Tiwanaku is a dead city in the Andes. Bolivia. Photos, interesting facts

Tiwanaku in the Andes – an ancient seaport at an altitude of 4,000 meters

Tiwanaku in the Andes, an ancient seaport at an altitude of 4,000 meters

Tiwanaku, or Tiagoanaco – the ruins of the mysterious ancient city, which is located in the Andes at an altitude of about 4000 meters. This place is located 19 kilometers from the most beautiful lake in South America – Lake Titicaca. With it, as scientists believe, and are associated with the mysteries of the ancient Indian city. But is it really an Indian city? But first things first. Let’s start with the lake.

Picture: Lake Titicaca

On the photo: Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is a very beautiful freshwater lake with an area of 8 370 sq km (compared to Lake Onega). (For comparison, the area of Lake Onega is 9,700 square kilometers.) It is located on the altiplano plateau on the border of Peru and Bolivia at an altitude of 3,800 meters and is even navigable. Geologists have discovered some very interesting facts about the life of the lake. It turns out that in the past this area was much lower and the lake was a sea bay. This is evidenced by the traces of the sea surf on the rocky shores, as well as the unusual fauna of the reservoir. High-mountain freshwater lake that is 250 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean and has no connection with it through rivers, inhabited mostly by marine species of fish and crustaceans. Researchers speculate that in the past there was a terrible geological catastrophe that caused a sharp rise of this area of land. There are also legends in Inca mythology about the terrible flood that befell the world.

Photo: View of the Temple of Calasasaya at Tiwanaku

Photo: panorama of the Calasasaya temple in Tiwanaku

The remains of the city of Tiwanaku, which researchers believe was formerly a major seaport and was located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, also testify to this. About the terrible disaster happened people’s remains speak and were found together with household items, fragments of buildings and other not at all typical for the traditional burials. And a number of the city’s buildings resemble a seafront. This city was the center of the Andean civilization of the same name. The remains of the city raise more questions among the researchers than provide answers. The time of construction of the ancient structure is not precisely determined, and inside the city there are buildings of different ages. In all likelihood, the city was built, completed and rebuilt for more than a millennium. Some researchers believe that the oldest parts of Tiwanaku were built in 200 years BC and later buildings dated back to 600-1000 years AD.

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Picture: Gate of the Sun

Pictured: Gates of the Sun

The older structures are markedly different from the more recent structures. These are, for example, the Gates of the Sun and the Temple of Kalasasaya. They are built with giant slabs with perfectly flat edges, which fit together with amazing accuracy. Many researchers doubt that all this was built by a civilization of Indians. Most likely, these are the ancient remains of a city of a more highly developed, unknown to science civilization. And the Indians who came here simply used the surviving foundations and sections of the structures, eventually completing them.

The fact that Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca are closely connected is confirmed by a relatively recent discovery at the bottom of the lake. In 2000, an underwater temple was discovered here, to which stone steps lead, and its age dates back to about 500 AD. Moreover, the steps lead to a highland path on land. The temple is 50 meters by 200 meters and there is an agricultural terrace around it. The location of the temple at the bottom of the lake also raises a lot of questions and has not yet found a comprehensible explanation.

In the photo: the wall of the Calasasaya temple, built with perfectly flat blocks

Photo: Wall of the temple of Calasasaya, lined with perfectly flat blocks

The ruins of the city of Tiwanaku listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Studies of Lake Titicaca and the associated ancient city continue. And there is no doubt that a lot of interesting things related to the ancient civilizations of our planet will be found here.

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Tiwanaku is the dead city of Bolivia

Tiwanaku (Dead City in the Inca language) is an ancient pre-Columbian South American city that has hidden both its appearance and the reasons for its demise and oblivion for centuries. The city of Tiwanaku is an inexhaustible source of archaeological finds for scientists and a stunning sight for tourists wishing to touch the thousands of years of history. And all this at an altitude of about 4000 meters above sea level.

The dead city of Tiwanaku

Where is Tiwanaku

The ruins of Tiwanaku are located to the east of the homonymous city in the western part of Bolivia, 16 kilometers from the legendary Lake Titicaca and 30 km from the border with Peru. The capital of Bolivia, La Paz, is located 50 km east of Tiwanaku.

General Description

There is no reliable information about the size, population and other features of Tiwanaku, but there is a lot of speculation on this subject.

Historians and archaeologists believe that Tiwanaku was the capital of a civilization that appeared here long before the arrival of the Incas. The flowering of this civilization (scientists call it as well as the city itself – Tiwanaku) occurred in the period from 6th to 10th century AD. Then the area of the city was about 2.6 km 2 and its population reached 20,000 people. Now, all that has survived to this day, fits into an area of about 450 by 650 meters.

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It is noteworthy that the culture of Tiwanaku, according to historians, originated more than 3,500 years ago. In the period from 300 BC to 300 AD the city of Tiwanaku was an important center of religious significance, and only later became the capital of the ancient empire.

It is said that the original name of the place was Taipikala, which translated means the Center of the World. Sometimes the name Vignaimarka (translated as Eternal City) is mentioned. It is now known as the Dead City of Tiwanaku. That is how it came to be called by the Incas, who came here and discovered the already abandoned ruins.

No written evidence of the Incas, much less of the Tiwanaku civilization, has survived, or existed at all. The first mention of Tiwanaku occurs in the records of Spanish conquistador Pedro Cieza de Leon in 1549, during his journey in search of the Inca capital.

Remains of the Tiwanaku civilization

Why Tiwanaku has no written language

Despite the development of ancient culture, there is virtually no written language in Tiwanaku. This is not only one of the mysteries of the Dead City, but also a significant barrier for archaeologists.

Supposedly there was a written language here in the beginning. From the scraps of legend, it became known that for some reason the ancient Gods forbade it. And at their behest, all records were destroyed, and all that needed to be passed on to posterity was transformed into legends and myths. The Indians memorized them and passed them down from generation to generation.

Therefore, the only written sources about Tiwanaku at the moment are the records of the first missionaries and conquistadors, who in addition to the traditional looting and planting their faith, carefully recorded the customs, legends and way of life of the Indians. But here, too, many inaccuracies and misunderstandings lurked. Mainly because of the difficulty of translation and unwillingness of the local population to cooperate with the conquerors.

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Archaeological Excavations

The first excavations in Tiwanaku began in the 16th century. But they cannot be called archaeological, because basically everything that was of any interest to the Spaniards was simply looted. The barbaric treatment of Tiwanaku continued until the early 20th century. People went so far as to start pulling apart the stones of the ancient city for the construction of the railroad.

Scientific investigation began in the 1860s by Ephraim George Squire. Visiting the ruins, he made some sketches and created a map of the city. In 1876 the German geologist Alphonse Stuebel spent several days here and refined the map of Tiwanaku. In 1892 a book containing information about the Dead City was published.

Modern archaeological excavations were conducted from 1978 to the 1990s by University of Chicago anthropologist Alan Kolata and his Bolivian colleague Osvaldo Rivera.

Ruins of Tiwanaku. Bolivia

Causes of Tiwanaku’s demise

Again, there is no exact data on the reasons for the oblivion of the ancient city. At the time the Incas came here, Tiwanaku was already abandoned.


Most scientists agree that the cause of the fall of the city was a natural disaster, most likely the flood. This version is supported by the fact that it was found the presence of lacustrine flora in the sediments next to the skeletons of the inhabitants of the city who died in the disaster. Moreover the fragments of human and animal skeletons lie chaotically, mixed up with household items and tools. This is characteristic of the flood.


In contrast to the first theory, the archaeologist and anthropologist Alan Colata believes that Tiahuanaco was abandoned because of severe drought, which lasted from 10 to 13 centuries AD. No amount of irrigation or cultivation technology could feed the city’s population. As a result, the inhabitants left it and never returned. Despite the considerable destruction, there are a number of iconic sites in Tiwanaku.

Attractions of Tiwanaku

The ruins of the ancient city are divided into several sections and landmarks.

Tiwanaku. Reconstruction of ancient city


Akapana is a roughly cross-shaped pyramidal structure 257 meters long and 197 meters wide at most. Its height is about 16.5 meters. On the west side there is a staircase with sculptures.

It was originally thought that Acapana was built on a natural hill. But research conducted in the 21st century has shown that it is a completely artificial earth mound, including small and large stone blocks. The largest block weighs over 65 tons. Akapana was considered the boundary between the ritual center and the residential urban area. It was made of a thick, prepared floor of sand and clay, which was the foundation for a group of buildings. These may have been residential complexes.

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Acapana. Tiwanaku

Puma Punku

Puma Punku is an artificial platform built 1 kilometer southwest of the main complex. It is a rectangular earth mound in the form of a terrace, which also includes giant stone blocks. Puma Punku measures approximately 167 by 116 meters and is 5 meters high. A special feature of Puma Punku is a large stone terrace measuring 6.75 by 38.72 meters. It is paved with large stone blocks. The largest stone block in all of Tiwanaku is located here. It weighs 131 tons. The second largest block, found in Puma Punku, is estimated at 85 tons.

Puma Punku Tiwanaku

It is not only in Tiwanaku that such heavy blocks are found. Structures of the ancient city of Sacsayhuaman can boast not only huge stone blocks, but also the incredible accuracy of their installation

Semi-subterranean Temple

Semi-subterranean Temple (Templete semisubterraneo) – a square structure with 25 meters long sides sunk about 2 meters into the surface. It is also called the Temple of the Stone Heads. In the floor of the temple is a large monolith – Stella Bennett, here are the most ancient monoliths of Tiahuanaco. The most famous of them is the Bearded Monolith.

Bearded monolith in the Tiwanaku complex

A total of 178 heads are depicted on the walls of this temple.

Tiwanaku semi-underground temple

Semi-subterranean temple (Templete semisubterraneo)Tiwanaku semi-underground temple (Templete semisubterraneo)


Kalasasaya is a large courtyard about 130 meters long and 120 meters wide, marked by a high gate. It is located north of Akapana and west of the semi-subterranean temple. The so-called Gates of the Sun were found here. Since the late 20th century, researchers have suggested that the Sun Gate was originally located elsewhere. The largest stone block in Kalasasaya, weighs about 27 tons.

In the center of Calasasaya stands the famous Ponce Monolith.

Ponce monolith in Tiwanaku

Calasaya of Tiwanaku

Gates of the Sun

In the northwest corner of Calasaya is the Sun Gate. It is a three-by-four meter structure, 50 cm thick, carved from solid rock. At the time of discovery, the Sun Gate was split in two, but has now been restored.

Gates of the Sun at the Tiwanaku complex

The Moon Gate

The Gate of the Moon (Puerta de la Luna) is a massive arch carved in solid stone. It is 2 meters 23 cm high and 26 cm thick.

Gates of the Moon (Puerta de la Luna)

It is noteworthy that the names of the Gates of the Sun and the Gates of the Moon are very conventional, and, according to scientists, were moved from the sites where they were originally located.

The ancient civilizations of South America were characterized by the worship of the Sun and the Moon. Quite often both celestial bodies are mentioned in different places on the continent. For example, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon at Teotihuacan.

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Temple of the Cantatallit.

In the eastern part of the Tiwanaku complex are the ruins of the Temple of Kantatallita (Kantatallita). Its dimensions are about 15 by 20 meters. There are suggestions that this temple was lined with gold plates, which were later successfully plundered.

Tiwanaku in tourism

The ruins of the city are now a popular tourist attraction in Bolivia. Visitors will be able to see both the ancient ruins of the city and partially restored. Amazing stone carvings are able to amaze the most sophisticated traveler.

The standard sightseeing itinerary starts from La Paz and lasts almost all the way, including the road. The cost starts at $12 USD. It is worth considering that the tour is conducted in English and Spanish. You can get to Tiwanaku on your own by bus from the capital. Entrance to the complex is paid – 100 bolivianos. Translated into rubles, this is about 900 rubles.

Interesting facts

Tiwanaku. Bolivia

  1. In the 60’s, the Bolivian government attempted to restore Tiwanaku. The walls of Calasasay are almost completely reconstructed. But the reconstruction of the masonry was worse than that of the ancient builders
  2. There is still debate about the exact age of Tiwanaku. According to researchers, in the ruins of the city were found pottery with drawings of animals that have long disappeared. In particular, mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. It turns out that either the ancient artists were contemporaries of these animals, or the drawings were made on the basis of ancient myths
  3. The Tiwanaku civilization for thousands of years was one of the most powerful on the continent, but did not participate in wars. Archaeologists have found no traces of the use of weapons. This indicates a highly developed and highly moral society.
  4. In 1992, on the 500th anniversary of the Spanish colonization of South America, Bolivian peasant unions organized a protest action in which local residents symbolically seized Tiwanaku and proclaimed it the capital of their state
  5. The stones for building Tiwanaku were delivered from a quarry 80 kilometers from the city. They were brought on special rafts on the channel, built in antiquity. It is noteworthy that even then people were able to raise and lower the water level in the channels with the help of dams. This was the principle behind the construction of the famous Panama Canal.
  6. Tiwanaku complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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