Tiwanaku or Tiahuanaco is clearly one of the oldest cultures in America. The pre-colonial city of Tiwanaku was its capital and the territory of the Tiwanaku culture included the Altiplano in Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. This culture was characterized by living on agriculture and ranching, supported by a sophisticated system of agriculture, a type of terraces to produce altitude grains. It is the most important archaeological site of Bolivia. It is situated in the Ingavi province of the department of La Paz, 70 km from the city and 15 km from the Lake Titicaca, at an altitude of 3,885 m. It is believed that the Tiwanaku culture was born between 1500 and 1400 years B.C. and collapsed from unknown causes around 1100 to 1200 A.D.
Tiwanaku was a populous urban center which had a ceremonial civic center and a number of neighboring buildings covering an area of four square kilometers. It was probably founded around AD 300 and some buildings remained unfinished toward AD 900. the division of the Tiwanaku culture has been divided in 4 periods:
The Villager period - 1580 AC - 133 dC
The Urban period - 133 DC - 374 DC
The Classical period - 374 DC - 900 DC
The Expansive era - 900 DC - 1200 DC
Regarding their knowledge and technology, they were characterized by having known the bronze, which gave them a great technological and military advantage in comparison to other contemporary cultures in America.
The masonry in Tiwanaku reveals one of the most skilled works in building in South America; lots of men cut the stone in far quarries and then they transported it to the big city. They knew how to cut stones finely and they even cut up to 10 tons which they gave them a rectangular shape so that they could fit with great skill in the impressive walls of the buildings of the city. The iconographic bas-reliefs are covered in gold. Their systems to join the blocks of stone reflect an old use of the metal with constructive purposes. Their great capacity as builders and architects in their lavish temples, their calculations of inclinations on the walls and their excellent urban technique allowed them the creation of surface and underground networks of channels to eliminate rainwater and wastewater. It is important to emphasize that all of their temples have an astronomical orientation with an incredible accuracy.
The influence of Tiwanaku in South America can be seen in monuments in Peru (Inca culture), Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and the Amazonian eastern part of Bolivia. Some scholars proposed it as a ‘mother culture’ of the American civilizations; while others consider it as the capital of the old megalithic empire. For the English researcher James Allen, it was one of the kingdoms of the Atlantis of Platoon.
The following are the most important architectonic constructions:
Templete Semisubterráneo: : It is one of the best architectural pieces of Tiwanaku. It was built two meters below the level of its surrounding area, with a square platform surrounded by walls with 57 pillars of red sandstone. These walls are decorated with 175 stone heads which traits would represent the different ethnic groups that were part of the empire.
It is necessary to highlight the drainage system of this construction that was developed through channels made of stone with a perfect decline of 2% that still works today.
Inserted in the floor of the Templete there was the greatest anthropomorphous piece known as Pachamama Monolith or Benett Monolith. This is the largest of Tiwanaku, measuring 7.30 meters high. Like many pieces of the site, it was carved from a single block of rectangular shape. In contrast with the perfection of the whole and details of the Benett Monolith, the Templete houses the Barbado Monolith or Kontiki Wiraqocha that was sculpted in sandstone, which is accompanied by two other minor stelas.
Kalasasaya: or ‘De las Piedras Paradas’ is one of the temples with greater impact. This structure has two hectares of extension based on sandstone columns with decorative gargoyles or drainage drippers for rainwaters. It is a ceremonial center built from large stones of five meters high, 126 meters long and 117 meters wide.
In its interior there is a large rectangular sunken court or underground temple that you can reach by descending a 6-steps staircase carved from one piece of stone. As you enter through the main gate of the temple, you will observe Ponce Monolith representing a priest in which you can notice the purest art of Tiwanaku, fine iconographic engravings with shapes of winged men, fish, heads of puma and camelids, condors and eagles. Inside you can see the remains of what would have been small semi-underground rooms. In this building there is a wall which base is made of sandstone ashlars leaving in both sides a type of atrium separating the main or ‘ceremonial’ precinct.
In this area there are two blocks containing a hole that is similar to a human hearing apparatus by which you can hear noise or conversations that occur in distant places. From this, we can infer that the pre-Columbian world already knew about acoustics. The sun lights passed through its main entrance door in the equinoxes of autumn and spring. That is to say that the Tiwanaku astronomers had deducted the solar year of 365 days.
Akapana Pyramid: This pyramid is still covered in 90 %. It is a key and emblematic building of the civic center of Tiwanaku facing the celestial bodies. It is a building of pyramidal structure with seven stepped platforms; it is 18 meters high and has 200 meters along the sides. In the past, it was crowned by sophisticated monuments where human sacrifices were probably done. Its current state is in ruins as it was excavated by Spanish Oyaldeburo in the XVIII century in search of treasures. It was perforated from the top where there was a semi-underground templet that apparently had a stepped cruciform platform like an Andean cross. The retaining walls of the first terrace were coated with padded stones and finely carved stones. These differences in construction techniques lead us to think that it was completed in a very long period.
Puerta del Sol (Gateway of the Sun): This is the most important and famous monument of Tiwanaku. It is located in Kalasasaya. It is carved in a single block of andesite stone of ten tons; it is 3 meters high and almost 4 meters wide, and was presumably part of a larger building. Its bas-reliefs show the worldview of the Tiwanaku culture with the image of the Sun God holding in each hand a scepter containing figures of birds and rays. It has thirty-two figures of sun-men and sixteen of eagle-men. This hieroglyphic language has not been revealed yet. However, some scholars assume that it could be a yearly calendar marking the time for planting and harvesting. This iconography spread throughout Peru, especially in the later Inca Empire, and part of Bolivia.
The Puerta del Sol was left unfinished, which increases the mystery of its meaning. It is known worldwide as the largest sample of the perfection level that the Tiwanaku culture reached, both by its art and symbology.
Puma Punku: : It is a building completely covered, but the archaeological researches show that it has a much more refined and sophisticated technique, particularly the impeccable handling of lithic material. Puma Punku or the Gate of the Puma is a temple with extraordinary architectural quality that covers an area of around two hectares. It has a pyramidal structure with a three-platform base formed by carved ashlars. The platform is rectangular with two courts extending from north to south in the eastern sector. At the top there is a small templet with its drainage channels and to the west there are the remains of an access staircase. This monument was the object of multiple looting in the Inca time and this fact was accentuated in the time of the colony and the Republic. It is now considered a very important energetic center.
- Location: This town is located in the west of Bolivia, in the Ingavi province belonging to the department of La Paz, 72 km from La Paz city (seat of government).
- Altitude: 3844 masl
- Average temperature: 8 ºC.
There are public buses hourly departing from the General Cemetery area of La Paz city. However, this is not the most recommendable option because of the quality of the buses, although they are cheap. Also, this area is not safe for tourists during the night.