A Million Years Old!

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by SeenThat on December 10, 2010

"It’s a million years old!" a Bolivian told me proudly.
"Which one, Tiahuanaco or Tiwanaku?" I answered quickly and met a baffled look.


The revival of the Aymara - and to some less extent also the Quechua – culture in Bolivia is one of the most fascinating things awaiting the visitor. The most visible aspect – at least from the international angle – was the recent change of the country’s name from "Republica de Bolivia" to "Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia," a change that emphasizes the many cultures forming this country. However, changes do not end there.

I commented on the past on the peculiarities of the Bolivian Spanish, especially of the dialect spoken in the Andean High Plateau. It uses many archaic Spanish words, and is spoken slowly, for the joy of foreigners confused by the usual Spanish race to maximize the number of vowels pronounced on any given second. This is the result of Aymara (and Quechua) vowels having diffused into the local Spanish. Three main vowels exist in Aymara, namely "a," "i," and "u;" each can be pronounced in a short and long variations, very unlike the length-fixed Spanish vowels (the vowels represented here follow the Spanish pronunciation). Aymara speakers often exchange "e" with "i," and "o" with "u." Whenever Bolivians want to emphasize a word, they use a long Aymara vowel in one of the syllables, forcing them to slow down the Spanish-fire. The revival of Aymara is resulting also in a better transcription of Aymara names; the new names feature "k" and "w," two consonants that are seldom used in Spanish. Thus, what in the past was "Tiahuanaco" (other spellings exist) became now "Tiwanaku." I’ve heard Aymara people pronouncing the name and must admit the new spelling is much clearer.


The Tiwanaku Museum is quite dilapidated, with a central structure serving as an indoors museum and tickets office. The last is distressing. The best way of explaining the problem is going to Asia for a few minutes.

I visited Angkor in three different years, finding an awesome complex of wonderful temples, city structures and an awesome rainforest climbing the stone structures. Despite the days I accumulated in the site, I never ended finding new delighting surprises. Entering this virtual Mount Meru costs twenty American dollars per day.

Tiwanaku – a mere sunken plaza with a smallish gate pointing eastwards – is no match to that. Bolivians are reluctant to pay even 10 BOB ($1.3) as an entrance fee. Yet, foreigners are requested to pay eight times that; no explanations are offered for the discrimination. Thus, it was no surprise that at the time of my visit, I was the only one.

Another point of interest was the flags by the entrance. Beyond the official Bolivian one was the wiphala, the checkered colorful flag adopted recently by the cultural revival movement. Nowadays it is featured everywhere, from official buildings to ceremonies, and of course also during the endless marches of workers in La Paz.


The regional old cultures had left few signs. Their houses melted down into the ground, returning to the earth they were made of, and they did not possess any significant writing system. Little had survived, and the stories told about the origins of Tiwanaku vary with the tellers. Moreover, the Inca moved populations around constantly, as a cruel control method over civilians. Then the Spaniards worked hard on the destruction of the original cultures. After a few centuries, all that is left are smeared shadows.

Yet, writing such an entry without giving at least an idea of what the place is would be a sin towards the readers. Tiwanaku was probably contemporaneous to Angkor, apparently dating from the late first millennia. A baby. Apparently – again this ambiguous definition – the denizens were Paucara (or Pucara) people, who spoke a language closely related to Aymara. Then a calamity occurred and they migrated across the Titicaca Lake, founding Cusco and the Inca Empire. Many Bolivians like telling stories about secret passages underneath the lake.


After being abandoned by its builders, Tiwanaku was discovered by the Spaniards in 1549; the modern town (see that entry in this journal) was then established. Beyond the central structure, the museum consists of two sites. One is next to the structure, while the second is west from it, across the main access road to the town. They contain several structures constructed from a reddish stone brought from a nearby quarry.

The structures include the Akapana and Pumapunku stepped platforms, the Kalasasaya and Putuni sunken plazas, and the Semi-Subterranean Temple. The Akapana stepped platform resembles a crude pyramid, but it is less than 17m tall, while the similar Pumapunku is three times smaller. North of the Akapana is the Kalasasaya sunken plaza, the best known feature of the site; east of the last is the Semi-Subterranean Temple. Within this yard is the disappointing "Puerta del Sol" (The Gate of the Sun), a small gate letting the sunrays pass through it on the summer solstice. The unsophisticated sculptures at the complex were similar to the one I described for the Socavon, blocky column-like figures with huge, flat square eyes, nose and mouth.

I obviously got the date wrong, there was no solstice planned for today. After a few minutes the tour was over. Hoping to find something more interesting in the nearby town, I left the site. Surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed there.
Ruins of Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco)
Near Shores Of Lake Titicaca
Bolivia, South America


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