January 23, 2005

Tiwanaku - City Of Mystery

Photography By El-Branden Brazil

High up on the Andean Altiplano of Bolivia, are the ruins of the great city of Tiwanaku. The Tiwanakan civilisation lasted for nearly three millennia, and predated the more famous Inca. Their development in the arts, religion, socio-political organisation and science was a major influence upon the entire continent of South America.

The archaeological site of the Tiwanaku, sits 4100 meters above sea level, where the air is dry and thin. In this beautiful, but bleak mountainous location, an empire that reached to the coasts of Peru and Chile, as well as northern and central Argentina, was ruled.

Religious life dominated the thinking of the Tiwanaku people. The layout of the city incorporates large sacred sites, such as the Akapana Pyramid, the Temple of Stones Standing Up and the Semi-Subterranean temple. Each of these sites are indicative of the Tiwanakan spiritual cosmology that comprised of the sky (Alakpacha), the earth (Acapacha) and the underworld (Manquepacha), where various deities were considered to reside. Animals, such as the condor, the puma and the snake also became symbolic characterisations of the various levels of existence.

Mother Earth Monolith
Photography By El-Branden Brazil

The Tiwanakans believed that the earth was created for humans, who in turn were created to venerate the gods of the air. Perhaps, the most intriguing figure that appears in the Tiwanakan pantheon is that of Viracocha, the creator of all things, who was adopted by other pre-Columbian civilisations.

Viracocha rose out from Lake Titicaca, when the world was shrouded in darkness, and created the stars, Moon and Sun. He made humans from stone, and split them into various groups, sending them to different corners of the world. Each group was given a unique identity and language.

The mysterious deity, who is described as being bearded, white and blue-eyed, took on the role of a beggar, travelling around the world to spread the essence of civilisation, as well as performing miracles. After civilisation was established, he disappeared to the oceans of the east, never to be seen again. It is believed that he will reappear at a time of great strife.

Stone Face In The Semi-Subterranean Temple
Photography By El-Branden Brazil

It is a fascinating myth, that echoes the creation mythology of so many societies. The Semi-Subterranean Temple is particularly interesting, because it has many faces jutting out of the surrounding walls that seem fashioned to represent different races; races that pre-Columbian civilisations could not have had any contact with. There are faces that are Caucasian-looking, others which clearly have Negroid features, whilst some look Asian. Of course, the human mind is highly imaginative, so such interpretations are tenuous at best.

Perhaps, the most famous and enigmatic structure to be found at Tiwanaku is the Gateway of the Sun. Constructed from slabs of volcanic andesite and weighing ten tons, this beautifully engraved portal no longer stands at its original site. It is surmised that it may have stood at the top of the pyramid, as a gateway to some kind of fortress.

The detailed artwork that adorns the gateway, has been the focus of much archaeological attention, causing endless speculation and debate as to its meaning. There have been countless theories, some very academic and some utterly outlandish. It has been suggested that the dominating central figure is a representation of Viracocha.

The Gateway Of The Sun
Photography By El-Branden Brazil

The Tiwanakans appeared to have a very precise understanding of the passage of time, established through scientific observations of natural cycles. The gateway may be an expression of this preoccupation. Many experts believe that the complex geometry and mathematics convey a desire to connect with the eternal.

Whilst the genius and sophistication of the Tiwanakans is highly evident, the reason for much of their creative expression, still remains a tantalising mystery, invoking magic in all that visit the site.

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