Part of the allure of Bolivia is the ancient foundations upon which the modern nation rests. In much of La Paz and much of the country, vestiges of the regions original inhabitants are still revered and scattered throughout. One of the most compelling sites of the historic empires whose descendants still live in Bolivia today is the pre-Incan ruins of Tiwanaku.
Dating back over 1,700 years, the Tiwanaku predated the Incas and indigenous Aymara of this part of Bolivia. Though nearly two millennia of history stands between the early Tiwanaku and modern society, the connection between the two civilizations is still largely felt today. The ancient ruins of the Tiwanaku people, located in the city of the same name, are a popular day trip from modern La Paz for both tourists and locals alike. At the archeological site, visitors are given the opportunity to walk the path of history and marvel at the incredible skill and precise craftsmanship of a culture that lived long before the availability of modern tools.
At Tiwanaku, the Akapana Pyramid and Kalasasaya Temple (along with the altitude) take visitors breath away- the structure’s sheer size and architectural quality is impressive even today. At first, Akapana looks as if it is merely a large natural hill, not the fete of a civilization well advanced beyond their years. However, upon inevitable closer inspection, Akapana reveals itself to be a series of columns and carved stone mounds forming the base of what could have only been a tremendous pyramidal structure in the heart of the Bolivian High Plateau.
Tiwanaku is more than just a testament to bygone civilization. It offers a tantalizing peek into history that raises more questions than it answers about ancient Bolivia.
The Kalasasaya Temple is perhaps the most well known of the Tiwanaku structures. At almost 100 meters long, the temple is animposing monument in the middle of a vast and empty plain. Housed within the temple building, the Gateway of the Sun still maintains its spiritual powers to believers today. On the days of both the summer and winter solstice it is as if time has stood 1000 years still, with Bolivians from across the country flocking to the temple to witness and benefit from the gate’s sun-derived power. Just across the way, the Gateway of the Moon is the Sun Gate’s nocturnal counterpart.
Next to Kalasasaya sits the Semi-Subterranean Temple, known in historical archeology circles for its unusual north-south axis as opposed to the more common east-west. Upon descent onto the sacred ground, visitors are greeted with lifelike masks, dozens of which protrude from the otherwise smooth temple walls. When looking closely, the faces of these masks come to life- not only do they represent the native pre-Incans but also have faces that seem to be of African and Asian origins. In the center of the semi-subterranean complex, a monolithic sculpture with impressive laser-like iconography is meant to represent an elite individual of divinity, linking the otherworldly religious system to the authority of the almost supernatural Tiwanaku rulers.
Even the areas of the Tiwanaku Temple structure that lay in ruins are impressive accomplishments of architecture and human ability. AtPumapunku, 45-ton monoliths are scattered across the area, representing a once magnificent temple built on the spot the Tiwanaku believed the world was created. Just as they did nearly 1500 years ago, pilgrims still flock to the sacred site to pay their respects and marvel at massive ruins that would still be a fete of human engineering and capability to this day.
Throughout the temples and various sites at Tiwanaku, giant stones and figurative sculptures dot the golden landscape; evidence of an ancient belief system where human divinity and the gods were intricately intertwined. Even today, the residents of contemporary Tiwanaku live their lives in a way that connects the new with the old. In the heart of Tiwanaku town, the main 17th century church is constructed out of the very stone from which the original ruins were built.