A lesson in History

Trip Start Nov 28, 2011
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Trip End Apr 09, 2013


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Where I stayed
Bacoo Hostel La Paz
Read my review - 3/5 stars
What I did
Tiwanaku La Paz
Read my review - 4/5 stars

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

With Jorgen sick in bed it was up to Maria to discover the ancient but so important site of Tiwanaku (or Tihuanaku). Historically this site is dated before the time of the Incas and it seems again that those profited from the developments of earlier cultures.


However, the excavation on that historical site will discover much more in the next years and hopefully give more details and insights into the historical developments of this culture. Again, like other (pre)inca architecture the buildings are made with great craft work and masonry. Stone on stone and not even a knife's blade would fit through, plus metalwork to support those heavy stone works. Interesting as well is that drainage systems and water systems had been designed as well.

During the day we visited the different sites received more information on the site. The sculptures are referring to the leaders and the signs refer to traditional references as the puma, the condor and the calendar. The status themselves are designed with an eye for details. The hands for example hold a sort of an scepter in one hand, the sign for power, in the other hand a bowl with fish, reflecting the importance of those in this region (Lake Titikaka as a food and water source).

The open spaced 'underground' room was a sign for the 'underworld' where the souls were believed to go. The snake, its symbol, can as well be found on the pillar and the heads might be leaders of other empires that were taken over. However, the different appearances still form a riddle for the analysts.

The importance of the site is reflected by its presence on the UNESCO World Heritage list. For those who like to read more did we copy their websites information below.


But not only the site was interesting. While the other visitors had an organized lunch did I Maria and Mark (whom we met again in La Paz) go to the main place where the locals where. A small snack and a drink later where we sitting with the local women and kids and chatting while they were spinning their Alpaca wool and knitting pullovers. That was, as usual, another very intense cultural experience and proves that 'off the beaten path' does not always mean which road to take but as well small choices you make.



Information about Tiwanaku (Unesco Site)

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.

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

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.

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.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Historical Description

Tiwanaku began as a small settlement, in what as 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 (Solanum tuberosum), oca (Oxalis tuberosa) and cereals, notably quinoa (Chenopodium 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.

During the 1st century CE Tiwanaku expanded rapidly into a small town. This may be attributable to the introduction of copper metallurgy and the consequent availability of superior tools and implements. These facilitated the creation of irrigation systems, which resulted in agricultural surpluses, which in turn encouraged the growth of an hierarchical social structure and the rise of specialist craftsmen.

The wealthy upper class, who 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, designed by architects on a monumental scale and lavishly decorated by the skilled masons. Paved roads were built, linking Tiwanaku with other settlements in the region, along which its produce was exported using llamas as beasts of burden. The distribution of artefacts in copper, ceramics, textiles, and stone from the workshops of the Tiwanaku craftsmen shows that by around 550 the city became the capital of a vast empire covering what is now southern Peru, northern Chile, most of Bolivia, and parts of Argentina.

The marshy tracts on the lakeside, where the climatic conditions were more favourable, were brought into cultivation by the creation of terraced raised fields. This was a vast enterprise, estimated to have covered as much as 65km2. The camellones were 6m wide and could be more than 200m long, and were separated by irrigation canals 3m wide. The canals served not only to bring water and nutriments to the fields but also acted as heat reservoirs during the day, bringing significant improvements to the microclimate of the 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. At its apogee Tiwanaku is estimated to have extended over an area of as much as 6km2 and to have housed between 70,000 and 125,000 inhabitants.

The political dominance of Tiwanaku began to decline in the 11th century, and its empire collapsed in the first half of the 12th century. The reasons for this collapse are not yet understood. Scholars now reject invasion and conquest and attribute it to climatic change, giving rise to poor harvests and a progressive weakening of the central power to the point when it yielded to the pressures for autonomy from its components.

Source: AdvisoryBody Evaluation

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