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Tiwanaku

Alex and the Gateway of the Sun

Alex and the Gateway of the Sun

The trip to Tiwanaku is a “must-do” excursion from La Paz.  The remains of the capital of the longest-lived empire in South America is something you don’t want to miss.  The ruins are impressive.  The history behind them is even more impressive.  I’m not going to get into all of that here, so you definitely want to get a good guide book and read about the history and the place, perhaps during the drive out.

Tiwanaku (also spelled Tiahuanaco, Tiahuanacu, and probably in several other ways, as well) was the capital of a huge realm, covering about half of present-day Bolivia, southern Peru, northwestern Argentina, and about half of Chile.  It’s rise began in about 100 BC and control over the Titicaca basin was established by about 400 AD.  The empire continued to expand and lasted until sometime after 1000 AD.  Expansion of the empire was, in part, by conquest, but some experts believe that many peoples joined this very prosperous empire voluntarily, as well.

Aliciya in the Semi-Subterranean Temple

Aliciya in the Semi-Subterranean Temple

The prosperity and success of the Tiwanaku culture was based, first and foremost, on agricultural innovation.  The inhabitants came up with a system of raised fields which not only avoided flooding, it also allowed them to control the salinity of the soil, minimize the impact of drought and moderate temperatures in the fields.  As a result, the altiplano region around Tiwanaku was more productive during this period then ever before or since, allowing the empire a level of prosperity not previously seen in the area and enabling the financing of wars of conquest or just enticing other groups to join up to this expanding, highly prosperous civilization.  We looked for remnants of the raised fields, which some authors say exist, but have not found them.  If you find any, please leave the location in the comments.

Some archaeologists believe that the heads on the walls of the Semi-Subterranean Temple represent people conquered by the empire

Some archaeologists believe that the heads on the walls of the Semi-Subterranean Temple represent people conquered by the empire

Tiwanaku, as the site of the capital of the empire is now known, is an impressive place to wander around.  You can hire a tour guide to show you the site and tell you the stories (some of which may be apocryphal) , or you can just wander through it yourself.  You certainly cannot miss the Gateway of the Sun or the Semi-Subterranean Temple

There are two museums at Tiwanaku, and both are well worth visiting.  The “Ceramics Museum is by far the most interesting, with far more than ceramics covered.  There is an interesting display on the raised fields and some metalcrafts, including some gold.  The other museum is sadly crumbling, but you should still go in to see its one display, a huge statue from the Semi-subterranean Temple.

Another portion of the Semi-Subterranian temple, with the entrance into the main temple in the background

Another portion of the Semi-Subterranian temple, with the entrance into the main temple in the background

Given that the inhabitants of Tiwanaku lacked a written language, we have no way of knowing whether Tiwanaku was the name locals gave their city or empire, is a term others had for them, or was invented later.  We also know little about why this successful empire crumbled, but crumble it did, and well before the rise of the Inca Empire.  Some archaeologists hypothesize that a severe, multi-year drought may have overcome even the ability of the raised fields to produce at levels necessary to sustain the empire.  This seems a reasonable explanation, as it might also help to explain why the system, which had worked so well, was abandoned.

Tiwanaku has become a site for “traditional” celebrations of various types.  Last year the Vice President of Bolivia was married in a ceremony here.  Each year Aymara New Year is celebrated here, as well.

Tiwanaku is only 1-2 hours from La Paz, so it is an easy day drip.  There are a number of other visits you can undertake in the area, as well.  For directions and links to other sites in the area which you should not miss, see Tiwanaku, Colonial Churches and Natural Arches.

Comments

Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » Tiwanaku, Colonial Churches and Natural Arches
Time May 19, 2013 at 10:39 am

[…] is a toll booth just past Laja.  The turnoff to the right for Tiwanaku is only another 21 miles down the road.  The site itself is about a mile down the road and to the […]

Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » Laja and It’s Church
Time May 20, 2013 at 7:29 am

[…] is a nice stop on the way to or from Tiwanaku.  For directions and other interesting sites in the area, check out Tiwanaku, Colonial Churches […]

Pingback from Larry Memmott's Blog » Aymara New Year at Tiwanaku
Time June 21, 2013 at 7:17 pm

[…] here in the southern hemisphere). This morning, I was up at 4 am to prepare for the drive out to Tiwanaku for the new year […]

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