Bolivar's Family. Bolivar himself used part of the income to pay for the expenses of the war. The largest of aroa mines (La Vizcaina) emploited from 60 to 70 slaves.
After the war of Independence Aroa mines were exploited sporadically untill 1936. At that time 6 differentiated mines were in operation. Aroa, also called Aroa Norte, Titiara, Titiara Norte, San Antonio, Zaj&oacuten Verde 1 and 2. The longest of all the mines was Titiara Norte measuring 2100 m and the highest depth was Pozo Holman, in Aroa Norte mine, with 95 m. Today, mines are abandoned and partially flooded.

Tunnels and wells, colonial fortifications
During the XVI century, occupation of the territories was the main concern, that is why the fortificiations built in this period were simple and short lasting. It;s intention was to protect against Indian attacks. No example is left from this period of time.
During the XVII century Francem England and the Netherlands fought over the Spanish possessions. They conquered islands, attempted continental innovations, sponsored penetration exploration, pirates and smuggle with the colonies. All of that developed the need for protections. The salt-bearing grounds of Araya needed protection, and the most important fortification that Venezuela ever had was built "El Castillo de Araya". Sponsored by the local governors, some other fortifications were also built in this sense we can talk about the first defences for the port of La Cuaira, San Carlos Castle in Maracaibo Lake, Santa Rosa and San Carlos Castles in Margarita Island, Santa Maria de la Cabeza and San Antonio castles in Cumana and San Francisco castle in Guayana, next to the Orinoco river.
DUring the XVIII century piracy is stopped, but Spain and England are fighting for the Caribbeab. On the other hand, Guipuzcoana trading company has some really important investments within the country. This established the need for further protection and the following castles were built at that time. San Carlos in La Guaira, San Felipe in Puerto Cabello and the fortification of both cities.
One very important questions still pending. What have all these fortifications to do with artificial cavities? The answer is simple: Almost all of the defensive constructions were located in hard to acces locations and had to be prepared to withstand pirate attacks. This meant the need for a well fed army, meaning the need for an abundant supply of fresh water. Water was hard to access, so big well and water deposits had to be built. This is the reason why underground of almost every castle we found big artificial cavities, constructed in order to preserve the precious fluid. On the other hand tunnels were needed te access the different levels and to communicate with the outside, storage spaces were needed and trenches to protect from the artillery were also a priority.

Some other artificial cavities
All around the country you may find many small mines, dug in order to try to find gold by the governors of almost all the provinces. In the state of Bolivar there are some big mines that were exploited from the end of the XIX century to our days, these are the mines of El Cayao. El Cayao mines are hundreds of small cavities dug in the mountain layers in search of gold.
Besides the mines and the water reservoirs, the other artificial cavities that you can find in Venezuela are the old tunnels from the old Venezuelan Rail Roads. Most of these tunnels are only a few meters ling, but there are plenty of them all around the country.
Other tunnels that are said to exist are secret passages between the old government edifications. For example there is said to exist a passage from El Castillo de San Antonio in Cumana to the house of the governor and to El Castillo de Santa Maria de La Cabeza, both in the same city, but nothing has been made to confirm this tale.

Actual research
The work that has been made concerning artificial cavities in Venezuela is really small. There is a good study about the mines around Caracas, tha has been made mainly by Sociedad Venezolana de Espeleolog&iacutea with some help from Centro de Exploraciones Espeleol&oacutegicas de la Universidad Sim&oacuten Bolivar. Besides this work no further speleological research has been achieved.

Closing Thoughts
As we could see through the development of this work, during Venezuelan colonial times many artificial cavities were built. Most of these cavities were small mines built in order to extract some of the richness the underground had to offer. People didn't stop to think that the richness of a mine could not be measured by the existence of big quatities of minerals disseminated through the ground, but instead by the existence of perhaps smaller quatities of mineral concentrated in one place.
Venezuela has a climate that is excellent for agriculture, here you can plant at a same time, the most fragile vegetables from the remperate regions or the most harsh vegetables from the tropical climates. But agriculture has always been a hard job. Mining seemed an easier and pobably more rewarding occupation.
Today Venezuela is a mining country, but minerals exploied today are very different from those exploited in the past. The old mines were never profitable, but they did someting for us. There are many mines, many tunnels, many passages, waiting to be found and to be explored. There is a lot of work for someone interested in exploring the artificial cavities of Venezuela.

Appendix
We will now introduce some maps from caves in the area of Caracas. All of the maps were extracted from "Boletin de la Sociedad Venezolana de Espeleolog&iacutea" volumes: 3-No. 2, 1971; 4-No 2, 1973; 10-No 18, 1982. and the authors are mentioned in the description of the cavity.

Picacho de Galipan tunnels 1 & 2:
Both tunnels are located some 1960 m. above the sea level (a.s.l.). West from the town of San José de Galip&aacuten. They seam to be mines built with intention to exploit gold. The first of the mines has an extension of 9,5 m. and a drop of 3,5 m. The second has a length of 14 m. and a drop of 3,5 m. UTM coordinates of the caves are: 729.010 E. and 1.168.680 N. They are located some 20 m. away.
Research was made by F. Urbani and I. Nouel 1/9/1969.

El Mirador tunnels numbers 1 & 2:
These tunnels are located close to the monument of Boyacá Battle, near Avenida Boyacá or Cota Mil. The first was known to be built for sulfur extraction. Both of them were very well built, since they stand strong ignoring their antiquity.

The first one is located some 1.050 m. a.s.l. and has an extension of 315 m. It's location is the following: 66 52' 45" W. & 10 31' 00" N.

The second is located some 1.020 m. a.s.l. and has an extension of 128,5 m. It's location is the following: 10 31' 00" N. & 66 52' 43" W.
Research was made by F. Serrano, J. Coca, L. P&eacuterez and M. A. Perera 9/17/1972.

Viacrucis Second Station mine:
It is located, following Spanish old Camino Real, from Caracas towards Castillitos in El Avila mountain. It is located some 1.270 m. a.s.l. It's development is 26 m. with a drop of 10 m. It's location is the following: 66 55' 21" W. & 10 31' 52"N.
Research was made by F. Urbani and L. A. Surumay 3/6/1966.

Vista Alegre Tunnel:
It is located some 1.080 m. a.s.l. You may find it following what is today Vista Alegre's "A" street. Apparently, it was built in order to extract coal. It is some 39 m. in length and its location in UTM coordinates is 724.250 E. and 1.161.250 N.
Research was made by C. Santamaria and E. Santamaria from the C.E.E.U.S.B. group 6/11/1972.

Baruta's old road Tunnel:
It is all that is left from the old Baruta mines. It is located some 1.000 m. a.s.l. With a development of 15 m. It's geographic coordinates are the following: 66 51' 40" W. & 10 27' 20" N. Since the tunnel is older than the road, we suppose that it had a bigger development in the past.
Research was made by F. Serrano and J. Coca 9/17/1972

Joroma's Mine:
It is located close to what is today Road "B" of El Prado. & Km. away from San Diego De Los Altos. Next to a place called El Topo de la Joroma, some 1.320 m. a.s.l. People assure, the mine was constructed for Nickel exploitation.
Research was made by E. Arnal and F. Urbani 4/27/1969.

There are many more colonial mines in the rest of the country, and even close to Caracas, as for example: Castillitos, Boquer&oacuten, Alto de Irapa. and others. Some of them have been visited, but the most have not.

Besides the mines, which at least have some speleological research made, the colonial fortifications have never been visited by spelunkers, and as we said before, may have many cavities to offer. We will show now the maps of two colonial fortifications, as they were recovered, from the Spanish archives, by Venezuelan historian and architect Graziano Gasparini, in his book "Las Fortificaciones del Per&iacuteodo Hisp&aacutenico en Venezuela.
This fortifications are the following: Fuerte El Principe, Located in the mountain of El Zamuro, one of the fortifications found following the old Spanish Camino Real from Caracas to La Guaira. The other is Castillo de Araya, the biggest castle ever built in Venezuela, and Perhaps, the biggest water container of the colonial times. In none of these castles modern research has been made.

This information can be used with reference to its author and source.
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Last modified: 04/11/96