Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) Archaeological Site
Ancient Mysteries of the Andes
Also Tihuanaco, Tihuanaku, Tiwanaku, Tiwanacu.
Just 72 km (45 miles) away from La Paz, you will find one of the most impressive archaeological sites of South America, although scientists still hold many doubts about the rise and fall of the Tiahuanaco culture.
What we do know: This civilization arose in the 6th century BC, and local Indian legends described the city as the capital of the bearded white god Wiracocha. Tiahuanaco endured a thousand years more than Rome, and almost 2000 years more than the Inca civilization that built Machu Picchu. Moreover, the inhabitants had developed a system of agriculture that turned barren Altiplano land into the breadbasket of their society.
The city of Tiahuanaco, capital of a powerful pre-Hispanic empire that dominated a large area of the southern Andes and beyond, reached its apogee between 500 and 900 AD. Its monumental remains testify to the cultural and political significance of this civilisation, which is distinct from any of the other pre-Hispanic empires of the Americas.
The classic, or fourth period (300-700 AD), is perhaps the most dramatic, with its huge stone structures that watch over the site today.
During its peak, the capital of Tiwanaku boasted a huge stone-faced pyramid, cut stone enclosures, elite residences, exquisitely decorated buildings, a system of subterranean canals, and at least four square kilometers of residential buildings.
The Tiwanaku imperial economy was based on the intensive utilization of raised fields, camelid pastoralism, terrace agriculture, an extensive exchange and colonial system, and the organization of large numbers of laborers for state projects. There was a rigid social and political hierarchy expressed in elaborate art and architectural styles.
The ruins of Tiahuanaco bear striking witness to the power of the empire that played a leading role in the development of the Andean prehispanic civilization.
The buildings of Tiahuanaco are exceptional examples of the ceremonial and public architecture and art of one of the most important manifestations of the civilizations of the Andean region.
Clearly, the ruins of Tiahuanaco show a great ceremonial center, and a city that numbered, at its height, more than 20,000 inhabitants. Researchers have divided this civilization into five distinct periods.
The civilization seems to have totally vanished by 1200AD.
The archaeological site is inscribed on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Exploring the lost city of Tiahuanaco
Truly Tiahuanaco is a lost city, for it originally covered several square kilometers; only a fraction of the site has been excavated and the main ruins cover a small area which can be visited in half a day.
The buildings that have been excavated include:
• Akapana Pyramid - a cross-shaped pyramidal structure of 257 x 197 x 16.5 metres. Some stone blocks here weigh over 60 metric tons.
• Akapana East - a boundary for the ceremonial center and the urban area.
• Pumapunku stepped platforms - another man-made platform (167x116x5 metres, plus 20-meter wide projections extending north and south of the structure) forming a rectangular terraced earthen mound that is faced with megalithic blocks. The largest stone block in Pumapunku is estimated to weigh more than 130 metric tons.
• Kalasasaya temple - a large courtyard and ceremonial platform over three hundred feet long, outlined by a high gateway, that may have been sleeping quarters for the priests. Several monoliths (stelae) are found here (kala=rock, saya or sayasta=standing up; in other words the name Kalasasaya can be roughly translated to "temple of the standing rocks").
• Gate of the Sun and Gate of the Moon - these upright standing massive structures were built from a single rock each. They are carved with series of esoteric symbols representing men and wildlife, and are two of the best known archaeological symbols of Bolivia. The regularity of elements suggests they are part of a system of geometrical proportions.
• Semi-Subterranean Temple - a square sunken courtyard whose walls are covered with tenon heads of many different styles.
• Kheri Kala ceremonial rooms and Putuni burial site.
• Stelae - 'Pachamama' or Bennett monolith is the largest stela at Tiahuanaco; it is 7.3m high and weighs 20 metric tons. Other major stelae include the red andesite monolith 'El Fraile' ('The Friar') and the Ponce monolith, named after its discoverer Wendell Bennett, which was found in the centre of the semi-subterranean temple.
All these structures are visible to the modern visitor.
Some interesting festivities take place in Tiahuanaco on June 21st that marks the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere (Machaj Mara, the Aymara New Year is celebrated just outside the temple – see collapsible panel below).
Tiahuanaco is easily accessible from La Paz and Puno.
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The ruins of Tiahuanaco bear striking witness to the power of the empire that played a leading role in the development of the Andean pre-Hispanic civilization. The buildings are exceptional examples of the ceremonial and public architecture and art of one of the most important manifestations of the civilizations of the region.
Tiahuanaco began as a small settlement, in what is known as its 'village period', around 1200 BCE. It was self-sufficient, with a non-irrigated form of farming based on frost-resistant crops, essential at this high altitude, producing tubers such as potatoes, oca and cereals, notably quinoa. In more sheltered locations near Lake Titicaca, maize and peaches were also cultivated. The inhabitants lived in rectangular adobe houses that were linked by paved streets.
During the 1st century CE, Tiahuanaco expanded rapidly into a small town. This may be attributable to the introduction of copper metallurgy, to the consequent availability of superior tools and implements and to the creation of irrigation systems. The wealthy upper class, which also controlled the profitable trade in wool from the vast herds of domesticated alpaca in the region, provided the finance for the creation of large public buildings in stone and paved roads linking Tiahuanaco with other settlements in the region. The marshy tracts on the lakeside, where the climatic conditions were more favourable, were brought into cultivation by the creation of terraced raised fields.
The Tiahuanaco Empire probably entered its most powerful phase in the 8th century AD. Many daughter towns or colonies were set up in the vast region under Tiahuanaco rule, the most important of which was Wari in Peru, which was to set itself up as a rival to Tiahuanaco. The political dominance of Tiahuanaco began to decline in the 11th century, and its empire collapsed in the first half of the 12th century
Tiahuanaco is located near the southern shores of Lake Titicaca on the Altiplano, at an altitude of 3,850 m. Most of the ancient city, which was largely built from adobe, has been overlaid by the modern town. However, the monumental stone buildings of the ceremonial centre survive in the protected archaeological zones.
Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) - How did it look like?
Historical Description of Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku)
Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) began as a small settlement, in what as known as its "village period," around 1200 BCE. It was self-sufficient, with a non-irrigated form of farming based on frost-resistant crops, essential at this high altitude, producing tubers such as potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), oca (Oxalis tuberosa) and cereals, notably quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). In more sheltered locations near Lake Titicaca, maize and peaches were also cultivated. The inhabitants lived in rectangular adobe houses that were linked by paved streets.
During the 1st century CE Tiahuanaco expanded rapidly into a small town. This may be attributable to the introduction of copper metallurgy and the consequent availability of superior tools and implements. These facilitated the creation of irrigation systems, which resulted in agricultural surpluses, which in turn encouraged the growth of an hierarchical social structure and the rise of specialist craftsmen.
The wealthy upper class, who also controlled the profitable trade in wool from the vast herds of domesticated alpaca in the region, provided the finance for the creation of large public buildings in stone, designed by architects on a monumental scale and lavishly decorated by the skilled masons. Paved roads were built, linking Tiahuanaco with other settlements in the region, along which its produce was exported using llamas as beasts of burden. The distribution of artefacts in copper, ceramics, textiles, and stone from the workshops of the Tiahuanaco craftsmen shows that by around 550 the city became the capital of a vast empire covering what is now southern Peru, northern Chile, most of Bolivia, and parts of Argentina.
The marshy tracts on the lakeside, where the climatic conditions were more favourable, were brought into cultivation by the creation of terraced raised fields. This was a vast enterprise, estimated to have covered as much as 65 sq km. The camellones were 6m wide and could be more than 200m long, and were separated by irrigation canals 3m wide. The canals served not only to bring water and nutriments to the fields but also acted as heat reservoirs during the day, bringing significant improvements to the microclimate of the fields.
The Tiahuanaco empire probably entered its most powerful phase in the 8th century AD. Many daughter towns or colonies were set up in the vast region under Tiahuanaco rule, the most important of which was Wari in Peru, which was to set itself up as a rival to Tiahuanaco. At its apogee Tiahuanaco is estimated to have extended over an area of as much as 6 sq km and to have housed between 70,000 and 125,000 inhabitants.
The political dominance of Tiahuanaco began to decline in the 11th century, and its empire collapsed in the first half of the 12th century. The reasons for this collapse are not yet understood. Scholars now reject invasion and conquest and attribute it to climatic change, giving rise to poor harvests and a progressive weakening of the central power to the point when it yielded to the pressures for autonomy from its components.
Archaeological data confirms the Aymaran migration. There is evidence proving that the Inca originated from the upper class who were forced to leave Tiahuanaco by the militant Aymarans, or los piruas. The idea of the Inca having been militant aroused from the new circumstances. The Inca regarded the surroundings of Titicaca as their former home and revered Viracocha as a god who had told them to build the city of Cuzco. Later, the mythology related to Viracocha acquired an important role in the Inca religion.
After the fall of Tiahuanaco the land was not inhabited again for many years. In isolated places, some remnants of the Tiwanaku people, like the Uros (to whom the Oruro Department of Bolivia owes its name), may have survived until today.
Beyond the northern frontier of the Tiwanaku state a new power started to emerge in the beginning of the 13th century, the Inca Empire.
In 1445 Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (the ninth Inca) began conquest of the Titicaca regions. He incorporated and developed what was left from the Tiwanaku patterns of culture, and the Inca officials were superimposed upon the existing local officials. Quechua was made the official language and sun worship the official religion. So, the last traces of the Tiwanaku civilization were integrated or deleted.
Tiahuanaco is located 72 km (45 miles) west of La Paz, near the shores of Lake Titicaca (southern lake or Wiñaymarka).
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June Solstice, the Aymara New Year at Tiahuanaco
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