The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Tiwanaku (old spelling: Tiahuanaco) is an important Pre-Columbian archeological site in Bolivia. The ruins of the ancient city are on the eastern shore of Lake Titicaca, about 72 km (44 miles) west of La Paz, Bolivia. Some have hypothesized that its modern name is a corruption of the Aymara term "taypikala", meaning "stone in the center". However, the name used by the people of Tiwanaku to refer to it is unknown. The inhabitants of Tiwanaku had no written language.

The site of Tiwanaku was founded about 200 BCE, as a small village, and it grew to urban proportions between 300 CE and 500 CE, becoming an important regional power in the southern Andes, but collapsed suddenly around 950 CE. It is characterized by large stones, weighing up to 100 tons, and cutting, squaring, dressing, and notching exceeding even the Inca in artisanship. At its maximum extent, the city covered approximately 6 square kilometers, and had as many as 40,000 inhabitants. Its unique pottery style is found in vast areas covering modern Bolivia, Peru and northen Chile and Argentina. It is difficult to tell, however, whether these areas where part of an empire in the political sense or simply under cultural and commercial influence. Tiwanau collapsed around 1100 CE. The city was abandoned, and its characteristic art style vanished.

The Tiwanaku art style is distinctive, and, together with the related Huari style, defines the Middle Horizon of Andean prehistory. Both of these styles seem to have derived from that of the earlier Pukara culture, centered at the site of Pukara in the northern Titicaca Basin. Tiwanaku is believed to have influenced Chimú art.

"Gateway of the Sun", Tiwanaku, drawn by Ephraim Squire in 1877. The scale is exaggerated in this drawing.
"Gateway of the Sun", Tiwanaku, drawn by Ephraim Squire in 1877. The scale is exaggerated in this drawing.

Much of the architecture of the site is in a poor state of preservation, having been subjected to looting and amateur excavations attempting to locate valuables since shortly after Tiwanaku's fall. This destruction continued during 19th century and the early 20th century, and has included quarrying stone for railroad construction and target practice by military personnel. Today Tiwanaku is a UNESCO world heritage site, and is administered by the Bolivian government.


  • Tiahuanacu: The Cradle of American Man (4 vol., 1945–58) by A. Posnansky

External links

  • UNESCO description
  • Tiahuanaco on
  • Tiahuanaco, City and Empire with links to other sites.
  • Tiwanaku, Environmental Factors in the Rise and Fall of an Agrarian State.
  • Tiwanaku Doorway Photo by JQ Jacobs , also available as 1024 pixel, 216 KB Desk Picture
  • Tiwanaku Photo Gallery

Last updated: 02-07-2005 05:40:18
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55