Tiahuanacu, ancient seaport 12,500 feet above sea level
As an amateur mesoamerican history buff, I have always wanted to see Tiahuanacu, an ancient city perched high in the Andes above La Paz, Bolivia — the remains of a civilization predating the Incas which may be over 17,000 years old.
Although I have traveled to Bolivia on three separate occasions as the Brush Rotary Club's representative for the Bolivia Insulin Project, time constraints and the important work we were doing always took precedence over any "sightseeing" ventures — until a couple of weeks ago.
Carlos Baudoin, my soft-spoken Rotarian host in La Paz for my last two trips, insisted we take a few hours to see the ruins when Dr. Sheri Beattie of the Brighton Rotary Club and I were in Bolivia last month. Little did we know he had a special connection to what many consider to be one of the oldest cities on earth.
The mysterious city
Although today the nearest body of water, Lake Titicaca, is some 15 miles away, numerous archaeological studies indicate Tiahunacu was once a large thriving seaport where literally hundreds of ships may have docked. Historians think the original city was built when the shore was only 600 feet away.
Built before the Great Flood of the Old Testament, the city is one of the oldest on the planet — if not the oldest.
The highland Andes have been known through myth and legend as one of the access points for vast subterranean cities, the domain of inner-earth beings who emerge from their lower worlds into the upper atmosphere from time to time. These ancient legends speak of vast networks of tunnels criss-crossing the entire length and breadth of the planet.
Traditions of vaults, labyrinths and buried treasures are found in Crete, Egypt, Tibet, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Tiahuanacu is considered one of the gateways to these realms, along with the famous sacred site of Sacayhuaman in the Peruvian Andes. The Jesuit chronicler, Agnelio Oliva, recorded the words of an old Inca quipu reader to the effect that "the real Tiahuancu was a subterranean city, far exceeding the one above ground in vastness."
Evidence that Lake Titicaca was once a part of an ocean exists even today in the abundance of oceanic creatures still living in the salty lake, although it is over two miles above current sea level.
The gate of the sun
The 10-ton Gateway to the Sun is monolithic, carved from a single block of Andesite granite. It is broken through the center, leading investigators to wonder what sort of tremendous forces could have achieved this feat.
The upper portions of the gate are carved with beautiful and intricate designs, including a human figure, condors, toxodons, elephants and some symbols. Directly in the center is the so-called Sun God with rays shooting from its face in all directions. The god is holding a stylized staff in each hand which may represent thunder and lightning. It is sometimes referred to as the "weeping god" because tears are carved on its cheeks.
The figures flanking the centerpiece are unfinished, causing viewers to wonder what could have interrupted the craftsmen. Of the animals represented on the gate, two have been extinct for thousands of years. Jaguars and condors are still with us, but toxodons and elephants can no longer be found in the area. History shows that an elephant-like creature thrived in the area during the Pleistocene era, some 11,000-12,000 years ago.
The site also includes the Pyramid Accapana, a steps pyramid not yet fully uncovered. Much of the pyramid will never be recovered because it was used as a quarry in the building of the capital city of La Paz, some 40 miles away.
Although Tiahuanacu has not received as much attention as other ancient sites in Peru, Mexico and Central America, it is truly a fantastic sight to behold. For me, our visit there was a dream come true.
Oh, that special connection our Rotarian host Carlos Baudoin has to Tiahuanacu? Well, that gentleman is so soft spoken and unassuming he almost didn't mention it. It turns out his sister, an archaeologist, is credited with the discovery of the only black stone monolith at the site. A unique find, indeed. The massive figure of a jaguar god stands about six feet high and is now protected inside a museum adjacent to the site.
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