General Information
Capital La Paz
Palca Canyon
Lake Titicaca
Isla del Sol

Bolivia Index | General Information | Capital La Paz | Palca Canyon | Tiwanaku, Sun Door | Lake Titicaca | Copacabana, Sampaya | Isla del Sol


Tiwanaku and the famous Sun Gateway


If we made yesterday an impressive hiking tour through the Palca Canyon in a very wild and mountaneous landscape, today, we will drive over the flat Altiplano to the ruins of Tiwanaku. Almost everybody who makes a journey to Bolivia and/or gets deeper introduced to this country will come across to the Tiwanaku. These ruins that are located at a distance of approximately 70km from La Paz, are the most important precolumbian culturesites of Bolivia, and beside Macchu Picchu in Peru, of the whole Southamerica. Additionally they are admitted in the world cultural heritage by the UNESCO. Thus, for those who are interested in culture and for us, an absolute must!

Map of Bolivia; click to enlarge

As it was already the case during the hiking tour of yesterday, we recommend the booking of the half day excursion at an agency, the price for that is about 25 euros including the entrance fee. Ourselves, we were again on the way with the Magri-Turismo, whereby we did not return to La Paz but afterwards to the highest located navigable lake of the world, the titicaca lake, and drove further to Copacabana. One should not miss to have a skilled culture guide who can explain one the slightly opaque Tiwanaku culture; We were really lucky with our Erich Hochhäuser! Alternatively, one can also rent a taxi that takes approximately 50 euros two ways, but then one has to cope without the explanations of an "insider".

Drive over the Altiplano to Tiwanaku

After a tasty an abundant breakfast we load our full package on the bus, as we will not return to La Paz for a good week. On the known path we drive the main road up to El Alto. There, there is already an intense activity at 07.30 a.m.

A typical small farm made of clay and straw Scattered eucalyptus trees in the wideness of the Altiplano

Taxi buses as far as the eye can reach, people horn, push, and also pass the red traffic lights; it is a bad deal to be a pedestrian here! But we leave this hustle behind us and drive a well paved road westwards to the wide Altiplano; At the beginning there are still some scattered houses visible but afterwards only the eternal wideness of the Bolivian highlands. In this windswept wasteland, some scattered eucalyptus trees grow, but otherwise the at this season yellow-brownish ichu grass outweighs. But sometimes we can look at a farm made of clay with a straw roof and grazing cattle at the front. It is impressive to drive through such an endless wideness without any strong population. One could almost feel like in the US, with a Harley on the Route 66, but stop, we are in Bolivia at a height of almost 4000m, and we are not sitting on a motorcycle but in a small bus and protected against the wind!

What was Tiwanaku at all?

After some good 70km and a driving time of approximately 1,5 hours we finally get to our destination, the misterious ruins of Tiwanaku. But before we go through the museum and the complex, we will first tell some basic facts about this sightseeings. The word Tiwanaku (also Tiahuanaco) either describes a place as also a whole culture that existed during the period between 1500 BC and about 1200 after christus. Some archaeologists even go back up to the year 10000 before christ, but the year data in relation to the Tiwanaku culture are quite insecure as there are no writings at all from that time and everything is more or less based on assumptions. This culture probably developed from the culture of the Huari, an old Peruvian culture and also the influences of the even older Chavin culture haven been prooved. During their peak time, the influence of the Tiwanakus at the north went up to Peru, at the south up to the Chilenean Atacama area and to Argentina, even at the Pacific coast it has been prooved. It was so weightily that all following cultures were supposed to be influenced by it.

These finest masories are typical for the culture of Tiwanaku, here in the Templete Semisubterráneo

But what was really here? The capital of a kingdom? A ceremonial cultural centre? A place of pilgrimage? Supposedely, it is about a temple- and trade city with a surface of ten square metres with about 50.000 inhabitants. This city is supposed to have had even a harbour, but how is this possible? The Titicaca lake is at a distance of approximately 20 km from Tiwanaku! Thus, in former times, the lake must have been bigger than today. Tiwanaku is specially known by its unusually precise masonries for which up to 130 tons of diorit- and andesit bloques were carried from a quarry at a distance of approximately 20km. How this happened is still a mistery due to the fact that in the culture of the Tiwanaku the wheel was still unknown! A mistery is also the tools that were in use, as these stones are of the hardest existing kinds.

The Tiwanaku culture might be decayed due to several strong dry periods that did not permit any more agriculture and the sufficient supply for the population was not secured any more. Also a massive flood or earthquake can have led to the end of the Tiwanaku. The fact that there is something visible at all from the Tiwanaku is due to the Austrian engineer Arthur Posnansky, whose lifework was the excavation and the exploration of the city. These basics should be enough for the first, in order to start the visit to the museum and the tour through the complex. In every showpiece of Tiwanaku, this topic is further explained. What I still would like to point out is that from the whole of the city, until now only a small piece is exposed and some further excavations and more discoveries of Tiwanaku are surely to be expected.

Museum and tour through Tiwanaku

We get out of the bus and put immediately our warm fleece coats on, as despite the sun is shining and the short way from the parking place up to the museum a cold wind blows. Erich gets the tickets and we get into the museum building. The highlight of this museum is, without doubt, the giant monolith "Bennet", that is approximately 10 metres high and weights about 20 tons.

Precisely carved stones piled on one another are also typical for Tiwanaku

Moreover, in the exhibition rooms there are mainly excavation pieces exposed: clay- and ceramic jars, stone figures in different sizes, jewelry, burial objects and further objects of the Tiwanaku culture. The numerus explanations of it are also authored in English, so that those who cannot speak Spanish will have still get further information about this fascinating culture. By this way, one learns for example that the inhabitants of Tiwanaku already calculated the exact duration of the year that is not 365 days but exactly 365,25 days, and this is the reason why there is every four years a leap year in our calendar. Unfortunately, it is not allowed to photograph in the museum and this is the reason why there are no pictures of the exhibition rooms. But this is only half as bad as the real showpieces of Tiwanaku are to be viewed in the open air part of the complex.

On the Akapana, the magic stones are cleary recognizable

We leave the museum and after crossing a small street we get to the entrance gate to the outer complex. Shortly afterwards, we already get to the first excavation spot where the basic walls of a building are recognizable. It is impressive how exactly these stones were curved and precisely piled one on another under consideration of the primitive tools that were available at that time! Immediately behind it, a path leads up to a hill that looks like a temple and that is about 15 m high, the Akapana. From above one has a good overview to the whole complex of Tiwanaku. Supposedely, beside a temple, here was also an observatory but despite some stones rising to the top there is not much to see. But these stones are special: we cannot believe our eyes when Erich takes a compass out of his pocket, holds it over the stones and the needle of the compass starts to spin around like crazy; Good, we think, the stone probably consists on magnetic minerals that make the needle so messy. But Erich explains us that it has been proven that these stones do not contain any of these components and up to date the reason for this phenomenon is still unknown. A real magic place that casts a spell over us!

The recreated outer wall of the Kalasasaya, one of the original Andesit pillars is also well recognizable

At the other side of the Akapana the way leads down to the 26x29m sized and two metres depth digged into earth Templete Semisubteráneo. There are 175 heads made of limestone and tuff are let into the walls of the temple that again impressively demonstrates the high masonry of the Tiwanaku culture. These stoneheads can be also found in Peru in the so-called Chavín-culture, and it is assumed that Tiwanaku could have eventualy emerged from this culture. Being impressed, we leave this place over the stairs and at the right, we get to the actual centre of Tiwanaku, the Kalasasaya.

The Monolith Ponce measures 7,5m

Most probably, a sun control room built over like a temple was here with some vast dimensions of 128x118m, built of many thousands sandstones (these are not original any more, they have been reconstruted after the excavation) and between with pillars of block stones of andesit that still today remain in their original position. The name Kalasasaya means translated something like "standing stones", the giant monoliths that were found here are meant. The already a little weathered Fraile-Monoltith and the very well conserved Ponce-Monolith are still to be viewed. Supposedely, these anthropomorphous statues heighted up to 7,5m represented gods with human faces and cult objects in their hands. Again, some artful and precise relief designings are visible at their surface. I was so fascinated by that that I even took a monolith home: Of course, as a transpotable miniature version, as "small" Ponces and Frailes are very popular as a tourist souvenir in different sizes. If these monoliths are already very famous, in the northwestern area of the Kalasasaya we already see the actual highlight, the prized possession, the emblem of Tiwanaku: The "Intipunku", the sun gateway.

Intipunku - The sun gateway of Tiwanaku

Viewed from a distance, one sees are more or less rectangular "stone block" with an opening in the middle similar to a door, and I wonder, what is so special of this block. But the closer I get, the more impressed I am, and when I am standing in front of a 2,80m heighted, 3,80m width and more than ten tons heavy Andesit block, I cannot stop being amazed. The lower part of the gate is so smooth as if it had been treated with a polishing machine. In the upper third, there is a figurine recognizable over the doorway. It is most probably the creator god Wiracocha (and not the sun god as supposed in former times), of which head several jets with puma heads rise and from there eyes some teardrops rise as a sign of the rain, the fertility. Motifs of these deity are visible on textiles, ceramics and mummy covers in whole Bolivia and also Peru.

The creator god Wiracocha in the middle of the sun gate, the Wiracocha-servants are well recognizable

The god is surrounded by 48 small figurines with wings, the so-called Wiracocha-servants that approach him from the right and from the left. The wings at the back make one suspect that they are also divine. Some of them were provided with some beaks by the stonemason, and the similarity with the figures of Mesopotamia in Asia is specially interesting, although there is no relation proven. Some archeologists understand this order as a calendar with the result of 12 months and 365 days per year! With the help of this pre-incan calendar and the alignment of the gate to the sun, the astronomes of Tiwanaku also can read a lot of astronomic data. By this way, they were able to read at this gate the frequency of the leap days, the geographic situation of the place, solstices, planetary orbits, the perpendicular of the ecliptic plane and solar eclipses of all over the world! Therewith, it seems that it was really known that the earth is a rotating ball that turns around the sun. What is also noticeable is that the sun gate has been carved into a piece, and thus, during the workmanship it had to be removed layer by layer in a precision that makes the finest details still recognizeable after centuries!

Intipuku - The sun gate of Tiwanaku

After the decay of the Tiwanaku culture, the Intipunku fell over and broke in two, this is the reason why it has a tear at the right of the middle, but in the year 1908 it was restored again. We are very impressed and follow the comments of Erich and are almost captured by listening what sun gate and the culture of Tiwanaku is about. Beside the Kalasasaya with the sun gate and the Akapana there is a third district, Pumapunku, but due to time reasons we cannot visit it any more as we have still the trip to to the Titicaca Lake and a hiking tour before us. Erich explains that it is a heap similar to a pyramide on which there are some massive andesit- and diorit blocks weighted up to 1000 tons laying criss-cross. This mess confirms the theory that the end of Tiwanaku was sealed by a natural catastrophy.

After this very informative excursion into the history of the Tiwanaku-culture we go back to the parking place being very eager for more knowledge of further cultural highlights of Bolivia and get again into the small bus to get to the next destination: The Titicaca lake!

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