Bolivia’s most important archaeological site lies just a couple hours away from La Paz. Tiwanaku, in the modern town of Tiahuanaco, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was the capital of a Pre-Columbian empire from about 300 to 1000. The original name of the city has been lost because the inhabitants had no written language. The ruins are still being excavated.
While it is possible to take a public bus to the site, I decided to take a tour. It cost 70bs for the transportation, guide, and lunch. Admission to the site was an extra 15bs.
We started our tour by visiting the Akapana pyramid. The top of this step pyramid was flat and featured an imbedded Andean cross. It was believed to have been used for astronomical observations and also human sacrifices.
Next to Akapana is the Kalasasaya temple. It has a large courtyard supported by stone walls.
In the courtyard we stopped at the Gate of the Sun. It was carved from a single piece of stone and contains several different figures and shapes surrounding one central figure.
Two monoliths stand in the courtyard as well. Notice how the right hand of the figure is bent completely backwards, which is physically impossible. This and other features of the monoliths are still a mystery to archaeologists.
On the other side of Kalasasaya is a semi-subterranean temple. This was the most interesting part of the site. The temple contains over 70 carved heads that protrude from the walls.
All of the heads have different facial features, leading archaeologists to believe that they represent different cultures that the Tiwanaku people had come in contact with. Some of the heads have typical Andean features while others have East Asian and European features. There is even a head with an oblong shape and sideways eyes, which some people think represents an alien.
On one end of the semi-subterranean temple, it’s possible to get a great view of the monolith in the Kalasasaya temple through a gate.
We then climbed up to the top of a mound for an incredible view of the Kalasasaya temple and the surrounding landscape.
Next, we made a stop at the museum. Inside, we were able to see different ceramics and metal figures created by the Tiwanaku people. We learned about their religion, agricultural system, and daily life. Another building next door contained many monoliths found on the site, including the largest one
From there, we made our final stop at the Pumapunku temple. It was built in the later years of the Tiwanaku civilization. Many of the blocks of stone used to build it were shaped like an “H”. They were fastened together by pouring molten metal into the grooves.
The cuts in the stone are fascinating to look at. It is inconceivable how these cuts could have been made with primitive tools. Even with the help of a modern stone cutting machine it would be very difficult to achieve such precision. The most interesting cut was of a straight line with several small holes.
Our tour ended with a nice lunch of traditional Bolivian food before being transported back to La Paz.