9 April 2023

Cerro de los Siete Colores - The Hill of Seven Colors

The colors could have come from the palette of a painter. Yet the Cerro de los Siete Colores (The Hill of Seven Colors) is quite real.

Millions of years of geological activity followed by erosion have created something magnificent on this Argentinian hillside.

Marine sediments combined with lake and river flows, elevated with the movement of the tectonic plates, combine to produce a dazzling array of color for the eyes to take in.

A geologist would be able to tell you how each of the layers was formed in this, the North Andean province of Jujuy in Argentina. The pink is caused by red clay, mud and sand and has an estimated age of 3-4 million years. The white color is limestone and is around a hundred times older, having been laid down around 400 million years ago. The browns and purples are around 90 million years old and are rich in lead and calcium carbonate.

Image Credit Flickr User Lep
Image Credit Flickr User Mertxe
The red is made up of iron rich claystones and are about 4 million years old. The really earthy brown rock is manganese rich rock composed about 2 million years ago while the mustardy yellow is sandstone with lots of sulfur in the mix, formed about 90 million years ago. Altogether this rainbow of the rocks is quite something to see.

Image Credit Flickr User elrenteplats
Image Credit Flickr User Lep
Yet the local people have a much more interesting story. Legend has it that before they came and founded the village of Purmamarca at the foot of the hill that it contained no color at all – just an average every day kind of knoll. Yet on their arrival the children of the village decided that they would paint the hillsides.

Image Credit Flickr User Elrentaplats
Image Credit Flickr User loco085
For seven nights they disappeared from their beds and at each sunrise the adults were astounded to find the hill had color after color added. On the seventh night the adults woke early and discovered that none of the children were in their beds. They began a frantic search but eventually the children came skipping happily down the hillside. Since then the hill has always had seven colors.

Image Credit Flickr User Obliot
Image Credit Flickr User Los Viajes Del Cangrejo
The place has another – unofficial name. Locals often refer to it as the Hill of the Seven Skirts. This is because the layers of color on the hillside seen to mimic the traditional, long skirts worn by Andean women. You can certainly see why they may have seen this visual metaphor in the hills.

Image Credit Flickr User Abel Jorge
Image Credit Flickr User Los Viages de Cangrejo
As a result of this extraordinary collection of colors the village of Purmamarca is no stranger to visitors who turn up early in the morning. The hills are at their most vibrant during a 45 minute period just after dawn. Yet it is worth the early rise – the sun works its magic and the hills become resplendent.

Image Credit Flickr User delgadorascon
Image Credit Flickr User TravelWayOfLife
For those who chose, the trek around the hills takes around an hour. Those who do stay remain to experience the peace, quiet and wonderfully clean air of the region. Mostly, however, by mid-afternoon the village and its hill, surely one of the most beautiful places in Argentina, are left alone to regain the timeless rhythm of the Andes.

First Image Credit Flickr User Elrenteplats