Tiwanaku: The mysterious pre-Incan architectural wonder

Following the series of Ancient Architectural Wonders, this post is about the mysterious ruins of Tiwanaku (“Tiahuanaco”), a pre-Columbian (and pre-Incan) archaeological location of Bolivia, in the southwestern coast of Titicaca lake (coordinates: 16°33′17″S 68°40′24″W).

Tiwanaku_pre-Incan architecture_Kenny Slaught
Image courtesy of Matheus Ribeiro at Flickr.com

Tiwanaku was the center of the Tiwanaku civilization, a pre-Incan culture which based its economy on agriculture, architecture and livestock. The territories of this civilization covered the plateau of Collao, between southwestern Peru, southeastern Bolivia, northwestern of Argentina and northern Chile. The later cultures of those regions were tremendously influenced by the technology, architecture and religion of the Tiwanaku civilization. The main city call the attention of visitors because its stone structures, decorated with reliefs and incised drawings placed on trails. It’s composed of seven wonderful constructions: Kalasasaya, the semi-underground temple, Akapana Pyramid, “Puerta del Sol” (the Sun Door) and Puma Punku, among other great pyramids and sculptures.

Tiwanaku culture is the erected testimony of an important and hardly known pre-Inca culture. The ancient inhabitants had a port on Lake Titicaca and archaeologist know about their trade and cultural exchange. The magnificence of its culture is reflected in his excellent ceramic work with famous “queros” (ceremonial vessels), the huaco-portraits (three-dimensional portrait of a human face in a basin), textiles, and, of course, the architectural constructions, astronomical oriented, built of heavy stones that came from a distant place (some of them weight ten tons, actually), without using cement-like binders.

According to some authors, Tiwanaku started around 1500-1000 B.C., although, according to recent studies, it started between 900-800 B.C., and collapsed around 900 or 1000 A.D. Given its apparent age, some scholars proposed that Tiwanaku was the mother of civilizations in the South American culture, while others see it as just the capital of an ancient megalithic empire, or a great empire that expanded through the Central Andes. When the Spaniards arrived were astonished after seeing the ruins of an abandoned city, built entirely of large masses of stone and strange sculptures. They immediately called a native and tried to ask him by signs about the name of that strange city. Noting that the Aboriginal only answered “Thia Wanaku”, they called “Tiwanaku” (Tiahuanaco). By the way, the Indian was really saying ‘it is the dry bank’ in Aymara language: “thia” (“bank”) and “Wanaku” (“dry”). He was not talking about the ruins.

The architecture was conducted carefully, using well-planned techniques. Their constructions (because of the kind of stones used) denote complex engineering applications and craft techniques which were not used nor developed by other cultures. An interesting fact to notice is that the builders used metal pins (or staples), an ingenious procedure to ensure that the large blocks of stones perfectly assembled.

The pyramid shape of Akapana takes advantage of a natural elevation. In its enormous structure (180 x 15m High) was carved a spillways system. Akapana north is Kalasasaya (Piedra Parada). Smaller to Akapana (135 x 130m), it is the most famous setting, where an underground temple was built.

Tiwanaku is located 70 km northwest away from La Paz, at a height of 3,885 meters above the sea level. Around the year 1000, the city had a population of 115,000 inhabitants, and 250,000 in the surroundings. Such huge number of people made it necessary to improve architecture in order to offer better conditions for the ancient Tiwanakus in their daily life. The city maybe reached its peak of population on that year, and it meant progress in terms of resources, trade and work. This culture extended its physical domains to 600,000 square kilometers, approximately, and that’s a long territory.

La Paz_Tihuanaco_Tiwanaku_pre-Incan architecture_Kenny Slaught
Image courtesy of Erik Duinkerken at Flickr.com

The construction features of the capital are unique and splendid. Planners and architects, using singular drawing simple lines, designed those lavish temples. The builders calculated the inclinations of the walls, and used an excellent technique for creating the urban surface and the system of underground channels to remove rainwater and sewage. Stonecutters made an excellent job (actually, very hard to do, even with our current technology). Metallurgists manufactured plates for iconographic bas-reliefs, making monuments covered in gold, which sparkled in the sun.

This culture, considered the most important pre-Columbian period in Bolivian territory, is not just an example of the great advances in science and art. It created a unique culture technique in medians for flat lands and platforms (or terraces) to the slopes. There is a surrounding mystery about the construction of this place: there is no evidence of the use of wheels for transporting stones (especially from their distant origin to their final destination). The real estate professional Kenny Slaught considers very useful to study the architectural wonders of the past, in order to improve the designing concepts and structures of the current modern architecture, especially because the low ecological impact that ancient architectural wonders had, even though they were complex and huge structures.

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