Tiwanaku was the first major civilization in the Americas which lasted for over 27 and one half centuries from roughly 1580 BC to 1172 AD, far longer than the Roman Empire. The pre-hispanic metropolis of the Tiwanaku near the shores of Lake Titicaca in the La Paz department, was the capital of an Andean state that stretched over present day northewest Argentina, northern Chile from Copiapó to Atamcama, and occidental Bolivia. The Tiwanaku civilization, considered one of the most important in the Americas, achieved amazing advances in science, art, and agriculture. Tiwanaku is placed among the great ancient civilizations of the world, which differ from others through the construction of temples in the form of pyramids.
Tiwanaku is undoubtedly the most remarkable archeological site yet discovered in Bolivia. It lies just 72 kms. from the city of La Paz. The arrcheological site covers at least 30 hectares of mostly unexcavated area, including several fascinating temples. The site features the Kalasasaya temple (126 per 117 mts.) hosting the famous Puerta del Sol (Sun Gate), the semi-subterranean temple complex with its mysterious carved stone heads, as well as the ruins of the Kantataita, Putuni and Kericala temples. The remarkable Akapana and Pumapunku pyramids were discovered recently and are currently under excavation.
This archeological site is among the oldest in the Andes due to its monumentalitiy and the skillful stonework and technology used there. Today local campesinos continue farm work amid the pottery shards and on top of submerged ruins of the city outskirts.
The Winter Solstice at Tiwanaku
This is one of the largest and most authentic religious celebrations in the Andean world. The central ceremony occurs on every June 21st at Tiwanaku at the Kalasasaya temple. This marks the Aymara New Year and is dedicated to sun worship. The ceremonies begin the night before as Aymara priests begin preparations. At sunrise, the gathered masses assemble inside and outside the temple with their hand reaching out for the sun, as sacrifices and offerings are made inside the temple. After this ceremony begins a mighty celebration with indigenous music groups.
Very near to the ruins is the "Museo Cat" and the "Museo Litico de Tiwanaku". These modern installations showcase the history and grandeur of the Tiwanaku culture. Here you will find important archeological pieces as well as the enormous and misnamed “Bennett” monolith after the man who “discovered” it. This massive humanoid-shaped monolith cut of rock has been worshipped as a god since before living memory.
Schedule: Monday to Friday 9:00 - 12:00 and from 15:00 - 18:00
Puerta del Sol (Sun Gate)
This famous stone gate is the quintessential symbol of Tiwanaku sculptures. Its high and low relief carvings represent a very complicated calendrical system and ideas relating to the Andean Cosmovision and religion. In the center stands the humanized Aymara god, standing on a pyramid of three platforms which represent the earth. In the lower part are 11 small suns that represent the months of the Aymara year and the position of the solstices as defined by a Willka Kuti, or figure that announces the return of the sun to the equinoxes. On the sides are three files carved in low relief, each with sixteen figures with wings and human heads, except the file in the middle where the figures have condor heads. The back side of the Sun Gate is more simple and shows elements which was probably carved for ritual purposes.
This is one of the best preserved sites in Tiwanaku. Inside are three large humanoid monoliths (huge carved stone pieces). On the walls are 175 carved stone heads that are thought to have represented peoples nearby and also peoples far away as the Asians and the Normans.
Kalasasaya Temple ("The Temple of Standing Stones")
All of the temples at Tiwanaku are astronomically-oriented. Thus in the Kalasasaya was verified with remarkable precision the changes of seasons and the sun oriented year of 365 days. The Tiwanakotas measured the seasons by the two equinoxes (March 21st and September 21st) and by the two solstices (June 21st and December 21st). The Kalasasaya hosts the Ponce stele monolith and the Fraile Monolith as well as and the famous Sun Gate.
Pachamama Monolith (commonly mis-named “Bennett”)
This is the most impressive example of lytic statues of Tiwanaku, and in the classic period was located in the central part of the semi-subterranean temple. The monolith is known as "Pachamama" or incorrectly as “The Bennett Monolith”, and can now be seen at the new Museum of the lytic stones. The monolith measures 7.30 m in height and weighs 20 tons.
This is a massive pyramid with 7 different platforms and a total height of 18 meters. It was built by taking advantage of a natural hill. On the top once stood a temple that was destroyed by the Spaniard Oyardeburu who searched for treasure inside. Since its destruction, Akapana was plundered and only parts of the temple are conserved.
Agro-Archeological Fields (Sucacollos)
In front of the Tiwanaku ruins lies evidence of the Tiwanaku culture’s extraordinary agricultural technology. Vast fields were formed with raised extended mounds of fertile earth containing 2mts. wide irrigation channels that formed labyrinth-like patterns over many hectares. The fertile mounds were composed of layers of clay, then sand mixed with fertilized topsoil. This technology that predates Christ was rediscovered in 1989. Recent field studies have shown that this system produces 42.5 tons of potatoes per hectare compared with an average of just 8 made by modern agriculture using artificial fertilizers and tractors in the same area. Experts believe that the system also helped prevent the crops from freezing, supplies automatically natural fertilizer, and so allows the soil to be worked year round without breaks.
The village of Tiwanaku
The nearby town of Tiwanaku was built mostly of stones robbed from the ruins during the colonial era. Among its attractions are a peaceful central plaza and the colonial church which has a beautiful altar covered in gold leaf along with the Museo de Historia Parroquial created by the congregation of San Pedro de Tiwanaku.