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Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture

The ruins of Tiwanaku bear striking witness to the power of the empire that played a leading role in the development of the Andean pre-Hispanic civilization. The buildings are exceptional examples of the ceremonial and public architecture and art of one of the most important manifestations of the civilizations of the region. Tiwanaku began as a small settlement, in what is known as its 'village period', around 1200 BCE. It was self-sufficient, with a non-irrigated form of farming based on frost-resistant crops, essential at this high altitude, producing tubers such as potatoes, oca and cereals, notably quinoa. In more sheltered locations near Lake Titicaca, maize and peaches were also cultivated. The inhabitants lived in rectangular adobe houses that were linked by paved streets.

Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture
Continent: South America
Country: Bolivia
Category: Cultural
Criterion: (III)(IV)
Date of Inscription: 2000

Tiwanaku Culture

During the 1st century CE, Tiwanaku expanded rapidly into a small town. This may be attributable to the introduction of copper metallurgy, to the consequent availability of superior tools and implements and to the creation of irrigation systems. The wealthy upper class, which also controlled the profitable trade in wool from the vast herds of domesticated alpaca in the region, provided the finance for the creation of large public buildings in stone and paved roads linking Tiwanaku with other settlements in the region. The marshy tracts on the lakeside, where the climatic conditions were more favourable, were brought into cultivation by the creation of terraced raised fields.

The Tiwanaku Empire probably entered its most powerful phase in the 8th century AD. Many daughter towns or colonies were set up in the vast region under Tiwanaku rule, the most important of which was Wari in Peru, which was to set itself up as a rival to Tiwanaku. The political dominance of Tiwanaku began to decline in the 11th century, and its empire collapsed in the first half of the 12th century

Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture Bolivia
Spiritual and Political Centre of the Tiwanaku Culture Bolivia

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Tiwanaku is located near the southern shores of Lake Titicaca on the Altiplano, at an altitude of 3,850 m. Most of the ancient city, which was largely built from adobe, has been overlaid by the modern town. However, the monumental stone buildings of the ceremonial centre survive in the protected archaeological zones.

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The most imposing monument at Tiwanaku is the temple of Akapana. It is a pyramid originally with seven superimposed platforms with stone retaining walls rising to a height of over 18m. Only the lowest of these and part of one of the intermediate walls survive intact. Investigations have shown that it was originally clad in blue stone and surmounted by a temple, as was customary in Mesoamerican pyramids. It is surrounded by very well-preserved drainage canals. The walls of the small semi-subterranean temple (Templete) are made up of 48 pillars in red sandstone. There are many carved stone heads set into the walls, doubtless symbolizing an earlier practice of exposing the severed heads of defeated enemies in the temple.

To the north of the Akapana is the Kalasasaya, a large rectangular open temple, believed to have been used as an observatory. It is entered by a flight of seven steps in the centre of the eastern wall. The interior contains two carved monoliths and the monumental Gate of the Sun, one of the most important specimens of the art of Tiwanaku. It was made from a single slab of andesite cut to form a large doorway with niches on either side. Above the doorway is an elaborate bas-relief frieze depicting a central deity, standing on a stepped platform, wearing an elaborate head-dress, and holding a staff in each hand. The deity is flanked by rows of anthropomorphic birds and along the bottom of the panel there is a series of human faces. The ensemble has been interpreted as an agricultural calendar.

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