Civilization, what a fascinating word. It has often been used to divide the world and its inhabitants in two separate groups, the civilized and the uncivilized. And yet, what does this word really means? When the conquistadores arrived to the American continent, they didn’t hesitate to brand the native cultures, such as the Bolivian civilization, as uncivilized.
Were they right? Absolutely not. Pre-Hispanic civilizations were, in many aspects, more advanced than their European counterparts at the time. Tiwanaku, one of the most mysterious Bolivian civilization is a good example of that.
Today the focus shall be in the somewhat unknown Bolivian civilization of Tiwanaku, located near La Paz. Are you ready to uncover its mysteries with me?
Bolivian Civilizations: Tiwanaku and the mystery behind it
While not as popular as the Mayan, Aztec or Inca civilizations, the Bolivian civilization of Tiwanaku is one of the most important Pre-Hispanic cultures of the Andean region. Located an hour away from Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, Tiwanaku is starting to become a booming touristy site.
One of the most impressive things about this site is the fact that the stone quarry where this stones originated is located on the western shore of the Titicaca Lake, about 15 kilometers away.
How did the Andean people carry these enormous blocks (most of them with a weight of more than 100 tons) ? How did they managed to carve them? And more importantly, why? Those are few of the mysteries that Tiwanaku possesses.
I don’t normally take tours, mostly because I prefer to do everything by my own, however, this time I ended up going to Tiwanaku with a guided tour because of two reasons: The first was mainly a logistics one since taking a taxi and having the driver wait for me would be twice as expensive as the guided tour while taking the minibus and the long route would be extremely time-consuming.
The second reason was the most important one: There isn’t enough information about Tiwanaku to be found online and I hoped that having a local Bolivian guide would help to gain a better understanding of this magical place, after all, he IS part of the Bolivian civilization.
I’m glad to say that I wasn’t wrong.
Exploring the ruins of Tiwanaku
After a very scenic journey from La Paz to the Alto, we arrived to the archeological complex one hour after we departed. The complex is divided in two museums and a huge open-air site where you can get close to the ruins of this ancient Bolivian civilization. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside of the museums but let me assure you that it is better this way.
The sheer amazement of seeing the Bennet Monolith, a colossal seven meters monolith that weighs over 20 tons is worth the entrance price. Take your time in exploring the amazing carvings of the statue as well as listening to the many theories surrounding the meaning of its symbols.
The second museum offers a brief recap of the Bolivian civilization as well as many vases, weapons and other objects. One of the highlights is the Tiwanaku mummies, which were buried in a very unique and peculiar way. Once you’re already well-informed of what Tiwanaku was, you are ready to embark on the best part of the trip: The ruins.
We started by climbing the remains of what once was an adobe pyramid, the viewpoint located at the top is quite a sight, specially once you start to examine the basalt stones that were meticulously carved (the method of such exact and accurate carvings is still unknown to this day) and arranged in order to match the Southern Cross constellation.
My favorite part was when we trekked down to the Underground Temple, here people can find detailed heads of humans, demons and animals as well as a few more monoliths (although none as impressive as the Bennet Monolith located inside of the museum). From here you can look up to the Gate of the Old Gods, local legend has it that only the supreme rulers of the Tiwanaku civilization were allowed to enter the upper Temple using this door, everybody else had to circle arround it and use one of the other three accesses.
Our guide told us that, in more recent times, every time that a Head of State visits Evo Morales, Bolivia’s current president, he invites them to Tiwanaku and offers them the privilege to enter through this gate. Hopefully I’ll be invited soon enough.
An unsatisfying conclusion?
Once we circled the Gateway of the Old Gods and entered the upper temple, we found the second-most impressive statue of Tiwanaku: The Ponce Monolith. Also, in this area we can marvel at the crown jewel of the visit: The Gate of the Sun.
The reliefs and mathematical perfection of this monument is the testament of the high-level of advancement that the Tiwanaku civilization had hundreds of years ago. At the center of the gate lies the image of Viracocha, the Sun God and one of the most important deities of the Bolivian civilization, he is surrounded by 24 rays of light, each one representing an hour of the day. Poetic, isn’t it?
When the conquistadores first found the gate, it was already broken and split in two parts, many hypothesis have tried (and failed) to solve the mystery of how did it happen, the most popular one being that it was the result of a precise and severe thunderbolt. Me? I blame the aliens as usual.
Local legend has it that this door holds a secret that the ancient Bolivian civilization left hidden in the Titicaca Lake and that it will resurface and help humanity in a time of crisis.
Legend, myth or reality? Probably a mixture of the three.
At the end of the day, the guide took us to a nearby local restaurant where I tried to eat alpaca meat (a close relative of the llamas), needlessly to say, I was totally grossed out after a few bites and ended up just having a lentil soup instead. At the table, I reflected about what this day has taught me and shared my experiences with the fellow travelers that also took the tour.
It was a consensus that we all ended up with more questions than answers about the Bolivian civilization of Tiwanaku and yet, this is what made this trip so special in my mind. This sense of the unknown, this feeling that in this vast world there are still some mysteries waiting to be solved…I just hope to still be alive by the time that they are finally revealed.
Have you ever visited Pre-Hispanic archeological sites? What do you think about the Bolivian civilization of Tiwanaku? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think!