Long, long ago, between 500 and 900 AD, there was the city of Tiwanaku or Tiahuanaco, located near the southern shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. It was the capital of a powerful pre-Inca civilization. Although its inhabitants didn’t develop a writing system, and its ancient name is unknown, the archaeological remains indicate that, there was a time when the city’s cultural and political influence was stretched from the Peruvian coast to northern Bolivia and even included parts of northern Chile. Though the city and its inhabitants left no written history, it is estimated that, the important constructions of the city began around 700 AD and flourished for next few centuries. During its height the city covered 2.6 km of land and was the home of 20 000 inhabitants. However, by 1200 AD, it faded to obscurity, but its culture lived on through its religious influence over the Incas. The Incas, however, believed that the city was not man built, not built by any earlier civilization, it was created by their god Viracoca, who rose from the depths of Lake Titicaca.
There are are several ancient structures that have been excavated at the site of Tiwanaku.. However, the Akapana, Akapana East, Pumapunku stepped platforms, the Kalasasaya, the Kheri Kala, Putuni enclosures and the Semi-Subterranean temple are important among them.
Perhaps the most outstanding structure at Tiwanaku is the Akapana pyramid, built over a man-made earthen mound of 15 m high and faced with a mixture of large and small stone blocks. Roughly square in shape, it was shaped in seven tiers and covers 16 sq m at its base. In the center of the flat summit is a sunken oval area of 50 sq m, which is generally attributed to the digging of early Spanish looters. The largest stone block within the Akapana, made of andesite stone and sandstone slabs, is estimated to weigh 65.70 metric tons. A staircase with sculptures is present on its western side. Probably, once the site was used in shamanic rituals and probably a High Priest was buried there with a puma effigy incense burner. Puma-headed human iconography also covers the stonework of the temple. Unfortunately, during the later period, the unprotected pyramid was used as a stone quarry and its stones were indiscriminately looted and used for the construction of local buildings and churches. As a result, the pyramid has lost much of its majestic beauty of the past.
The Akapana East is located on the eastern side of early Tiwanaku. Afterwards it was used as the boundary between the ceremonial center and the residential area. Its floor was made of sand, mixed with yellow and red clay, probably to enhance the aesthetic beauty.
Situated 1 km to the south-west of the main complex, the Pumpapunku (Gateway of the Puma) is another temple mound in three tiers. It covers an area of 150 sq m and is 5 m high. Unlike the Akapana mound, it has stone portals with huge monolith lintels which functioned as a gateway to the whole sacred complex. It also consisted of a large stone terrace, known as Platforma Litica, paved with large stone blocks. Platforma Litica contained the largest stone block found at the Tiwanaku site, which is estimated to weigh 131 metric tons.
The Kalasasaya Temple, with a large courtyard of more than 300 feet long, is located to the north of the Akapana. The walls of the temple are made of huge blocks of red sandstone and andesite stone, which are precisely fitted to form a platform base of 3m high. The massive entrance steps are guarded by two monolithic uprights on two sides. The restored portico leads to an interior courtyard and the ruins of priests’ quarters. Other monoliths, including El Fraile (the Priest), are located on the secondary platforms. At the far northwest corner of the temple is the Puerta del Sol (Gateway of the Sun), constructed of a single block of andesite stone, which is estimated to weigh at least 44 tons. It is considered that the Gateway of the Sun was associated in some way with the Sun God, and was perhaps used as a solar calendar. Experts opined that the courtyard of the Kalasasaya temple was not the original location of the gateway of the Sun, it was situated somewhere else. Almost a similar but smaller gateway, carved with animal designs, is located near the western end of Kalasasaya, which is known as the Puerta de la Luna (Gateway of the Moon).
The Templete Semisubterraneo, otherwise known as the Semi-subterranean temple, is in the east of the main entrance of the Kalasasaya. Made of red sandstone, it measures 16m by 28m in area and includes a rectangular sunken courtyard. Its interior walls are decorated with 175 intriguing and enigmatic sculptures of human faces. It is said that this temple represents the Underworld, while Kalasasaya symbolizes the Earth.