Tiwanaku (sometimes spelled Tiahuanaco) in Bolivia is an impressive pre-Columbian archaeological site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not only does it date from one of the most important early cultures in this area, it is believed to have been an important precursor to the Inca civilization, as well. At least the Incas claimed this when they began to take over this area, years after the site had been abandoned. Unlike many pre-Columbian societies which borrowed from ones that came before them, this one is quite distinct.
Tiwanaku dates from 1200 BC (possibly 1500), where it started as a small settlement. During the 1st century AD it expanded to become a small town. This is thought to have been due to improvements in tools, development of systems for irrigation and the creation of roads to link the settlements to others nearby.
By the 8th century, the empire to which Tiwanaku gave its name was at its most powerful. One of the most important of its colonies was the Wari or Huari in Peru, which later became a rival. The empire began its decline in the 11th century and collapsed in the 12th. By the time the Incas came on the scene, this important site had been abandoned for centuries.
Although the city has since been built over, the archaeological site features some of the most important ancient buildings from the time. For example, the temple of Akapana — built in the shape of a pyramid — is believed to have originally been more than 18 meters (59 feet) tall, one of the highest in the world. Another temple, the Kalasasaya, is thought to have been an observatory. Within it is the Gate of the Sun, important as a representation of Tiwanaku art. Also inside are inspiring monoliths. Bas-relief friezes with religious icons and scenes are found throughout the site. Some of these artistic styles can be found repeated in other later cultures.
There is still much mystery surrounding the site, with many theories existing as to how and why it was built at such high altitude. It is impressive that the inhospitable climate could have supported such a large community. In order to boost agricultural production, they created impressive irrigation systems which predated those developed by the Incas.
Tiwanaku is located close to Lake Titicaca and about 70 kilometers (44 miles) from La Paz. We can add an excursion to Tiwanaku to any one of our Peru Tours.
Although Tiwanaku can be visited any time of year, there are a few extra special dates. The town anniversary, for example, takes place on September 14th. Also important is the spring equinox on September 21. On this date, many people visit the site to see the dawn as it comes through the Kalasaya temple. There is also folk dancing and games in which visitors are encouraged to participate. The Aymara New Year, celebrated on June 21st, also has important cultural significance and is celebrated at the site with rituals and traditional music.