Tiahuanaco – Tiwanaku
Tiahuanaco or Tiwanaku (in Aymara notation) is Bolivia’s most important archaeological site.
The place, whose translation means “sit down, little Lama”, is situated about 20 km from the south end of Lake Titicaca and 70 km from La Paz, at 3850 metres of the Bolivian Altiplano.
The first traces of settlement date back to the 15th century BC.
Around 300 BC Tiwanaku developed into a cultural and religious centre of the Aymara culture. The city had its heyday between the 6th and 9th century.
At that time Tiwanaku’s influence reached from the Atacama Desert to the province of Cochabamba and into parts of present-day Argentina.
At the turn of the penultimate millennium, a persistent drought forced the inhabitants to abandon the city step by step.
Since Tiwanaku was not located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, as originally assumed, but depended on rain, even the advanced irrigation and storage systems could not save the city from water shortage and famine.
When the Inca, whose rise began in the 13th century, reached Tiwanaku, the city was already abandoned.
The most prominent structure of the rather small complex, whose core covers only about 500 x 1000 meters, is the so-called Sun Gate, a 3 m high and 3.75 m wide stone gate, which is worked from a single andresite block.
The centre of cultural life was the Kalasasaya (“place of standing stones”), a platform created in several construction phases with the Ponce Monolith in the centre and the El Fraile Monolith in the southwest corner. Both monumental figures surpass the colossal stone heads of the Olmecs in southeast Mexico and are considered the largest of their kind in pre-Columbian America.
The Sunken Temple (templete semisubterráneo), which covers an area of 26 x 28 m with a depth of approx. 2 m, is considered the oldest monumental building in Tiwanaku. Its present appearance dates back to the reconstruction by the Bolivian archaeologist Carlos Ponce Sanginés between 1961-64.
Incorporated into its walls are 57 stone pillars and 175 anthropomorphic stone heads, none of which resembled each other. These stone heads are interpreted as mythical ancestors of various groups of Tiwanaku residents. They are oriented towards the anthropomorphic monolith in the centre of the temple with a face mask, which is considered to represent the creator deity.
The Putuni complex served as the residential quarter of the local elite, while the function of the 74 x 50 m Kherikala complex, which is situated only a little to the west, is still unknown today.
In the year 2000 Tiwanaku was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.