The Tiwanaku mysteries

(continuer en français) – Published: April 28, 2021

Tiwanaku is located in Bolivia, about 37 miles, 60 kilometres, from La Paz, on the way to Lake Titicaca and Peru. It was the political and religious centre of the Aymara people which developed over several centuries, exercising its influence over a vast region from the south of present-day Peru to the north of Chile.

It is not the most spectacular archaeological site in South America, with few surviving ruins, which makes it difficult to interpret and fails to capture the imagination, except for its mysteries. However, this site highlights a pre-Inca culture that reached a high level of organisation, allowing for example a real mastering of monumental architecture, qualities that the Incas would inherit and perfect.

The Bolivian village of Tiahuanaco extends to the limits of the historic site, with the former station of an abandoned railway serving as a ticket office.

When arriving on the site, the visit starts with two covered structures. Unfortunately photos are not allowed inside. The first one contains mainly the Bennett monolith, named after the archaeologist who discovered it in 1932. It is more than 24 feet, 7 meters, high and weighs 19 tons, the most massive of the monoliths discovered so far in Tiwanaku. It is richly ornamented, without all the symbolism being clearly identified.

The second building contains an exhibition of the objects found in the excavations, trying to retrace the history and familiarise visitors with what is already known about this ancient city.

The ceremonial centre was dominated by the Akapana pyramid, made up of seven successive terraces. The retaining walls are only partially reconstructed, leaving a shapeless structure resembling a vague mound of earth.

At the foot of the pyramid lies the Kalasasaya temple, a large platform that must have belonged to a religious complex surrounded by walls. These walls have partially disappeared, and what remains is the part supporting the terrace, containing solid monoliths arranged at regular distances.

On the sides, a series of small structures could have been mausoleums where mummies were placed.

In this probably sacred enclosure, two monoliths still stand where they were discovered.

The Fraile monolith is 10 feet, 3 metres, high and is located in the temple enclosure. However, its role and meaning remain uncertain. Its belt representing crabs seems to reinforce the hypothesis that Lake Titicaca, now 12 miles, 20 kilometres, away, was closer.

The Ponce Monolith was also found on the temple platform, although it is not clear whether this was its original position or what role it played. Each monument seems to be a new enigma.

The Sun Gate is one of the most publicized monuments of the site. It is made of a single block of stone weighing more than 10 tons, whose origin is traced to 62 miles, 100 kilometres away, on the other side of the Titicaca lake. Whether it was a symbolic gate or part of a real enclosure remains to confirmed

At the other end is another monumental gate, designated by symmetry as the Moon Gate. It has been reconstructed in the middle of the wall still in place. From here, a majestic staircase leads to the Semi-Subterranean Temple.

The Semi-Subterranean Temple is a kind of basin dug in the backyard of the temple platform. Although it is difficult to imagine the exact layout of the original site, it is clear that it was a place that received special attention, the walls being decorated with faces in relief creating a striking effect. Here again, the interpretation of the first archaeologists is based on many unknowns, their real meaning remaining mysterious.

Near the main site but outside the enclosure is the pyramid of Pumapunku. Its lower terraces can still be seen, as well as the interior drains allowing the evacuation of rainwater, maybe they were fountains descending from one terrace to the other.

The pyramid is surrounded by scattered vestiges that look like the pre-constructed elements of monuments to be assembled. The geometric shapes are clearly visible, although the decoration is rather basic.

The archaeological site of Tiwanaku is far from having delivered all its mysteries. It is certainly linked to the Peruvian site of Sillustani, about 62 miles, 100 kilometres away. Tiwanaku has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

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12 comments

    • Some of the unknowns come from the looting of the ruins to build other buildings, and not only churches as some say, but also simple enclosures for livestock. Now the fact that not everything is explained leaves room for imagination.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is quite astonishing that such a civilisation reached this level of sophistication on its own in a few centuries, only to disappear, replaced by the Incas, who were themselves defeated by the Spaniards.

      Like

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